Tag Archives: Expat Experience

We have been living in a world dominated by political, economic, and environmental uncertainty for many years now. However, the past two years have been particularly exceptional and tough for most of us. The global health crisis caused by Covid-19 has brought the entire planet to its knees. The pandemic impacted all aspects of life and radically changed the way we work. The world of Global Mobility has not been spared. Considering the extent of the impact caused by the pandemic, it doesn’t take a fortune teller to foresee that Global Mobility teams will have to deal with the blow of the crisis in the years to come.

However, it’s not all bad news! We need to think positively and see the good in all situations. For example, the crisis showed that Global Mobility teams continue to be incredibly resilient and are constantly coming up with immediate and particularly creative solutions to face issues that arise overnight. Imagine the difficulty of having to suddenly repatriate an expat (or an expat family) who was temporarily on holiday in a third country and remains stuck there without any other assistance. Or the complexity of finding a quick solution for someone who was about to go on assignment but suddenly had to postpone their departure, despite all their household goods having already been shipped to the host location. The following section will briefly outline the top eight Global Mobility (GM) trends to watch in 2021.

1 – Diversify the Assignment Types in Your Guidelines

A constantly changing and diverse population like today’s requires closer alignment between mobility types and support levels and more flexibility and agility. Since the 1990s, the mobility types have evolved enormously from only having long-term or short-term assignments. In the 2000s, new types of assignments emerged, such as the rotator, the international transfer, the globalist, and the commuter. Then, the 2010s saw the rise of business travelers, international new hires and domestic relocations. In the present decade, we will see the assignment type evolve and diversify further with new possibilities like the “flexpat”, the virtual roles, the contingent workers, remote working, and other future mobility options we haven’t thought about. Predictably, there will be more variety in the range of mobility locations as well. The “global approach,” which Global Mobility has seen increasing over time, will become the leading type of move. 

Even though Long-Term Assignments (LTAs) remain an important and widely used relocation model, it is also true that the deployment of shorter and more flexible approaches, such as Short-Term Assignments (STAs), business trips, immersive experiences, and commuter models, are constantly gaining traction (Deloitte, 2019). The Global Assignment Policies and Practices Survey from KPMG (2020) confirm the same trend, with survey participants expecting to rely the upcoming five years more on STAs (46%), Commuter (52%), and Permanent Transfers (52%). On the other hand, 44% of respondents expect a reduction in the use of traditional LTAs, and 42% believe that it will remain the same. The diversification of assignment types directly brings us to the next trend; the need for flexibility. 

2 – Become More Flexible in Dealing With the Needs of a Diverse Workforce

Flexibility has dominated HR headlines for several years. It continues to be a trending topic, driven by several factors such as a constantly changing expat population and assignment types, employee expectations, modern technologies, and tools. This trend has also been driven lately by the unexpected global halt caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as it has been a severe stress test of flexible policies and has raised essential questions in the flexibility debate (Mercer, 2021a). 

For a GM program to be successful, it needs to work well both for the organization and the expats. But having a policy both flexible and defined enough to be used as the foundation for any mobility scenario is a big challenge even for the most evolved GM programs, as data from Mercer’s 2019 Flexible Mobility Policies Survey report.

The expat population is changing. Nowadays, a more diverse population than ever is embarking on International Assignments. Employees are more diverse in cultural backgrounds, family situation, age, gender, etc. It is impossible to address all the needs of these various groups in a one-size-fits-all policy.

A more diverse workforce equals a larger variety of individual assignees’ expectations, with the result that a proposition might be very attractive for one employee while not being appealing at all for another. This is clearly pinpointed by the 2018 How Global Mobility is Responding to New Dilemmas Survey: expectations from millennial generation employees are impacting mobility programs for 43% of surveyed companies, while the aging workforce has 36% of companies re-evaluating their program policies.

The need for flexibility is clear, and organizations have come to understand its importance as 65% of respondents of the AIRINC Mobility Outlook Survey 2021 (MOS) believe that demand for flexibility from the business will increase. Furthermore, 33% of respondents state that increasing flexibility within policies is their top priority to focus on in the next couple of years. The survey also shows that the number of policies that companies support increased each year, with an average amount of 4.5 policies in 2017 to 6.2 in 2021. 

Flexibility is needed to cater to individual needs. According to the Mercer 2019 Flexible Mobility Policies Survey, the most popular policy elements for which the participants introduced flexibility are family-related: housing, spousal support, child education, and home leave tickets are all items that can help improve the Expat Experience while on assignment.

However, with the crisis, the importance of duty of care over excessive flexibility was acknowledged: policies should not be made flexible if they are essential for the wellbeing of employees. Flexible policies have prepared some companies to deal more efficiently with urgent repatriations and unforeseen mobility scenarios. Other companies adopting flexible policies have found them inapplicable and inappropriate in the context of urgency. 

3 – Expect more Balance in Dual-Career Expat Couples 

Dual-Career Expat couples have been a topic in GM for the past years. The 2017 Worldwide Survey of International Assignment Policies & Practices (WIAPP) survey report pinpointed dual-career/family-related issues and cost as the main barriers to mobility. Similarly, the expected advantages of a flexible mobility program were also closely related to these issues. Also, the report published by Crown (2019) highlights the same problem. But if this is not a new phenomenon, why is it considered a trend to watch in 2021?

Because nowadays many more households, globally, rely on two salaries. This means that when an employee is asked to take on an international assignment, the economic impact on the family is more significant than it used to be. Consequently, an increasing number of companies are struggling with the challenges posed by the dual-career demographic and are in search of creative solutions. According to the report published by Crown in 2020, dual-career couples are more the norm, and often the accompanying partner has left a career for the move. Interestingly, research also shows that often, the expat partner has the most challenging time adjusting. Lack of spousal/partner career support is, according to the latest AIRINC MOS (2021), even among the top five reasons why assignments fail. 

