Author Archives: Angie Weinberger

“And, here’s the rub, if you think about it, many business problems are simply personal problems in disguise. Even now, as a business coach, author, and speaker, much of the work I do helps people move through personal problems, as they relate to their business problems.” – Michael Port

 

Discussion with Jill

 Jill is a successful Global Marketing Director with over twenty years of experience. She moved to Switzerland in 2009 as a local hire when she received a good offer from a large pharma company. As a US citizen and single professional woman integrating in Switzerland (a country largely dominated by males earning the main income while females keep the household and children in perfect shape) she initially had a hard time adjusting. After two years she finally felt settled and at home. Jill loves her work and next to a bit of exercise and travelling she does not take a lot of time off. She is successful and strong in a male environment. She is accepted because of her international background, experience and the high quality and fast output.
Then one day early in 2014 the company she works for had to downsize. Foreigners go first. Why is that? There is no logic in the employment law requiring certain criteria to be met when downsizing is on the agenda. Contrary to many European countries Swiss employment contract and employment law is closer to the US and UK case law. It is actually very easy to terminate an employee.

What most foreigners moving to Switzerland underestimate though, is that their work and residence permit status is closely linked to their employment. Unlike EU citizens (which still have the benefit of the blialteral agreement with the EU) a US , Canadian, Indian or Australian is considered a “third country” citizen. (Not to be confused with third world country). The immigration status therefore depends on having employment.  The fact that you are eligible for unemployment benefits is not giving the authorities grounds to extend your work and residence permit.

Last month I had two clients who were made redundant or are about to be terminated. Often not even the HR department understands the implications of the termination. I offer advice and support to clients in such cases.  I am not going to blurt out what I told Jill but we will update you if it works out. In a worst-case scenario she only has 60 days to move out of Switzerland (with an L-Permit it is only 15 days).

Here are three tips what you can  do now to avoid such a situation:

1)   If you are made redundant speak to HR about your personal situation. It might be possible to extend your termination period.

2)   Keep in contact with recruiting companies and headhunters in your field.

3)   Strengthen your network in your industry as most jobs are given to personal connections these days.

4)   Get married to a Swiss person or EU citizen.

5)   If you are transferred by a company, negotiate a repatriation clause in case of redundancy.

6)   Before you become desperate, make an appointment with us.

Urs, the global HR ManagerThe last you know of Urs, the global HR Manager is that we agreed to meet again in three months. Urs and his wife had taken a brave decision. They went to Bangalore and Kerala for a small vacation. Urs wanted to have a conversation with Rajeev’s father. Rajeev then was allowed to support the company in Switzerland for nine months. Urs told me later that through his vacation he got a better understanding of how Indian families lived. He also understood that Rajeev needed a lot more support and what he called “fatherly love” than his Swiss team members.

While Rajeev worked in Switzerland they took coffee and tea in the morning. Urs did not have a team in Switzerland but a few other colleagues where interested in India so they would join them. Rajeev enjoyed the small coffee breaks. He learnt about Swiss sports and politics. He dared to ask questions about the religion and about single life before marriage. When this topic started Urs would excuse himself to go to a meeting while Rajeev. For the rest of the day Rajeev would work hard to meet Urs’ expectations. He often worked longer hours than his Swiss colleagues but he enjoyed his work. Once he was back in Bangalore and even when he moved on to a new employer Rajeev would see Urs as a mentor and ask him for guidance. Urs once told me with teary eyes “You know with Rajeev and also Kasha I almost feel like they are my children. It’s a new feeling for me since we never had children. I enjoy to be so useful now and I am much more relaxed.”

That day we ended the coaching. There is only so much a coach can contribute.

I have been asked to write about my view on the Swiss referendum for “curbing” immigration into Switzerland. It is very hard for me because I feel very strongly about this topic. I feel it was a huge mistake. I feel it affects me more than it should. I felt like leaving the country. I thought about giving you factual reasons why this referendum sends the wrong signals and why I can only assume that 50% of the Swiss voters did not really understand what they were doing. I thought I’d give you an insight into the immigration reality by showing facts and figures such as

1) Unemployment rate is at 3.5% (who’s taking jobs away?),

2) 22% foreigners include second generation immigrants who were born here as well as well-integrated permanent residents,

3) Many large companies have hundreds of open positions they cannot fill because the Swiss markets does not have the resources needed.

4) Many large companies are only strong because they hire experts from across the globe.

