Tag Archives: expat

I have this tendency to not want to work with Germans who have just arrived in Switzerland. I end up seeing too many of my own mishaps and small failures back when I was a newbie in Switzerland. Instead of reminiscing about my failures however, l would like you to meet Dr. Rainer Schulz.

This German leader from one of the cases from The Global Mobility Workbook (2019) has never done any intercultural training. He manages a global team which is mainly based in Switzerland exactly like he manages everybody in Frankfurt. Tom Jones, the main character in this case study challenges a lot of his assumptions about hierarchy and collaboration.

At the age of 55, Dr. Schulz cannot get over the fact that everyone in Switzerland goes to first name and “Du” in no time. Even his children call him stuck up and old-fashioned. Dr. Schulz is a typical example of someone stuck in their own cultural preferences. He could have made an effort and offered Tom the first name basis. He could have tried to build trust when they began working together. Instead, he just cannot get out of his comfort zone, hides behind his intellectual competence, relationship to the Management Board and his assistant. 

Tom on the other hand, is a little naive and not even aware of intercultural differences. He made an effort to learn German but he is still depressed. He attributes his issues to others. His weakness in this situation is that he does not take responsibility for his learning and progress. Tom also limits himself and could have done more to work better with Rainer. Tom quits the company, an assignment failed, the retention score is down and people are even more convinced that working with people from other cultures is just too hard. No happily ever after.

Having lived here in Zurich for over 10 years now, I also prefer to run my life Swiss-style. Despite considering myself open and tolerant, I still mess up intercultural communication. I’m not always understood and sometimes I’m just wrong. I recently got into a long discussion about left and right and I know that I have a weakness there. At the end I had to find out that I muddled up left and right (again!).

Communication across Cultures is a Challenge

My team members sometimes don’t do what I thought I had asked them to do. Then there is the occasional issue where I thought I had sent an email with a spreadsheet attachment but the person at the other end never received it. We hop on a conference call to discuss a topic with the assumption that the other person has the spreadsheet in front of them but IT Security blocked it. The whole conversation goes in circles. (Remind me to explain the “Asian Loop” to you sometime.) 

And yes, there could be plenty of reasons behind these issues. Maybe it’s “not my fault” or “not my responsibility”.

[tweetthis]If we don’t achieve our goals as leaders, then we are not good enough as leaders. [/tweetthis]

Do you also in such situations then tend to take control and do everything yourself?

And does that then lead you to burnout, depression or anger?

Does your partnership or family life suffer?

I have had to learn to accept the fact that people are as diverse as sand corns or snow flakes. You can learn to improve your leadership style but it is a never ending story of continued failures. Eventually you’ll get the swing and then you are asked to retire from the working world…

(Isn’t it crazy that our society doesn’t value the experience of our elders? Personally I intend to work until the day I die… hopefully with a nicely branded fountain pen in my hand.)

With this post I would like to give you an intercultural explanation to these phenomena and help you get out of your cultural comfort zone.

What is Global Competency in Global Mobility?

Global Competency is the ability to work effectively in a global, complex environment with a high level of stress, while achieving goals sustainably and in accordance with your own resources”. (Weinberger, 2019)

One of the major themes in my work with clients is on how they can improve their relationships at work. In order to find a new role in the Swiss market a number of trusted relationships are required. Relationships are usually built through a third-party introduction, at events and through long-lasting cooperation. And while this is similar in Germany, the German approach to building relationships always has a hierarchical component. Usually, the younger or newer members of the crew are treated with a little less respect. Globally competent leaders know how to gauge the hierarchy level and address the person according to status and seniority. However, in Switzerland where 70% of your interactions are with other expats it is trickier than in Germany.

You can almost assume that everyone is on your experience and intellectual level. And most locals are modest, so they could easily be underestimated.