To deal with the dual-career factor, companies have put in place several strategies. Many have put in place policies to support split families, offering more frequent home leave. However, this is generally limited to 12-24 months, after which the employee runs a higher risk of suffering from burnout with a negative impact on work productivity as well. Another solution is the increase of commuter assignments, especially across the EU, where distances are limited. The downside of this could be that the commuter status will impact the employee and their family and the team’s morale in the home and host location after some time. Another strategy, the one for which we advocate, is putting Expat Spouse support at the core of GM policies. The most standard support comes in the form of reimbursements for job search assistance, professional affiliations, and credential maintenance.

4 – Facilitate and Organize “Virtual Assignments”

The first trend highlighting the continuous diversification of GM also encompasses a higher number of Virtual Assignments. Differently than managers who oversee a region or frequent Business Travelers who might occasionally be involved in operations abroad from remote, a virtual assignee does remotely the same job as an assignee who has relocated to the host country. Virtual Assignments have been the breakout topic since the pandemic (Crown, 2021). The COVID-19 crisis is changing all the debate around the possibilities of working from home and Virtual Assignments. Never in history have so many employees worked remotely to guarantee essential business continuity. Virtual Assignments also raise a lot of new questions. 

Virtual mobility does not necessarily imply that employees remain in the home country while being responsible for operations in other locations. It allows expats to ‘’work from anywhere’’, meaning that employees can also work in a third country of choice (not the home country or the location benefiting from the task performed). This possibility enables expats to become digital nomads as they are no longer bound to a specific location. Implementing a more significant number of Virtual Assignments also means acknowledging and accepting that working arrangements are changing fast in response to technology, generational changes, and sudden business disruptions. 

Of course, there are limits to this as well. The most obvious of which is that not all jobs can be performed remotely, which is also one of the reasons why virtual mobility will not replace traditional mobility. Tax and compliance issues can pose a risk too. The company having no existing operations and not wishing to have a permanent establishment in the location where the employee would like to be based is another possible barrier to Virtual Assignments. Some organizations are also concerned that Virtual Assignments could hinder company culture and teamwork, with the risk for the employee to feel like a perpetual outsider. The final point worth considering is that cost saving is not necessarily automatic. In some cases, the assignee wants to live in a high-cost country where sending them will cost the company much more (Mercer, 2021b). 

It is now easier to see how the popularity of virtual mobility is closely related to the increase of a more dispersed international workforce. As companies upgrade their technology and become more agile, they could decide to assign projects and tasks to mobile people rather than moving defined jobs as such. In other words, instead of trying to fit assignees into predefined boxes, the aim is to manage a diverse workforce in a more fluid and coordinated way (Mercer, 2021d). 

Moving jobs to people instead of moving people to jobs will not substitute the traditional way of thinking GM, but it is one more tool companies can use in their global operations. We live in an era where recruitment is not limited by geography, and hiring can occur in any global location to fill open positions. As organizations gradually embrace best practices to manage a distributed international workforce, it will be essential for Global Mobility teams to adapt to a new way of thinking and learn to implement Virtual Assignments successfully. 

5 – Expand Your Skills and Become More Agile 

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, multi-skilling is “the practice of training employees to do several different things, or of using employees who can do several different things,” or, in other words, the ability to master a wide range of skills relevant for different types of functions and jobs. Research from Hershbein and Khan (2018) provides broad-based evidence of how firms demand even more upskilling from workers when the local economy suffers a recession. Thus, this practice will likely be even more helpful in the aftermath of the crisis, when more agility is required in all business areas. 

The “future of work” (#FoW) is skill-driven, and the expansion of the gig economy brings proof to the statement. Since organizations are becoming flattered and more digital, corporate positions or job titles will not matter as much as skills and the capacity to update and renew these skills. Mercer listed a series of skills that GM professionals should acquire to thrive under these conditions. Below is a summary. 

Now more than ever, global mobility teams are asked to be advisers to the business and help anticipate risks and compliance issues. Mobility professionals should function as bridges between departments and geographies and serve as facilitators to coordinate arising matters. One possibility is that the mobility functions will be gradually more oriented towards consultancy. In one sentence, Global Mobility teams need to master compliance issues.

Ensuring that the basics are in place in terms of metrics and cost tracking will be essential, but what will make a difference for HR professionals is turning the results of newly developed metrics into concrete suggestions to improve people management.

It is also fundamental that mobility professionals speak the same language as general management and finance departments, linking mobility with compelling business cases.

Another crucial point Global Mobility teams need to bring to the top of their agendas is developing the ability to be good storytellers. Explaining the bigger story behind talent mobility and to what extent employees’ tasks relate (even distantly) to the overall economy and the society’s well-being is a differentiator. Storytelling is also about clearly summarizing the mobility program policy’s main principles or what the very mobility program entails. 

Today we live in an unprecedented abundance of information. The crucial issue is determining which data are true and relevant and interpreting them to draw appropriate conclusions for the business. GM professionals also have a role to play in the digitalization of companies. They need to familiarize themselves with the concepts and technologies revolving around AI and develop statistical and technology literacy.

Now that companies diversify more and more their compensation approaches, GM professionals need to dig deeper into Expat base pay, benefits, short-term and long-term incentives to have a more comprehensive financial understanding of the implications of an international move. It’s time to broaden reward skills. 

6 – Consider Adding “Human Touch” 

The days when careers were only about moving up the ladder are forgone. Nowadays, it’s about moving across the structure and the expat experience (KPMG, 2021). For employees, this results in a heightened focus on wellbeing, development, and recognition. At the same time, expats have started perceiving the mobility experience differently: They once used to see compensation as the primary incentive for global relocations but now tend to value providing validation on both a personal and professional level. Nowadays, the global workforce is attracted and motivated by a more personalized, agile, and holistic experience. Therefore, adding the human touch is needed which predictably results in a better relationship between employees and employers.

Employers picked up this trend and refer to it as improving “employee experience.” 47% of respondents of the AIRINC MOS 2021 mentioned this as a top priority to focus on in the upcoming years. However, it would be unfair to deny that it is too often difficult to prioritize employee experience if teams are too busy focusing on the many operational aspects of the mobility program. A well-designed human-centric global mobility program does not simply consider individual employee needs but also considers all the people involved. 

