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Global Mobility Teams Must Accept that Employees are Not Machines

What does peer-to-peer support entail and how does it benefit employers, global mobility teams, and foreign assignees? Christoph Zeinecker, Head of Business Solutions at InterNations, the world’s largest expat network, and a seasoned global mobility professional, explains.

Only a few employers have identified the true value of peer-to-peer support — expats and locals supporting foreign assignees and their families in the host country — as a means of relocation support. In comparison with other logistical relocation services, it is a rather difficult value to measure. It requires an open mind and the willingness to look at all potential risks and opportunity expenses in a self-honest way.

Traditional HR has already learnt that employees are not machines and that happy and well-supported employees simply deliver more. Global mobility must accept this reality as well, and not only believe that an assignment requires a candidate, a visa, a move, and a home — and done is the relocation.

The Core of Peer-to-Peer Support

Generally, peer-to-peer support can be divided into two key areas: The feel-good support and the logistical support. The feel-good support relates to interactions with other individuals, such as networking and socializing in the new location — leading to happiness and social integration. The logistical support refers to a lot of day-to-day help. Many employers buy expensive services to support their employees in the host location with aspects such as opening a bank account, area orientation, and referrals for important contacts such as doctors. This can easily and happily be supported by a social peer-to-peer community.

The New Direction Global Mobility Should Take

In the world of global mobility, employers provide well when it comes to getting employees integrated and onboarded logistically — finding a house, a school, and so forth. They even provide language and cultural training or spouse support. But all this support happens on a high theoretical level and lacks the touch with reality.

Companies must move away from the belief that social integration equals a party and, therefore, is not their responsibility. This is, of course, not the employer’s responsibility when employees are in their natural habitat and have an established social network. But as the company pulls their employees and potentially their families out of this natural environment, the employer needs to accept the responsibility on the one hand and the necessity on the other.

The InterNations Business Solutions Expat Insider 2018 Business Edition, based on a survey of 18,135 expats, including foreign assignees and relocating spouses, found that not having a personal support network stands out as a need for assignees and their spouses in terms of settling in and being happy abroad. They also show a bigger desire for socializing opportunities and interactions with others — compared to other types of relocation support offered by employers, such as language classes.

As soon as the holiday feeling and the honeymoon period comes to an end, foreign assignees and their families realize the actual challenges, such as language barriers and culture shock in the new location. They also realize that they might have learnt about these things theoretically but that experiencing it in real life is a different story. In these cases, it is great if you have a network of people, where you can bounce these experiences and challenges off. It is even better if people in this peer-to-peer network have firsthand experience themselves.

The ROI of Peer-to-Peer Support and Social Integration

Employers should take these aspects seriously, not only because access to a social network in the new host location of the assignee can reduce the administrative load of global mobility teams, but also because a ready-to-go social network can prevent assignment failure and improve the return on investment of the assignment.

We can’t look at assignment failure from a simple black and white point of view. An assignment does not only fail when the employee returns to his or her home location prematurely or resigns. A failure already starts with relationship issues or psychological health problems due to unhappiness — for both the assignee and the spouse.

If the employer looks at the return on investment of the assignment, then social integration should be considered more than seriously. Depending on how deep and detailed one looks into the assignment and what career level the assignee is working in, assumption-based model calculations show a high four-digit return on the investment into the social integration of the employee.

Another return on investment dimension is the reduction of the administrative workload of global mobility teams, because many issues of the assignees or their family members can be solved through peer-to-peer support.

The Future of Supporting Global Employees

Looking ahead, I would like to see companies that are bold and adventurous in their strategies to better support and integrate foreign assignees and their families in their host location. Life experience has, however, taught me that even a small step is sometimes a great success. I believe there is a need for employers to support their global employees and their spouses more effectively and that more emphasis should be placed on peer-to-peer support and social integration. Global mobility professionals that understand the actual needs of assignees and their families and acknowledge that well-supported assignees are happier and more successful, are already taking small steps in the right direction.


Christoph ZeineckerAbout the Author: Christoph Zeinecker is Head of Business Solutions at InterNations, the world’s largest expat network. InterNations Business Solutions provides expert insights and personalized solutions for global mobility and HR professionals to ensure successful foreign assignments and improved international talent retention. As a seasoned global mobility professional, he has worked for leading service providers. In addition to his long track record in business development, he has worked in project management, technology marketing, brand building, and trend research. He holds a degree in business administration and has lived abroad for long periods of his career.

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