5) The pension system depends on a regular migration as there are not enough babies born by Swiss people.

6) Illegal immigration is per se NOT legal. So you cannot fight it with quotas.

7) Stopping the bilateral agreement means you want to end a contract that includes free trade into the EU and many other countless benefits that have pushed the growth in this country.

Without doubt:  This country depends on qualified immigration and on free trade with the EU.

BUT: facts and figures did not win this popular initiative. So I want  to tell you more about how I feel.

I came to Switzerland for work. I was well established in my home country Germany. I had worked in Zurich earlier in my life and had waited for a chance to move back. (In 1998 I could not stay as I would not have gotten a permit). My company asked me to move to Switzerland because the team was falling apart and they could not find a team leader in four months. I gave up my friends, my apartment and I moved. It was not easy. My role was a step down and I even took an income loss by purchasing power into account but I had this dream about living in Switzerland and it motivated me.

I said to my friends in Germany that I m “repatriating”. I was born on lake Constance so Switzerland felt like “home” for me. I was wrong. I speak High German, not Swiss German. I m a foreigner in this country and I will always be. I am an immigrant. If I ever spoke Swiss German perfectly I would still be an immigrant. I grew up with a heightened sensitivity about racism because I am raised in Germany. I belong to the nation responsible for the Holocaust.

In Switzerland people of my generation do not have the German guilt complex. They are open-minded but they do not worry about discrimination in the same way as I do. I work with people from different cultural and religious backgrounds and I want them to feel welcome and at home here but I do not even feel welcome and at home here.

I look at job postings asking for Swiss German and I feel the discrimination. It’s subtle but it is there. I felt it at work. Swiss colleagues would constantly mock my “German” style until I completely shut up, until I stopped being myself at work and until I gave up fighting for what I believe was right and important. I changed into a robot. Now, in Germany friends tell me “You talk in a funny way.” They laugh at my grammar. I’m shocked if a person I do not know speaks to me in public. I say “Merci” instead of “Danke”. I’m too early for appointments. I plan four weeks ahead and my friends at home shake their heads. I’m more relaxed, less pushy, less direct. German clients don’t get me. They think I am nice and shy. They think I don’t know anything. What I am trying to say is that I have become more Swiss than many Swiss people I know. I just don’t use the dialect because I am worried that I could hurt a Swiss person’s feelings.

My dear Swiss fellows, I am sensitive to your feelings and I am trying so hard but your majority does not care about my feelings or the feelings of the other 2 million well-behaved, well-integrated highly educated professionals that came to Switzerland for work.

Now, I run a business here, I pay my taxes, I create employment and still you do not want me here. It breaks my heart.

Do you remember Urs, the global HR Manager I introduced you to last week? Well, he took a few hours of 1:1 coaching and a few weeks later he relayed the last conference call with his team. He told me that the atmosphere had completely changed.

“What did you do?” I asked him.

“Well, I don’t really know. First I stopped emailing my team members and arranged to have a bi-weekly team call. I started to have a weekly 1:1 Skype call at odd hours from home with every single team member as we are not allowed to use Skype at work and our VC is always booked. Somehow, these calls are not really efficient. They are not about work but I am trying to get to know my team better. I am trying to understand what goes on in their lives and I tell them a bit about my family, my wife and my two daughters. I had not realized that Kasha was just going through a divorce. Rajeev has told me in the second call that his parents want him to get married to a distant relative but he dates a girl he loves in secret. I had no idea that they were so old fashioned still.

So I asked Rajeev if he would like to come to Switzerland for a few months to help me with the roll-out here. Maybe by the time he returns his parents change their minds. I also offered to talk to them. Rajeev really appreciated this gesture. I could see that he almost cried. Then afterwards he worked more hours and fixed the issue with the taxes with a local programmer. The two of them also contacted Maria in Manila and explained her what she needed to change step-by-step. I was surprised at this sudden initiative and must say I had a completely wrong idea of Rajeev’s talents. He is a lot better than what I thought.

Next, I asked the team if we could have a vision board where we would all post our ideas for the team in 2016. We have collated the ideas and they gave me good direction for planning the next projects. The last big step now is that every team member revises the milestones of the project plan as we never thought about the local holidays and that specifications need time and resources as well.”

I smiled. “What are you going to do next?”

“I don’t know. I feel a bit superfluous in the team now but I guess I will think about a marketing strategy for our team so senior management understands the value we bring to the firm.”

“Sounds good.”

We agreed to meet again in three months.

(to be continued)