If you wish to embrace the human touch in your global mobility program, you successfully should focus on the following four core aspects:

  • Operational Support. Structure of operations and satisfaction with external vendors.
  • Financial Welfare. Rewards, benefits, and other types of support provided to the employee. 
  • Professional Engagement. Successful integration into the host location and career progression.
  • Expat well-being. Employee resilience and focus outside of work life.

The COVID-19 crisis has particularly highlighted the very last aspect of the above list, expat well-being. According to Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends, 80% of the respondents identified well-being as an important priority for their organization’s success over the next 12-18 months, making it this year’s top trend. Yet, only 12% feel “very ready” to address this issue, showing a clear “readiness gap.” Expat well-being does not stop at healthcare considerations and should not only be prioritized during emergencies. Expat well-being should also entail social, emotional, and financial aspects. Those are natural aspects in which highly mobile employees are automatically more at risk. Factors such as stress, mental health, family and financial issues, and demotivation or failed assignments should put the mobility team on full alert. We need to get back to providing a service that is essentially a human experience. Especially, to improve the expat’s well-being it is extremely important that they have contact with people from inside and outside the company to which they can talk to. 

Undoubtedly, the current crisis pushes companies to accelerate their strategies to ameliorate expat well-being, potentially enabling a better work-life balance. There are plenty of good reasons to make investments to improve well-being: Burnout impacts employee retention, employees with higher well-being are more likely to feel engaged at work and recommend their organizations, and to some extent, well-being drives organizational performance (Deloitte, 2020).

7 – Deal with Harder Immigration Compliance 

Even before this global pandemic, the waiting time organizations had to face before holding all the authorizations required for an employee to travel abroad for business was becoming increasingly longer. The quicker visa to obtain, that for short-term business travels, are not intended for productive work or long-term assignments. Many countries are enforcing measures more actively against illegal employment. A growing number of employees have to pay pricey fines, and some even undergo criminal punishments. 

Problems only increase when the employee is accompanied by their spouse who travels on a holiday visa and then tries to find a job in the new host country or get a local driver’s license. 

Undoubtedly, the unexpected crisis caused by the widespread presence of COVID-19 has made immigration compliance and timelines for assignments even more complicated for organizations wanting to send their employees abroad, repatriate or transfer them to a third country. Also, companies might be losing key talent now that the job market is picking up if they had to wait for their assignments, sitting on packed suitcases for more than a year.

In a world where business travel, secondments, and overseas relocations are routine, the resulting level of disruption caused by the restrictions on movement that governments set in place to combat the spread of the pandemic is unprecedented. With companies working hard to prioritize their staff’s well-being, another whole set of legal challenges arise. In such a rapidly changing scenario, some mobile employees might remain stranded in their host country or a transit country or even risk overstaying their visas. Some of the measures that governments around the world are enacting are temporary, but others could have a more negative effect on business in the near future. 

  1. Entry restrictions and an increased number of admission criteria for citizens of certain countries, including bans on some high-risk locations.
  2. Heightened eligibility criteria and application requirements where visas are issued, including suspension of visa waiver agreements and more detailed document requirements for new applications.
  3. Longer lead times for applications and discrimination in the selection leading to class systems of vaccinated versus non-vaccinated applicants.

8 – Embrace Digital Innovation

In the past 24 months, many organizations have focused on digitization (moving to more digital formats) and digitalization (strategically shifting to digital processes and activities) of the mobility function. Many consider technological breakouts to be a megatrend. One of the biggest challenges is to incorporate technology into the business in a way that adds value to the company and its employees. One positive example of digitalization is reporting assignees through an intuitive HR system and tracking assignees through security apps such as the International SOS assistance app.

Companies’ level of ‘digital engagement’ depends on how “digitally mature” their global mobility programs already are. Some might be just ‘exploring digital,’ using robotics to carry out simple and repetitive tasks, while others might be already ‘becoming digital’ with a formal digital strategy set in place. 

Mobility functions are already experiencing success where automation is implemented to perform tasks that humans would generally be assigned, such as ending routine emails or copying and pasting information from public or private sources. In turn, workers are given higher-value tasks for the benefit of the mobility function. By adopting and introducing those techniques into existing processes, GM teams will focus on diminishing costs, increasing productivity by improving operational efficiency, and retaining talent. Some of the latest HR systems like Success Factors or Workday offer basic workflow functions for international assignments but cannot yet run the full process with all the external vendors involved. Data needs to be shifted from the HR System to the vendor platform but an integrated solution has to be found to do this efficiently while still respecting GDPR and Data Security.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology is another interesting use of AI in the field. It is already being used to speed up administrative/transactional processes in mobility functions. Equally important is that automation can also reveal itself as crucial in reducing hierarchical thinking. If you want to read more about this topic then this article on our blog might be of interest to you. 

Core office technologies such as telephone, word processing platforms, and email have already evolved to expand connected and collaborative working possibilities. Expats can now access the latest information, join video conferences, share and work on the same documents or workspace at their convenience, from a device and location of their choice. It is a great aid tool for managing assignee package creation. It makes it possible for Global Mobility teams to stay in close communication with their assignees abroad. 

As for Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR and VR, respectively), they can transform the employee’s onboarding experience into the organization or allow them to meet and collaborate with colleagues in other countries. Additionally, it can be used to virtually recreate cities to immerse oneself in the new environment before deciding to move there.

According to Deloitte (2020), AI is projected to add US$13 trillion to the global economy over the next decade. It is no wonder that in their 2020 Global Human Capital Trends Survey, 70% of the respondents stated that their organizations were exploring or using AI to some extent. At this point, the question is not whether AI will affect jobs but rather how. Reducing costs by replacing the workforce with AI technology is not the only viable path: 60% of the surveyed organizations use AI to assist rather than replace workers. 

By using smart devices to predict, detect and prevent risks in moving people around the globe, AI is already helping organizations go beyond traditional ways of managing the global workforce. With the massive increase of the data volume available to organizations, the emergence of advanced AI-based algorithms, and the growing availability of data scientists, systems become increasingly self-managing and potentially self-defending against risks.  