Five Reasons why You might find it hard

  1. You are shy, introverted or not convinced that they are good enough to deserve success. Many partners suffer from the “impostor syndrome”, a psychological state of mind where people doubt their own accomplishments or consider themselves frauds just about to be exposed, especially if their career-driving partner just got another promotion in another country.
  2. You are embarrassed and ashamed of being “unemployed” in a society where most of your self-worth is driven by your career and how busy you are.
  3. You come from a culture where achievement is overly emphasized and ascription is considered an unfair privilege while at the same time they are blindsided by the fact that they had an ascribed status in their home turf.  Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner used to associate the achievement dimension with mainly protestant work ethic and belief. However, even if Switzerland is the home of Zwingli and Calvin, we have catholic cantons as well and status is often equal with family name, wealth and also how many generations you have already been a member of this society. So, there is still a strong ascription component that is not so obvious to outsiders. you don’t recognize that you have been in the out-group until you join the “Circle of Trust”.
  4. You are not aware of how they come across in person and assume that your style and behavior is “normal”. You have not yet learned to read the cultural cues that would indicate to them that they might be too pushy or even rude. A common example in Switzerland is that expats tend to overstretch a time commitment. For a society that runs on the clock and is a role model of the sequential time approach according to E.T. Hall’s time dimensions, this is often creating a lot of stress for the other person.
  5. You are sending messages with which in your home turf you would mark  your status such as the “Dr.” title in Germany or a certain seniority by name-dropping the influential VIP’s you used to hang out with but in Switzerland for example this is either not understood or considered boasting, egocentric and merely annoying. 

Over the years of running my own business and projects I often noticed that all the tools I tested to maintain a strategic approach to networking failed miserably with the extensive network that I’ve built over my professional life. 

So, I decided to let go of “strategy” and follow my gut and memory. I realized that the best idea is not to worry too much about “contact segmentation”. We Germans love the word “Begriffsabgrenzung”, so we also do this to our social life (“Bekannter, Kollege, Freund, Verwandter, Familie, Partner, Ehepartner…”). It’s a step-by-step approach showing how much you trust the other person.

The same segmentation exists in Switzerland, but there are “false friends”, e.g. the word “Kollege” means “Work Colleague” in High German and “Friend” in Swiss German. The meaning of the informal way of addressing a person with “Du” has a different meaning in Switzerland than in Germany.

Without intercultural training a German manager will behave like a bull in a China shop in Switzerland – completely unintentionally. Hence, working with German managers in the “honeymoon phase” is a lot of work for the trainer or coach. I prefer to work with you when you are beyond the honeymoon phase and you understand that you might not function in Switzerland like you are used to.

My approach after 10 years in Zurich

Some of my colleagues in the #GlobalMobility world have become friends over the years and some of my best friends from the university days or early career are colleagues or clients now. Some of my team members have almost become family and some of my family members work in the same field or closely related ones. And some friends will never pay you while others will insist on giving back. The world is colorful and so are people.

While saying this, I don’t want to imply that you have to like everybody you work with and everybody you network with. However, it’s another atmosphere for collaboration and innovation when you can fully trust the other person without a doubt.

When you know in your head and in your heart, that this person would never talk badly about you behind your back and would not spill your secrets with your competitors. I thrive in safe and collaborative environments but these require “relationship work”.

[tweetthis]We can’t stay on the task-level (the “Sachebene”, one of my favorite German words) if we want to be great leaders in a globalized world.[/tweetthis]

Let me know what you are doing today to work on your business relationships.

The Expat Experience (XX): Walking alone at the shores of lake Zurich on a rainy Sunday morning.

Over the last two decades in Human Resources, I have noticed that a lot of international talents were left frustrated by the process of moving to another country for work. I observed that the issues weren’t just financial, but pertained a lot to both the individuals and the company underestimating the challenges involved in moving to a new country.

Therefore, today I would like to draw on my experience and discuss some important practices for that critical period, the first 90-odd days, of an expat landing in a new country and beginning their onboarding process in the host company.

Be Thoroughly Prepared Before You Land

Increasingly, in this age of protectionism, many countries now require you, the expat, and your accompanying family to have active medical insurance before you arrive in the country. This is different from the travel insurance you may have used for vacations and needs to be negotiated with a local provider in the host country. Whether your company is processing this for you, or you are required to do so on your own, you also need to make sure you are aware of what is covered – are your children covered? What about planned or unplanned pregnancies?

On that subject matter, there is now a lot more paperwork and prerequisites required before visas and associated work permits are given out, with increasingly thorough information required. If your company is handling this for you, make sure you are kept in the loop so you avoid unnecessary delays. However, if you are required to manage the applications on your own, ensure you are aware of the full process. You may need the help of a specialized lawyer in this scenario, don’t hesitate to contact them.

