Getting buy-in for a global assignment

Five typical relocation concerns that HR and Global Mobility managers need to address.

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When HR managers approach the topic of a global relocation, concerns are never far. The employee may be worried about not making enough money abroad, or their spouse has had a flourishing career on her own and must give it up to move abroad. Overcoming these concerns is key to having employees commit to the assignment, including some that may linger on a subconscious level.The recently released Expat Insider 2019 Business Edition explores these pre-relocation concerns from a global perspective: What are some of the key aspects of a relocation that foreign assignees worry about, across geographies and nationalities? (You can find the complete list here: and Global Mobility managers who develop awareness of these concerns may benefit in two ways: They are able to improve candidate selection for global assignments and they improve the chances of assignment success. The report is based on the InterNations Expat Insider survey — one of the world’s largest surveys on life abroad (20,259 expats participated in 2019).

Not being able to find friends

Foreign assignees do worry about the prospect of not being able to make friends abroad, but they tend to underestimate the scale and impact of this. While social integration comes by easily in some countries, in others it can take considerable time and effort to establish a circle of friends and acquaintances. There are many reasons for a challenging social integration process, from a lack of leisure time, not enough knowledge about the local etiquette or language barriers to the image of the host country as being “cold”. According to the report, however, a lack of socializing opportunities is the main issue after the relocation: 57% of foreign assignees even consider it as the top reason for unhappiness in the new country. In line with this, social and professional networking are among the top three relocation services that foreign assignees would like to receive from their employers. . Addressing the social integration topic may be tricky or require the initiative of the employer. After all, loneliness or the lack of a social network could be considered a social taboo and an issue that openminded, successful professionals may not associate with. One way to address the topic is to offer the candidates access to professional and social networking opportunities in the host country and to actively encourage the use of these networks.

Unhappiness of partner/spouse

Unhappiness among relocating spouses is a key concern of employees before they go on a global relocation. Since it is also known to be a major reason for assignment failure, many employers have spouse support programs in place to improve the well-being of the spouse abroad. Yet it is quite another thing though to discuss with the partner of a candidate if she will be able to work in the host country, how she feels about raising children in a foreign environment without her usual network of personal supporters, or other concerns that relocating spouses have before moving abroad.Based on the report, relocating spouses worry most about financial dependency on the partner. As 57% of those living abroad right now do not hold a paid job, global mobility and HR managers should take this concern seriously. In addition to the risk of financial dependence, there is also the issue of losing a key purpose in life. Not surprisingly, living abroad without a paid job is one of the top three reasons for unhappiness among relocating spouses. Other top reasons include a lack of socializing opportunities and the absence of a personal support network.Employers who are aware of these issues and provide the spouses of their candidates with personalized support are still rare. According to the report, relocating spouses globally lack the financial support and the breadth of services that employees are likely to receive when committing to a relocation. The gap is nothing to be proud of, but it provides also an opportunity. Global mobility and HR professionals who make spouses an integral part of their communication process may simply be more successful at getting buy-in. They may also contribute to a more humane, more forward-looking employer brand, one that is fit to attract new generations of globally mobile employees.

Read more from Internations Business Solutions: Peer-to-Peer empowerment: a win-win solution 

Distance from home country/family

Homesickness is a key concern of employees considering a global assignment, and as cliché as it may sound, it is well-founded. As the report shows, foreign assignees settle in at work quite quickly, with 85% feeling settled in within the first year. Regarding their private life, however, 40% of foreign assignees don’t feel at home abroad yet or don’t think they ever will feel at home abroad. The distance from home can be particularly hard for employees who have their spouse, dependent children, or ageing parents living back home. Yet, even without such personal responsibilities, being cut off from their home country and family can impact the happiness of foreign assignees and relocating spouses quite a bit.This is especially true after the honeymoon phase, when the private life shifts from welcome events and sightseeing to a daily routine. In this period, expatriates may feel cultural differences and language barriers stronger than before, but they may not have a social network yet to share and reflect on those experiences with. In the survey, an Australian male living in Egypt stated: “Experiencing different living conditions in a foreign country alone and far from family and friends is challenging.”
It is, therefore, useful that global mobility and HR managers discuss the distance issue before the relocation, not only to prepare the employee, but to also get a better idea about the candidates and their mindset: Are the employee and relocating spouse emotionally prepared to deal with the distance from their own culture and family? Are they motivated to build a new social network abroad?

Language barrier

In recent years, employers have been less generous with language training to their foreign assignees. After all, English is being used as official work language in many international locations and learning the local language may require years of studying until employees reach a conversational level. However, as the report states, having to deal with a language barrier abroad is among the top five concerns of foreign assignees before moving abroad and it is also one of the top five contributors to unhappiness abroad. A Malaysian female foreign assignee living in Denmark comments: “While everyone speaks perfect English and are friendly towards foreigners, I do feel disadvantaged without knowing the local language as most instructions are in Danish and I have to ask around all the time. It may be a struggle to integrate until one obtains a good grasp of the local language.” One may argue that in some countries, the language barrier does not have such a strong impact on professional success and happiness. However, speaking the local language, even if on a basic level, is known to improve other aspects of life abroad and creates a stronger sense of feeling at home.

High cost of living

Among the top five concerns that the prospect of a global assignment may trigger, the cost of living in the host country is number one. However, there is a strong indication that this concern is overrated. Of all foreign assignees globally, 90% are satisfied with their financial situation or feel “neutral” about it after their relocation. After all, protecting the employee from unexpected economic risks abroad is a key purpose of any global mobility policy. Yet, even if the policy is carefully designed and the host country offers rather stable economic conditions, calculating the cost of living abroad can be difficult. There will always be some uncertainty. Thus, global mobility and HR managers may point out how they balance out cost of living issues in those countries where this could be an issue.

For more news and views, visit our dedicated International Assignments section. 

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