For regular updates on Global Mobility you can order “The Global Mobility Workbook (Third Edition)” via your favorite bookseller and sign up to our readership here:

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References 

Websites

Dictionary.cambridge.org. (2021). multi-skilling. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/multi-skilling

Mercer. (2021a). Global mobility policy flexibility in practice. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/Insights/article/Global-mobility-policy-flexibility-in-practice 

Mercer. (2021b).The rise of virtual assignments. (2021). Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/insights/article/the-rise-of-virtual-assignments 

Mercer. (2021c). Upskilling the Mobility Function. (2021). Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/Insights/article/Upskilling-the-Mobility-Function 

Mercer. (2021d). Talent mobility: looking ahead. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/Insights/article/Talent-mobility-looking-ahead

Books and Reports

AIRINC. (2021). Mobility Outlook Survey 2021. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www.air-inc.com/mobility-outlook-survey-2021/ 

Crown. (2019). Big Global Mobility Trends to Watch in 2019. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www.crownworldmobility.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Big-global-mobility-trends-to-watch-in-2019-CWM.pdf 

Crown. (2020). Big Global Mobility Trends to Watch in 2020. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www.crownworldmobility.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Big-global-mobility-trends-to-watch-in-2020-CWM.pdf 

Crown. (2021). Five Standout Talent Mobility Trends for 2021. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from  https://www.crownworldmobility.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/5-standout-talent-mobility-trends-for-2021_digital-CWM.pdf

Deloitte. (2019). ’Global Workforce Insight 2019.’ Deloitte. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/ch/Documents/tax/deloitte-ch-Back-to-the-future-global-workforce.pdf

Deloitte. (2020). ‘2020 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Survey. Deloitte.’ Deloitte. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/insights/us/articles/us43244_human-capital-trends-2020/us43244_human-capital-trends-2020/di_hc-trends-2020.pdf 

FIDI. (2019). ‘2020 Vision: A Focus on Next Year’s Trends.’ FIDI Global Alliance. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www.fidi.org/blog/2020-vision-focus-next-years-trends 

Hershbein, B. and Khan, L. B. (2018). ‘Do Recessions Accelerate Routine-Biased Technological Change? Evidence from Vacancy Postings.’ American Economic Review. Vol. 108, no. 7, pp. 1737-72. Retrieved May 27, 2020, from https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/aer.20161570

KPMG. (2020). Global Assignment Policies and Practices Survey. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2020/10/gapp-2020-survey-web.pdf

KPMG. (2021). Global Mobility Forecast: Trends in Risk, Talent and Digital. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2021/02/global-mobility-forecast-trends-in-risk-talent-and-digital.pdf 

Mercer. (2017). Worldwide Survey of International Assignment Policies and Practices. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www.imercer.com/products/WorldwideIAPP

Mercer, (2019). ‘Flexible Mobility Policies Survey.’ Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/solutions/data-solutions/policies-and-practices-surveys/flexible-mobility-policies-survey

PWC. (2016). Women of the World: Aligning Gender Diversity and International Mobility in Financial Services. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/financial-services/assets/women-of-the-world.pdf 

More Sources

Baker McKenzie. (2019). ‘The Global Employer: Focus on Global Immigration and Mobility.’ Baker McKenzie. Retrieved May 27, 2020, from https://www.bakermckenzie.com/en-/media/files/insight/publications/2019/12/the-global-employer-focus-on-immigration-and-mobility_041219.pdf

Beck, P., Eisenhut, P. and Thomas, L. (2018). „Fokus Arbeitsmarkt: Fit für die Zukunft?”. Stiftung Zukunft.li. Retrieved 28 May, 2020, from https://www.stiftungzukunft.li/publikationen/fokus-arbeitsmart-fit-fuer-die-zukunft 

Bertolino, M. (2020). ‘How Covid-19 Is Disrupting Immigration Policies and Worker Mobility: A Tracker’. Ernst and Young. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from https://www.ey.com/en_gl/tax/how-covid-19-is-disrupting-immigration-policies-and-worker-mobility-a-tracker

Hauri, D., Eisenhut, P., and Lorenz T. (2016). „Knacknuss Wachstum und Zuwanderung: Hintergründe und Zusammenhänge.” Stiftung Zukunft.li. Retrieved 28 May, 2020, from Knacknuss Wachstum und Zuwanderung

Robb, A., Frewin, K. and Jagger, P. (2017a). ‘Global Workforce Trends: The Impact of the Digital Age on Global Mobility.’ Deloitte. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/tax/deloitte-uk-global-mobility-trends-latest.PDF 

Robb, A., Frewin, K. and Jagger, P. (2017b). ‘Global Workforce : Digital Innovation in Mobility.’ Deloitte. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/fi/Documents/tax/deloitte-uk-digital-innovation-in-mobility.pd 

Talking

You might be facing a unique set of challenges right now. Acclimatizing to a new locale, new cultural norms and social practices, ever-changing pandemic rules, children with identity issues, an injury, or an elderly relative, who just fell down a third time and needed to be hospitalized. 

These challenges bring with them additional levels of stress and dealing with them every day inevitably results in mental exhaustion, especially if you cannot be there in person and have to support through WhatsApp calls.

You might also downplay your own mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion or worse, ignore them altogether. That’s because as new members of the workplace or community, you don’t want to be seen as the “constant victim”. You might end up overworking and taking on too many responsibilities to show your “worth” and you’re not looking after yourself enough.

This can result in weight fluctuations, feeling drained or listless, and being unable to get out of bed. If any or all of those descriptions apply to you or to a family member, then this discussion would help you understand better what is going on. 

The Expat Experience

The “Expat Experience (XX)” involves working longer hours, adjusting to the rules and culture of the host country, trying to build a new circle of friends, and retaining some semblance of social life. You notice that things that were commonplace in your home country, perhaps easier access to medication or specific types of food, are way harder in the new country and add to the stress that is already near peak levels due to the recent move.

