Loneliness jeopardises one in four international assignments

InterNations Business Solutions’ Expat Insider 2019 Business Edition survey finds social isolation to be a leading cause of assignment failure. Respondents identify loneliness as a key reason for early return.

Silhouetted image of woman traveller reflected in glass against urban landscape
With the focus in global mobility and human resources more widely on employee engagement and assignment experience, the comprehensive study aimed at better understanding the needs of foreign assignees, international hires and relocating partners could help employers support their employees more effectively.

Understanding the social impact of an international move

Based on its Expat Insider Survey, one of the world’s largest surveys on expat life, canvassing the views of 20,259 expats from across the globe, InterNation’s Expat Insider 2019 Business Edition finds that when it comes to practical relocation concerns, employers have these pretty much covered.However, when it comes to the personal and social aspects – also critical for employee engagement and assignment buy-in – there is both scope for employers to offer more support and for employees to better understand at pre-departure stage what the challenges of settling in might be in reality.
foreign assignees expectation vs reality
International Hires expectations versus reality infographic

Supporting expatriates develop their local networks

InterNations Business Solutions reports it is the practical aspects of life abroad that tend to dominate the list of employee concerns before a relocation. Yet these concerns do not always match the realities of life in the new country of residence.When asked about satisfaction with their life abroad, the aspects attracting highest dissatisfaction were actually difficulties in their personal life. Financial and practical concerns ranked very low on the list of issues.  Theresa Häfner, Head of Business Solutions at InterNations, comments, “International employees face the challenge to create a new social network in the new country. This challenge, paired with the language barrier and cultural differences, easily leads to loneliness.“Not addressing these types of issues may lead to an increased risk for employers, such as assignment failure or international talent loss. At a time when the global war for talent is rife, employers need to be on top of their game — now more than ever.”
Internations infographic

Key insights

Untapped demand for access to social networking  

Concerns about not being able to make new friends is a reality for employees abroad, according to Expat Insider 2019 Business Edition.Three in ten international employees were worried about this before moving, and 31% of foreign assignees as well as 32% of international hires state to struggle with this issue after their relocation.  Of those reporting unhappiness, 59% of foreign assignees and 50% of international hires report the top driver of this is a lack of opportunity to socialise in host countries. 

A big gap between personal and professional relocation support 

International employees are more likely to receive practical support from their employer, such as financial support or having the move organised by their employer or a service provider. A service such as access to social networking represents one of the least commonly received type of relocation service – at 14% for foreign assignees and 12% for international hires. 

Balancing work and personal life 

Better support for international employees in their professional life than their personal life might also explain why they express higher satisfaction with the career-related aspects of their life abroad. Here, 61% of international hires and 64% of foreign assignees are satisfied with their career prospects.  However, while general career development is the biggest motivation for international employees moving abroad, work-life balance, including personal development, better compensation or benefits and new experiences outside of work, also play a role. “Striking the balance between work life and personal life is becoming increasingly important for employees as new generations join the global workforce," says Theresa Häfner."Generation Xers and Millennials, who represent the largest share of the survey respondents, put more emphasis on creating work-life balance."While this is an important factor for all employees, it is particularly relevant for international employees who need to settle into a new workplace and country.” 

Re-gearing the expat lifecycle 

International employees do not only need more well-rounded support, but they also need it throughout the expat lifecycle.According to the survey findings, satisfaction with life abroad is usually high during the first months after relocation when all aspects of life abroad are still new and exciting.  Nevertheless, international employees note an increase in dissatisfaction when this honeymoon phase is over and the daily routine kicks in. This is a critical phase in terms of feeling settled and establishing personal support and social networks with locals and other expats.  

Read more international assignment news and features here.

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