Talent has an important competitive advantage for employers and its mobility is a significant factor to succeed in a globalized world. As the war for talent intensifies, international recruitment ramps up companies’ agendas. However, while more and more employers realize the importance of hiring internationally, many myths surrounding expat employees remain widespread. It’s important for companies to overcome these misconceptions, which could lead to international placements failure, if left unaddressed.
Myth 1: International Recruitment Is Just About the Professional Life
Many employers offer practical and financial relocation support to international hires, but a lot of them are reluctant to facilitate their social integration outside of work. Social support is rarely offered to expat employees, as many companies believe that they can easily find new social connections abroad. This belief is not only because expats are usually considered to be open-minded and outgoing, but also because they show a high level of resilience and determination by moving to another country.
However, the challenges posed by moving abroad are often underestimated both by companies and global employees. When candidates agree to an international relocation, they leave behind a large and complex social network — from close friends and family to professional contacts and colleagues. This treasure chest of relationships requires a lot of time, motivation, and a high emotional investment to rebuild.
Lacking access to a social community and support, expat employees often find themselves in a silent crisis. According to findings in the Expat Insider 2018 Business Edition, many international hires struggle to make new friends in their new location and miss opportunities to network and socialize. This is a real a challenge not only for the newbies, but also for seasoned expat employees.
Myth 2: The Integration of International Hires Grows Steadily over Time
While many employers believe that the onboarding stage represents the most critical phase of the expat lifecycle, the Expat Insider 2018 Business Edition indicates that international hires need to be supported throughout the entire journey. After the first six months in their new home country, international hires begin to experience greater levels of unhappiness, according to findings in the report.
Following the initial exhilaration and feeling of adventure — the honeymoon phase — a daily routine kicks in and often changes the picture. This is where the honeymoon phase turns into a more critical stage in terms of feeling settled and establishing personal support and social networks with locals and other expats.
During this stage, international hires may realize that life in their new home country is not so easy after all and feel the strain of cultural barriers that they did not perceive during the first months after their arrival. Even two to five years after moving to the new country, barely half of all expats feel at home in the new culture.
Myth 3: Social Integration Does Not Have an Impact on Productivity at Work
Some employers believe that work and private lives are separate entities. However, the personal lives of employees do not cease to be relevant the moment they step into an office. If they are dealing with stressors at home, they bring those stressors into their workplace, with a significant impact on their productivity.
Expat employees are particularly vulnerable, as moving to a foreign country is very disruptive to their private lives. While working abroad represents a rewarding experience and a career opportunity, integrating into a new culture, the isolation caused by a language barrier, as well as the strain of leaving behind or uprooting an entire family can prove to be extremely challenging.
Further findings in the Expat Insider 2018 Business Edition indicate that the lack of a personal support network and socializing opportunities are the two key reasons contributing to the unhappiness of international hires.
Loneliness poses a greater threat to mental and physical health, aggravating anxiety, depression, and stress-related symptoms, as well as sabotaging our physical health. According to a study by Aetna International, 56% of expats report signs of anxiety and depression.
Lonely employees feel and act less approachable with a knock-on effect on group cohesion and collaboration. Those ripple effects make loneliness an organizational problem and addressing it an organizational responsibility.
In a recent article, Cigna highlights that business leaders could contribute significantly to a solution by creating a “culture of connectivity.” Not only is connection the best cure to loneliness, but it also pays off in the form of improved employee well-being and productivity. It’s important for business leaders to be proactive in tackling the problem of loneliness and the costs it entails.
It’s Expensive Not to Act
Hiring internationally can be challenging and requires a shift of approach, but also brings significant benefits in terms of productivity.
A recent study by McKinsey reveals an important connection between diversity and financial performance — companies that were more racially and ethnically diverse are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. This data shows that companies and institutions with greater levels of diversity are achieving better performance.
Diversity matters in an increasingly global and interconnected world. However, international hires need to be supported by their employers to achieve productivity levels faster and become more resilient. Support with the social integration of international hires does not have to be expensive or require internal structures — employers can choose among many external solutions.
To support the integration of social employees abroad, self-service solutions such as peer-to-peer support, can help expats with settling into their new country and rebuilding their social life.
ReferencesAetna International. 2017. Expatriate Mental Health, Breaking the Silence and Ending the Stigma.