Stress is something we all have to manage but for you, stress is experienced more frequently and from a broader range of sources. It starts with the “small” things – handing over your previous work, clearing your office space out for the move, and saying goodbye to people you love or grew accustomed to.

For you, it only gets more complicated from there. There is a new language and an entire culture built around it that needs to be understood, people to interact with, transport networks to figure out, and more. Remember, all this is happening in conjunction with everyday obligations like cooking and cleaning, spending time with family, calling your relatives or parents in your home country.

You can see why the statistics skew in favor of you facing more burnouts, and the negative impact on personal and professional life that they bring.

Culture Shock 

Early on during an assignment, a large portion of you suffers from “culture shock” or cultural adjustment. The impact of these often manifests as symptoms similar to mild depression – feelings of isolation and helplessness, oversleeping and lethargy (or even the opposite: insomnia and lethargy), mood swings, and unexplained body aches. Homesickness adds to the symptoms, which combined with the fact that you might be new to your role makes things even tougher. It could also be that you don’t have a job or occupation just yet and feel that an important part of your identity is suddenly missing.

In this high-stress, emotional scenario, you often turn to the wrong things for management: substance abuse in the form of drugs or alcohol. 

I usually prescribe these seven easy-to-implement steps for helping your body with cultural adjustment.

  1. Implement a Daily Mission Walk. The focus here is not on high-impact training, but rather on consistency. Go for a short walk and make it a staple of your daily routine. Motivate yourself by small missions such as taking the dog for a walk, recycling the glass bottles, getting bread or flowers, buying groceries without the car, dropping a few items off at the local Brockenhaus (or Salvation Army).
  2. Plan a Digital Detox. This one is not easy, as you end up losing contact with your family and friends back home, but it is well established that overuse of social media and technology has a high impact on stress levels. A weekend of digital detox will help you regain focus and have some time to think and reflect. I usually try to stay away from social media for 24 hours over the weekend. During the RockMeRetreat we are practicing to stay away from media for several days.
  3. Practice PMR or a similar Relaxation Method. Work through Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) every day after lunch or before you go to sleep. Start with videos you can find on YouTube or buy CDs and audios from Medical Doctors such as Dr. Beth Salcedo (English) or Dr. Stephan Frucht (German).
  4. Start Meditating 5 Minutes a Day. Practicing active meditation is also a good idea. I created this video to get you started. There are many more detailed videos on how to do this out there. I’m teaching active meditation at the RockMeRetreat.
  5. Combine your first coffee with a morning meditation. You can also start your day with a short morning meditation such as this one. I try to combine my first coffee with a short meditation.
  6. Start a Journal. Journalling is a great method to deal with your mind and emotions. If it feels like a lot of work, try a bullet journal first.
  7. Join one of our Group Programs. Having a support group to help through any kind of transition is useful. With the current BANI world out there I would advise that you always build a support network fast and have a person you can trust and speak to about your challenges regularly.

Reverse Culture Shock

The hope that you would only experience culture shock once when you start an assignment is dashed by the revelation that by the end of that assignment, particularly if it was several years long, the same people experience a similar shock on returning home.

Also dubbed “re-entry shock”, the scenario is pretty similar to the original culture shock. After 5 or more years, the friend’s group, support networks, and even the workplace have all evolved and changed, while your memories and knowledge stopped at the point where they moved away. You find yourself in a similar boat as when you arrived in the host country all those years ago.

Reverse culture shock has not received the attention it deserves until now, but Vanessa Paisley’s “5-V Repatriation Model” is a great starting point to learn more about it.

When You Need Help From a Therapist

Coaching is not always the best solution, especially if symptoms have been persisting for a long time or were previously undiagnosed, perhaps even in the home country.  Should I identify that your symptoms are beyond what we deem “normal cultural adjustment” I will advise you to seek out professional help. 

The symptoms of depression are complex and vary, but have devastating long-term impacts on a person. 

If you are experiencing changes in sleep patterns, appetite, weight and mood swings, or any combination of symptoms listed on the link, please reach out immediately.

It is not easy to admit, whether to loved ones or even ourselves when things are tough. If you are feeling symptoms of culture shock, the first and by far the most important step is to honestly identify and acknowledge that you are not well. 

Without that acknowledgment, the treatment and healing can not begin. Also, asking for help can be shameful. Start with asking us for help by emailing romee@globalpeopletransitions.com for a first 25-Minute Call with me. 

We would also once again like to invite you to join our preparatory free workshops in advance of the RockMeRetreat and for anyone who would like to get to know our work with Expats, Expat Partners, Global Nomads, and Scientists better.

Family Separation

We talked about how family challenges and marital issues greatly impact the outcome of international assignments. We also saw that a large number of companies list the Expat Spouse’s unhappiness as the primary cause of “Expatriate Failure”, highlighting the importance of the Expat Spouse and Partner career support programs.

This week, we will talk more extensively about the kind of support you can give to Dual-Career Expat Couples and why that matters if you work in HR and Global Mobility.

I have always advocated for Global Mobility Managers to be more proactive about involving Expat Spouses. Sometimes I sound like a broken record though. Anyway, it’s 2021 so I reiterate what I’ve been repeating for years.

We want to be proactive!

The days of the passive “trailing spouse”, when they were marginally involved in any decision of moving abroad, are definitely gone. Today, according to the 2018 Relocating Partner Survey, 97% of mobile employees actively involve their partners in the discussion before accepting an assignment, so why shouldn’t you?

We want to be inclusive!

Employers cite a variety of reasons for supporting Dual-Career Expat Couples via policy and practice. The primary reason is to increase staff mobility. Some employers also do it to reduce the costs of assignment refusal or early return and promote family-friendly policies. Others want to support diversity or gender initiatives.

One figure, in particular, stands out in the latest KPMG report: 39%. This indicates the percentage of surveyed companies pointing out that sexual orientation is the main demographic reason leading an employee to refuse an assignment. But 39% is also the percentage of companies indicating that the employees’ dependents impact their decisions to accept an assignment. Perhaps, in your career as GMM, you too have witnessed these scenarios and you aim now at broadening the pool of talent by making it more diverse and inclusive. 

