How to support employees that transfer from international locations?

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The Diversio Team
2020-12-29 16:07:38

When an employee begins working under a manager’s supervision, there is a critical need to build a supportive and inclusive environment. In particular, when an employee is sent overseas to work under a manager’s supervision, this need becomes ever-more pressing.

For many employees sent overseas, not only are they working with a new team and among new colleagues — but, they are in a new city altogether. While the employee must learn the new office’s dynamics and framework, they are also challenged to learn the dynamics of the respective location.

80% of midsize and large companies currently send professionals abroad, and 45% plan to increase their numbers sent abroad. Therefore, the discussion around how to support said employees that transfer internationally becomes that much more prominent.

According to a Harvard Business Review study, between 10% to 20% of all employees sent abroad returned early because of job dissatisfaction or difficulties in adjusting to their new country. Of those who stayed for the duration of the work term, almost 30% did not perform up to their superiors’ expectations. Alarmingly, 25% of employees who completed an assignment left their company, often joining a competitor, within one year after returning to their primary location. According to HBR, this is a turnover rate more than double the industry average.

Very few human resources managers at companies have worked themselves internationally. Therefore, most have very little understanding of the professional and personal challenges to international work assignments. As a result, many companies fail to provide adequate support and foster an international employee transfer’s work experience.

In order to combat this, there are best practices that can increase the level of support international employee transfers can receive to ensure that they feel included and remain engaged with their position. For example, GE Medical Systems has nearly eliminated unwanted turnover caused by poor internal transfer experiences. As a result, GE Medical Systems has seen its international sales expand from 10% to more than 50% of its total sales during the last ten years.

Successful Engagement Criteria

Some companies may send employees internationally to reward them or fill a pressing business need elsewhere. According to research, companies that manage international employees with adequate support and inclusion have one of three primary reasons: (1) knowledge creation, (2) mentorship, and (3) global leadership development.

  1. Knowledge Creation

For employees who are transferring internationally, one way to make them feel excited and engaged is to encourage the ongoing creation of knowledge. Every culture and location offers a rich history that is embedded within any subject matter. Whether the knowledge is business-related or not, they will remain engaged and excited with their work by educating employees consistently.

This can be achieved by inviting the employee to sit in on a meeting to see how business is conducted in the respective location. Likewise, the international employee can also learn through the different dynamics of a company’s culture and operations and how they differ overseas. Business operations are different everywhere, so a manager at the respective office must take time to educate the employee on their new temporary location through an inciteful and engaging method.

2. Mentorship

When the employee arrives overseas, top-performing companies often assign the new employee with a mentor/buddy. This mentor will often be their first professional and social engagement at the office. The mentor system is intended to have someone be there for the employee for work or personal related matters. Within the first week of the employee’s start date, it is encouraged that the mentor spends time getting to know the new employee and vice versa. This can be done by taking the employee out for lunch or coffee. The mentor will be the go-to contact for any questions about the new location or office that the employee has.

3. Global Leadership Development

Many companies explore new markets, eventually opening new offices. Others form joint ventures or other business partnerships. Goods and services are offered in new markets, even if they continue to be supported “back home”. By allowing the employee to learn in their new environment, they will begin to develop global leadership skills, which will be incredibly impactful to the trajectory of their career.

It is vital that the managers foster the employee’s global leadership development by providing them with new and exciting tasks that may be unrelated to their usual line of work on an occasional basis. By doing this, the employee will be able to taste something new in a different geography, thereby learning skills that they can apply to their career onwards.

Address Cultural Disparities

International workers may encounter cultural differences with a company’s in-house managers and staff. Companies should coordinate discussions that address any cross-cultural factors that may impede business operations and determine the best ways for everyone to work together.

These cultural disparities should be addressed within the first week of the employee’s arrival. This can be done by encouraging the “buddy/mentor” program and sparking employee bonding with teambuilding activities.

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