You may also have to plan your own relocation, a shortcoming of lifestyle expatriation that many organisations have still not overcome. An issue many people have with selecting medium-to-long term accommodation is that they do not want to make such decisions based on photos alone. To get around it, a recent trend involves making short-term living arrangements via Airbnb or similar service, and then inspecting more appropriate housing in person. It makes a certain amount of sense, but you want to keep an eye on your budget, as good rentals may not come cheap.

Finally, make sure you have wrapped up all pending tasks and necessary paperwork before signing off!

The Move

It may seem just like an airplane journey but make no mistake, the move is frequently considered the most stressful time. That’s because of all the farewells and goodbyes, packing up and shipping of belongings. And don’t forget that while you are also spending time at the office on last-minute tasks, your spouse is at home managing the children and the packing. Generally, this means that by the time your plan lifts off, everyone is pretty exhausted and you may end up questioning your decision, worry about the unknown challenges ahead and fear for the future of your family.

In this situation, make sure you open up to your case handler from the Global Mobility team when they reach out to you. Talking about what you are feeling and experiencing with them will help them both meet your unique needs, and to guide you on the best way to manage stress. Often they will arrange an arrival service for you and give you a day or two off before you have to join the new workplace. Use this time to spend time with your family and help each other settle in properly.

Manage Expectations

You’ve landed, navigated immigration, moved into temporary living and started settling in. Now, it’s time to join work! You may find yourself settling in very quickly because the workplace and culture at the office give you a feeling of “being at home” fast.

That may not always be the case, however. There are a wide range of issues that can crop up, so your excitement needs to be tempered with a can-do attitude to learn new things. It really depends on the country you are in and how well you are prepared for the different cultures.

For instance, arriving in Switzerland is considered tougher because of the challenges associated with assimilating into Swiss culture later on. A move to Brazil would, for example, necessitate greater research into personal security. China has a culture revolving around work and you may find yourself working longer and engaging with colleagues far more than you bargained for. And did you forget that the host country’s native language is not English?

This not only means that you need to learn more about the host culture, but that your company needs to shoulder some responsibility for preparing you for such challenges – you may find that your company may sign you up later on for intercultural awareness training, spouse career coaching and host language training, all providing essential support not just for you but your spouse as well.

Don’t Neglect Your Family

It is natural to get swept away in the hubbub of new activities as you settle into a new work life, adjust to a new office culture and make new acquaintances. An unfortunate side effect of that is that you may forget that your spouse will be having an entirely different experience to yours. Their adjustment is tougher than yours and they can often find themselves feeling alone and left behind. Remember, while you are working they are the ones who will be ensuring your children’s schooling commences at earliest!

Providing emotional support to your spouse is critical in helping them adjust, especially if they are not always guaranteed work rights by the host country and have to put their own careers on pause. Language and cultural barriers can make it harder for them to do basic tasks (like choosing schools, setting up gym or sports club memberships) and builds up stress. Time zone differences can make it harder to contact friends and family back home and you both may feel the additional worry of not being in frequent correspondence with your own parents or close relatives and friends.

During this period of 90 days, you may be in frequent contact with the Global Mobility professional assigned to your case by the company. Their job is not just to get you up to productivity quickly, but to ensure a smooth transition for you and your spouse. They will be your guide and support during the entire assignment, not just the first 90 days so it is beneficial to form a good working relationship with them.

The initial period after your move will not follow a fixed path, some expat families face greater challenges than others, due to a variety of reasons. Whichever path your onboarding follows, remember to be in regular and detailed contact with your Global Mobility Manager, because as with most things in life, communication is key to success here.

Kind Regards,
Angie.

P.S. If you are looking for a more in-depth look at the expatriation cycle (from the pre assignment period to the first 90 days and beyond), The Global Mobility Workbook discusses it in much greater detail in the Expat Experience.

International Relocation is usually stressful. It ranks among the top 10 stress factors in life. I have worked as a Global Mobility Manager and I regularly consult expats and their spouses on career choices and one of the lessons I had learned is that you cannot take away the stress from international relocation completely but you can make it easier by following those seven rules I will share with you now.

1) Organize your move into smaller tasks with a checklist.