Here is how you can still help your company achieve its Diversity and Inclusion goals, improving brand, reputation, and global market competitiveness.

  • Review the demographics of your global mobility team based on diversity and change policies accordingly.
  • Diversify international assignment terms. 
  • Adjust policies for selecting candidates.
  • Broaden communication about opportunities.
  • Offer training to reduce unconscious bias.

We want to bring back the Human Touch!

What you can do to help Expats and Expat Spouses is to ease the external stressors to their relationship caused by the international assignment. Most importantly, take the Expat Spouse seriously!

Here are seven provisions you can take up in your guidelines.

1 – Review all your Global Mobility Guidelines

Today’s mobile employees are no longer interested exclusively in the financial aspect of their international assignment package. They are also very concerned about the impact of the move on their spouses’ careers while abroad. This is a consequence of the increased levels of equality within the couple: 77% of Expat Spouses work before the assignment and 82% of them secure a bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. degree (2018 Relocating Partner Survey). In short, the current mobile population won’t accept being treated like their predecessors. 

Even if 62% of employers wish to encourage employee acceptance of an assignment by offering support to Expat Spouses, most employees are still frustrated by what employers are offering today.

An increasing number of Dual-Career Expat Couples depend on the income of their spouses during international transfers. Today, dividing Expat Spouses into the “working” and the “non-working” categories is too simplified. 

Employers should therefore ensure that their partner policies support these choices equally for working and non-working partners to avoid any form of discrimination.

According to a report published by Permits Foundations in 2012, only 33% of the companies surveyed provided career support to Expat Spouses under a formal written policy. Another 11% had informal guidelines, while 27% of them assisted on a case-by-case basis. 29% provided no support at all. 

With an Expat Spouse and Partner Support Guideline in place, you will more easily become a more attractive employer.

2 – Involve the Expat Spouse and Partner in the Pre-Assignment Phase

During this phase, there are probably lots of questions going on in the Expat Spouse’s head, and feelings of euphoria and anxiety often alternate with each other. They might be wondering what impact the move will have on their children and whether they will be able to find employment in the new country. It is part of your role as Global Mobility Manager to offer early career assessment for the Expat Spouse as well as information on international schooling options. Additionally, since Expat Spouses are often in charge of the logistics behind the move, you must be able to connect them with relocation services and immigration providers ahead of the move.

3 – Help with the Work Permit

Nowadays, Expat Spouses are allowed to work on a dependent work permit in the vast majority of the top host locations accounting for 80% of today’s global mobility (2018 Relocating Partner Survey). This huge achievement is the fruit of the Permits Foundation, which fights for the rights of relocating partners to be able to work on their dependent permit. 

However, some countries present exceptions and subtleties linked to marital status. Non-married partners from opposite sexes, as well as same-sex couples, face more challenges accessing work permits. In countries that do not allow Expat Spouses to work, securing a work permit is almost impossible.

It is therefore your duty to help Expat Spouses navigate the world of bureaucracy specific to each assignment. 

4 – Research Work Opportunities for Expat Spouses

Career stagnation is a major stressor to any relationship. Therefore, as one way to avoid putting the success of assignments in jeopardy, your employer could provide work opportunities to the Expat Spouse if they work in a similar field or area. What I’m also doing is to check with other companies if they have availability for the Expat Spouse especially when they work in a related field.

In this initial exploratory phase, it is also important to verify that the Expat Spouse’s degree is in line with what recruiters expect to see in the host country: qualifications obtained in one country are not necessarily recognized in another.

The 2018 Relocating Partner surveys highlight how career and job search support is now offered by 71% of employers, a sharp increase in comparison to previous data.

5 – Provide Transition Coaching For The Expat Couple

Coaching for the Expat Couple is also an option. In my experience, it is also helpful if one person of the couple is going through a coaching program. Your company should take over the cost within the Global Mobility guidelines. Companies offer Expat Spouse Career and Life Support programs to assist Expat Spouses. Most Swiss-based companies provide up to 7’000 CHF in services. This is a lot of money!

Transition coaching for Expats and Expat Spouses is becoming a more and more prominent concept in companies around the world. As a Global Mobility Manager, you already probably know that supporting Expats and Expat Spouses through each different adjustment stage they experience leads to a higher satisfaction rate with the assignment and the service of Global Mobility in general. 

The sad part is that Expat Couples often don’t claim support as they haven’t seen the GM policy and have not been involved in the decision-making process.

6 – Offer Host Language Course

The most common forms of assistance already in place addressing spouse career concerns are language training, provided by almost two-thirds of employers (Permits Foundation, 2012). If there is a business need, companies generally pay for a 60-hour course.

7 – Pay for Support for Children and Teenagers

Not only Expats and Expat Spouses, but their children too, need support during the assignment. After all, children are the most critical asset in the expatriation process. One of the tools you can offer them is intercultural training, especially if the children are in local schools. Giving training to Expat Children has a lot of value, and you will see that once you make the children happy, you will have a higher ROI, higher retention rate, and a better satisfaction rate in your KPIs.

When Family Separation is the Best Option

Sometimes, things just don’t work out and the result of that international assignment is family separation. There are also instances where the Expat Spouse and potential children should stay in the home country. One reason could be schooling, another reason health and safety. Consult with me if you have any questions about how can bring the #HumanTouch back into your Global Mobility Program and Team.

Kind Regards,

Angie.

PS: We open HireMeExpress for Sale

We developed the HireMeExpress program to support more Expat Spouses and Partners to find a job in a new country. All of the twelve modules and more than 36 worksheets can be used for other expat hubs from Berlin to Bombay. However, our best network is in Zurich, Zug, and Basel, Switzerland. Hence, we can help best here. If you need help in other locations, contact us anyway, as we have contacts globally.