It is all about organizing yourself and all those relocating with you. Try to break down the move in as many steps as possible and work those off day by day. Better one baby step a day than a huge step in a week. I’m a fan of an online and an offline checklist and you can use our checklist if you find it helpful. Shortly before the move, I would rely on hand-written notes and post-its. Kanban-style visualization helps in any kind of project.

2) Reserve time to get tasks done

You can set aside a time in your diary possibly early in the morning where you get 1 or 2 relocation items off your checklist. You will instantly feel better for the rest of day. If you are a couple make sure that every one of you as a block of tasks bundled that make sense together. For example, your spouse might clean out closets while you check the exact moving allowance and contractual agreements with the moving company. You might take charge of selling household goods that are no longer needed while your spouse writes to insurance companies and other authorities.

3) Work with the relocation company from the beginning

If you work with a professional relocation company clarify expectations early. Find out what their service includes exactly so you don’t do superfluous work. Usually, they will do the packing but not the unpacking of your boxes. Get an understanding of the volume your company will pay for you to relocate. If you move internationally for the first time you will not know how much a container holds. Invite the relocation consultant to your home as soon as you know about the relocation. The relocation consultant will tell you exactly how much of your furniture and stuff will fit into one container. The less “stuff” you have the better. You also don’t want to take valuable furniture into a climate that is tropical. Make fast decisions about what needs to be stored. In my last move, I used colored stickers to help me identify which picture will go into which building. You can use stickers for everything that will go into storage. Also, make sure that the relocation company will be authorized to dispose of anything you don’t want anymore.

4) Separate important documents

Sometimes the most important customs documents or your child’s passport end up in a moving box. Important documents need to be separated and best kept outside of the apartment during the packing process. Scan all of them and put them in an electronic folder like Dropbox where you can access them at any time. Moving companies tend to have a “red box” for all items that should not go into the container. Request it with the consultant’s first visit.

5) Plan at least two days for arrival and unpacking

My mum once had to unpack all my boxes because I needed to start to work. It took me quite a while to find out where everything was. Some of the things my mum put away nicely are still where they were three years ago. Try to make sure you have enough time to unpack. With children, you need to plan extra time too.

6) Make sure people have enough to eat and drink

Moving is a physical exercise too and if you are a nerd like me you probably hardly carry out that much. You don’t use the stairs so many times normally and you will feel exhausted from answering a lot of questions. You can create a good atmosphere with the movers by providing enough food and drinks to get through the packing. You should also tip them generously. So have enough cash with you at the location you depart from and the location you are moving to. Since an overseas shipment will take at least 6 weeks there is enough time to prepare for the moving day in the host location. Remember also that you should stay in corporate accommodation until you are positive that your consignment will arrive on time. In emergencies, relocation companies will rent out furniture to you but it is an unnecessary hassle.

Miracles cannot be expected but if you ensure movers have enough to eat and drink it usually helps the mood.
Miracles cannot be expected but if you ensure movers have enough to eat and drink it usually helps the mood.

Abu Dhabi Mosque

7) Keep all receipts and expect Murphy’s law

Sometimes moving goods get lost at sea or damaged. If you care too much about granny Susanne’s old kitchen cupboard you might need to consider to store it. If it is valuable to make sure you get proper insurance. Keep all receipts of expenditure you had due to the move even if you get a lump sum cash allowance to cover your relocation costs. You might need them to claim insurance. You will have a packing list and you can take photos of your important furniture and paintings for example. Otherwise, you might not have proof of damage. Most relocation companies are very generous with handling issues (unless they are not adhering to industry standards). Before you get into a fist-fight with the relocation company it is best to escalate the issue to your in-house Global Mobility Manager.

These are seven small tips for keeping sane during relocation.

If you liked this post please share it with a person who is currently relocating to another country.

Kind regards

Angie Weinberger

PS. If you wish to have a chat with me you can book a call with me here.

Once you understand how to adapt your application strategy to Switzerland you might feel frustrated by the amount of rejections you have received to date. Many of my clients are very eager in the beginning of their job search and after about two months reality of the Swiss job market hits them. My advice to clients in this case is to focus on two to three applications per week. However, make them count.