References:

KPMG. (2018a). „Inclusion and Diversity: How Global Mobility can help move the Needle”, KPMG. Retrieved May 13, 2020, from https://assets.kpmg//content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2018/06/global-mobility-inclusion-and-diversity-how-gms-can-help-move-the-needle-FINAL.pdf

KPMG. (2018b). „Inclusion and Diversity in Global Mobility”, KPMG. Retrieved May 13, 2020, from https://assets.kpmg//content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2018/06/global-mobility-inclusion-and-diversity-how-gms-can-help-move-the-needle.pdf

NetExpat & EY. (2018). Relocating Partner Survey Report. https://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/ey-2018-relocating-partner-survey-final-report/$File/ey-2018-relocating-partner-survey-final-report.pdf

Permits Foundation. (2012). International Mobility and Dual-Career Survey of International Employers. https://www.permitsfoundation.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Permits+Global+Survey+2012nw.pdf

 

Why buy us?

“Global Mobility” is currently undergoing a global transformation. New technologies, the constant evolution of companies, generational diversity and political situations have evolved the roles and lives of mobile professionals faster than existing policies can keep up, calling for a clear focus on the processes to be updated to cater better for the people driving Global Mobility.

Are you as a Global Mobility Professional feeling overwhelmed by the speed and scope of this ‘boom’? Perhaps you need to introduce yourself to the field and get a better, broader overview of Global Mobility. 

Maybe you are in HR or a line manager and want to ensure that you are becoming an employer of choice for younger generations demanding “Global Mobility” as a prerequisite for working with you. 

Or, you are just on the brink of deciding for or against an international assignment as an expat or expat family and want to understand the language we use better.

How we will help you

Working with “The Global Mobility Workbook” and Angie Weinberger will enable you to:

  • run your Global Mobility in a more strategic way by deeper understanding trends and drivers of Global Mobility
  • develop and sort out your legal framework, policies, guidelines, exception management,
  • give you models for improving how you explain what we do to the outside world,
  • support expats and their spouses and enhance their “Expat Experience” through training, coaching and deeper understanding of the psychological effects of cultural adjustment,
  • develop your professional profile and “Global Competency”.

In order to make the expat experience worthwhile for their careers and support for their families even better, it takes people who want more than ticking off a checklist.

It takes dedicated professionals and it needs personal communication with the entire expat family. We want to bring the human touch back into our process-driven work.

That is just the tip of what Global Mobility truly is, and the Global Mobility Workbook provides not only a baseline starting point to understanding the field but is a hands-on manual for people in HR, line managers, expats and their spouses.

What you can expect from us

  • Establishing the Global Mobility Brand. Strategic classification of international assignments for the “business case”, integration of the assignment in succession planning and more. 
  • Optimizing the Global Mobility Process. Optimizing the operational handling of Global Mobility in all corporate processes from recruiting, via talent development to localisation. We explain basic principles without the technical details that overwhelm beginners in the field.
  • Defining the Global Mobility Clients. Focusing on the experience of expatriates and their spouses, as well as on the process of monitoring those who are affected, including their safety and health. We also give an overview of emergency situations.
  • Building the Global Mobility Team. Presenting Global Competency as a key component in the career development of Global Mobility Professionals. It’s a mix of knowledge, attitude, skills, reflected experience and body learning. We also coach you along the way and develop an online learning plan together.

It’s a workbook so it engages you with:

    • Goal Setting: In the beginning of our journey together you set goals for yourself.
    • Homework: Most chapters come with a suggestion of a homework.
    • 12 Case Studies: In addition we provide downloadable cases studies from daily business scenarios. These present you with various international mobility challenges to engage with and analyze. 
    • 7 Templates: We share templates upon request.
    • 5 Tools: We send you examples how you can run your operations and projects
    • 3 Checklists: Global Recruitment, Relocation, Social security considerations
    • 12 months RockMeApp: Free access to the RockMeApp, our career planner and online coaching platform (value 250 CHF/USD).

Sign up here for updates on this publication. 

About the Author

Angie Weinberger is the Global Mobility Coach. She combines executive coaching, her long-standing Global Mobility expertise and workshop facilitation skills into programs for Global Mobility Professionals, Expats and Expat Spouses. She’s a recognized guest lecturer in “Global Mobility” and “Intercultural Management” and has worked in HR with an international focus for over 20 years.

Previously she wrote “The Global Career Workbook” (2016). She also wrote a German textbook on managing international assignment into and out of Germany published in 2009, 2010 and 2011. This publication triggered her interest in writing again.

Angie’s current projects include building the Global Mobility Function for a private bank, the development of a web application for online coaching called RockMeApp and RockMeRetreat

Angie also defines herself as an author, social media junkie and Bollywood lover. She has lived and worked in Germany, Switzerland, the UK, India and Australia.

When Angie is not working she enjoys hiking in the Swiss countryside, watches movies and overindulges on the cooking of her Pakistani partner.


Over the last twenty years in Human Resources, I noticed that a lot of international talents were frustrated in the process of moving to another country for work. It was not only because their companies paid them another package than what they expected. It was also because a lot of international assignees underestimated the challenge of moving to another country.

For example, expats moving to Switzerland often think it will be easier to find affordable childcare, high-quality apartments and a job for their “trailing” spouse. Most expats believe it will be easy to learn the local language (or they even think we speak English). Most expats believe that they are going to have a great career step after their repatriation. I have seen a lot of anger when assignees went to another country and when they returned home and did not get that promotion or the role they were hoping for.

Regularly, I have clients break out in tears because they feel overwhelmed by the international assignment experience. When I worked in India and when I moved to Switzerland from Germany it was not always just “Cricket & Bollywood” or “Cheese & Chocolate”.

 

Five Gaps in the Global Mobility Approach

There are five gaps in the Global Mobility approach and I think this is true across industries and countries.

  1. Assignees are often selected on an ad-hoc basis and intercultural competence is hardly ever taken into account in the selection process. Female Assignees are still greatly under-represented.
  2. International assignments hardly ever have an international assignment business case showing assignment drivers, measurable targets, expected gains, growth opportunities, assignment costs and a repatriation plan for the assignee.
  3. Most companies lack succession plans where repatriates could be included with their future roles and often expats are overlooked when it comes to filling roles in headquarter or when promotions are due.
  4. Global Mobility Professionals are hardly ever considered strategic partners of the business. They are often just seen as administrators of the process while the decisions about who is going where are taken solely by the business.
  5. The Expat Family is hardly considered in the Global Mobility Approach. Only a few forward-thinking MNCs offer career support for spouses. I have not seen any company who helps with educational considerations and advice for the expat children. Relocation companies only give minimal support and hardly understand the concerns of globally mobile parents. Most relocation consultants have never moved to another country in their lives.

There are also five global trends that have made Global Mobility more difficult in the last 10 years.

Trend 1 Financial crisis led to budget cuts

With the global financial crisis, we have also experienced travel and expat budgets being reduced to a minimum. That led to a number of local moves and assignee experiences, in general, got worse. Also, repatriates often came back to receive a severance package and were unemployment in their home country afterward. We also see that companies merge, acquire, outsource and offshore so that job security for all staff is non-existent. Especially in the EU, many countries are new to this kind of unstable job market and do not yet have the tools and systems in place to have a fluid and flexible workforce. Cherished and spoilt expats dwell on the verge of desperation because they have been made redundant at the end of their contract.

Trend 2 Local Plus is the new black 

Other expats receive a local contract without really understanding what that means for their social security, long-term pension and often they do not know that their work and residence permit depends on their employer too. Employers find “Local Plus” convenient but they do not really consider all the risks these moves entail because many business decisions in the last ten years are driven by controllers.

Trend 3 The Talent Gap

We now lack the critically needed talent in important growth areas. Programmers and engineers are examples of professionals that are in high demand. In Germany, I heard that it is also hard to find lower qualified staff such as hotel staff. There is certainly a mismatch and gap between demand and supply. There are a number of reasons related to the sourcing process as well. Recruiting has become a science and needs to go through a transformation. Recruiters need to learn to cope with the demand and supply in a globalized market of talents. Language is still one of the main barriers to an influx of highly skilled migrants in Europe. Even though we launched the green card and blue card initiative we have not managed to attract the potential and talent needed within the EU for example in IT.

Trend 4 Health and Security concerns hinder free movement

Security concerns are growing in international assignments. Expats frequently face acts of terrorism, natural disasters, mugging and burglary as well as health issues. While often the issues are normal in the local environment they can also be inflated disproportionately in our media. The images we have of countries such as Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan to name a few make it hard to convince families to work in these countries. Each terrorist act in the last few weeks in Istanbul, Jakarta, Tunis, Paris or Beirut will reduce the willingness of expat families to move into these cities even though expats probably have the best security support you can have in these locations.

Trend 5 Global Migration Challenges

2015 has been a year where global migration became pop culture. The term “refugee crisis” was coined in Europe. Even though we have had proportionately more refugees coming to Europe since the Arab spring started in 2011 in Tunisia, we all had more interaction with refugees in 2015. While I am personally concerned about the right-wing propaganda, I do understand that the intercultural and societal challenges of integrating refugees at least temporarily are considerable. As an HR Manager, I am concerned about discriminatory practices. Example: Geneva airport security personnel.

All of this has a led to Global Mobility being flawed, expats not wanting to go on international assignments anymore and overwhelmed GM Professionals who feel the pressure from all ends as they are in the firing line of assignees, business line, talent, HR and Finance managers. In addition to having been undervalued, overworked and squeezed by their interest groups classical GM tasks have been outsourced to Third-Party Service Providers and Shared Service Centers.

Working in Global Mobility used to be a career dead-end and a Sisyphus task. We roll up the stone assignee by assignee only to see it roll down again. We run KPI report after KPI report only to be told that no one knows what we are doing. We are often managed by HR Directors who don’t get us. We are online 24/7, involved in GM improvement projects, listen to depressed spouses in our evenings and do not get the promotion or salary we deserve.

But there is hope. I am not willing to give up. Yet.

There is a need to change the approach to Global Mobility.

The more complex our global markets become, the more we need to re-evaluate our assumptions of how we run international assignments.

1 We need global leadership competency in our international assignees and if they do not have it yet we need to send them out on long-term assignments earlier in their career. We should force assignees to learn the local language and coach them through the assignment experience. Intercultural briefings are not enough anymore.

2 We need to ensure that there is an international assignment business case showing assignment drivers and targets, expected gains or opportunities, assignment costs, and a repatriation plan.

3 We need to implement succession plans and add our current assignees as potential successors. We need to ensure that the knowledge, skills, and network they gain while on assignment is appropriately reflected in their following role and repatriation plan. We also need to ensure better handovers to their successors in the host location.

4 We need to upgrade the GM Professionals and the GM function needs to sit closer to business development and potentially move out of HR. We need to up-skill the case managers and train GM Professionals for a consultative approach where they can work as trusted partners with the business line managers. (I have extensively explained this topic in an article last year for The International HR Advisor).

5 We need to consider the Expat Family in the process more by providing spouse career support, elderly care and educational advisory. We also should offer 24/7 support to our expat families in crisis situations such as marital issues. A helpline to professional counsellors is needed.

What I believe in and what makes me get up in the morning:

  • I believe that Western managers of my generation and the baby boomer generation have to develop their relationship-building skills before becoming effective leaders of global teams. The performance of most global teams can only improve through higher global leadership competency following a holistic global competency model.
  • I believe that a great assignment experience is linked to assignment targets, an international assignment business case and a repatriation plan.
  • I believe that companies will focus more on creating succession plans and ensure that roles are filled in a more structured manner, handovers improved and teams will function more self-managed going forward. Leadership itself will change significantly.
  • I believe that GM Professionals have the potential to become critical players in the international growth of businesses and should be valued as the subject matter experts that they are. They will move out of HR and be closer to business development.
  • I believe that assignees and spouses need to have a valuable intercultural experience and both can further their career and life vision together. Expat children need support in moving from one culture to another and even though they might be multi-lingual at the end of their school life, they have to cope with identity loss and loss of their roots.