 

1) Stand out of the crowd by using your network

Use your network to follow up on your application or to support your application. Many HR processes in Switzerland are very standardized. It is usually necessary that you apply through a website first. However, you can ask your contacts in the company to follow up and support your application. This way the recruiter will be more inclined to take a closer look.

 

2) Have a perfectly branded motivation letter and résumé

I advise to seek a coach or consultant if you are not sure how to brand yourself. Most of my clients cannot tell me who they are professionally. We usually work that out within the first month of our cooperation. Once you know what you are good at, you still need to brand it in a way that is understood by your wider audience (not only by peers or similar professionals). This is not so easy but it can be done.

 

3) Less is more

Only apply to roles where you fulfil 70% of the criteria. Be honest to yourself. Then write on a piece of paper what you like about the company. On a second piece of paper note why you would like to work in this role. Based on these notes write a new motivation letter from scratch. This way you will avoid the copy and paste taste many motivation letters have.

 

4) Patience is key

The recruiters are under a lot of pressure to make the right choice so be patient and nice with them. If you follow up wait for two weeks before doing so. If you follow up over the phone ensure they have time to understand who you are. Try to connect with the person by being friendly and professional.

Tips GPT_7

Understand the recruiting market

Unlike other countries in the Swiss cultural norm is to be transactional and sequential. That means that many professional do not like to be disturbed in their way of handling a process (one candidate at a time). Even Swiss HR colleagues tell me that recruiting has become really low in standard.

 

A fast turnaround and response time used to be considered market relevant when I was hired in 1997 for the first time. Within 10 days of handing in my applications I had been to an assessment of two days and been given an offer within less than three weeks (as a graduate).

 

Nowadays, HR has hardly any decision making power in the recruiting process. Often the recruiter has to wait for feedback from the line manager for days. Also, most line managers increase the minimum requirements for candidates on a daily basis. Often they change their initial search as they are basically looking for a mini-version of themselves.

 

Another issue is the time component. Professionals and especially Line Managers have such an overbooked agenda that it is very hard to block interview times in their schedules.

 

I know: These challenges exist across the globe but you must not forget that here the recruiters hire for about 50 roles at the same time. Switzerland is still growing in many business areas. So be patient and kind and show a bit of understanding.

 

Again, the advantage is that the Swiss like to work with perfection. The least you can expect is a professional interview process and a personalized feedback once you made it to the interview stage.

Discrimination Issues

 

In Switzerland (unlike most other countries in the world) it is very common to add a picture and all of your most personal details on your résumé or curriculum vitae (CV). This includes but is not limited to your date and place of birth, marital status, names and birth dates of your children, work permit type and validity, postal address.

You may be discriminated purely on this basis.

Increasingly Swiss role descriptions demand “Swiss German” (which is a dialect not a language) and knowledge of the Swiss market.

Other reasons why you might end up in the rejection pile that are not really related to your professional experience:

  • Salary expectations: Switzerland has a very high salary level. Still, if your expectations do not match the budget of the position you could instantly be selected for the “rejection” pile.
  • Resignation period: You might have a non-negotiable resignation period. Usually staff is needed yesterday and most companies are not organized enough to hire a candidate before the current position holder runs off.
  • Children: Your young children cause concern about your availability.
  • Woman in their 30ies: Your age and gender causes concern about you having children.
  • Number of moves: Your annual job changes indicate you are a troublemaker
  • Social Media: Your Facebook pictures indicate you are partying to hard or likely to cause trouble.
  • Lack of German or French: Your lack of language skills is interpreted as a lack of respect for the Swiss culture.
  • Longer periods of unemployment or education periods.
  • The missing “rote Faden”: The most prominent cultural tendency in this country is “Uncertainty Avoidance” (check out G. Hofstede’s definition). Basically, you will need to fit into a shoe like Cinderella. If that shoe is too big (or goodness you have the same amount as Imelda Marcos) the recruiter might think you are not an “earnest professional” but a “Hans Dampf in allen Gassen”.

 

Most of my clients hate it when I tell them that they have to brand themselves in one area, which might narrow their “shoe” to Cinderella’s size. It is not against you. Just painful experience and understanding the market a bit longer. I talk to headhunters and HR recruiters. Their band with for your multitalented selves is limited. Make it easier for them to work with you and keep 60% of your talents in the drawer for later use. If you need someone to tell you what a wonderful person you are you can always email me.