As global mobility teams increasingly look to mobilize talent from abroad, the expectation on employers to provide a high level of support to relocating employees and their families also intensifies. Fortunately, peer-to-peer support can play a significant role in helping foreign assignees adjust to their host country, and relieve some of the pressure on global mobility teams in the process.
While moving abroad for work can be an amazing experience, it is not without its pain points. Employees are increasingly expecting their employers to understand and support them in overcoming the considerable challenges involved in relocating. Providing comprehensive support to foreign assignees and their families is undeniably a fundamental expectation of global mobility teams, however as needs differ from one person and assignment to the next, standardized processes and a one-size-fits-all approach often leaves gaps in relocation support.
While case-by-case management is costly to both the time and resources of employers, some aspects of relocation support — such as socializing opportunities outside of work and support with getting used to and feeling at home in the local culture — can be achieved through social support from peers. By meeting some of the crucial support needs required by employees and their families when moving abroad, peer-to-peer support can effectively take some of the weight off the shoulders of global mobility teams.
While expats are often viewed as privileged, adventure-seekers, or career-driven, they are taken out of their comfort zone and away from friends, family, and their daily routine. This upheaval brings many personal challenges. The recently published Expat Insider 2018 Business Edition, a report based on one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive surveys on life abroad with 18,135 respondents from across the globe, indicates that building a social circle can be one of the most difficult aspects of moving abroad. The survey found that 59% of foreign assignees that are unhappy abroad say it is because they don’t have enough socializing opportunities — their main reason for unhappiness. The second-most important reason for their unhappiness was because they don’t have a personal support network, with 45% of foreign assignees indicating this.
The importance of having a healthy social life was also highlighted in an expat study conducted by Oxford Research, which surveyed expats who live and work in Denmark. Respondents indicated a desire for more socializing groups and networks, recommended that employers should do more to connect foreign assignees and their families with local colleagues, and encouraged co-workers to be more inclusive in their private life outside of work. This need for global employees in Denmark to build a social circle outside of the office is well known to Linda Duncan Wedelboe, Head of Global Talent at Dansk Industri, who says, ‘’No matter how interesting the job, it can get lonely and rough when the clock strikes four and Danes typically go home’’ (Dansk Industri, 2018).
Supportive and genuine friendships are critical to feeling at home and help to overcome feelings of loneliness and isolation in their new location. Connecting with other expats who share the same experiences and challenges helps employees to feel understood and experience empathy amongst likeminded others. Friendships between those of the same nationality enable assignees to maintain a connection with their home country, uphold their culture and traditions, and speak their native language.
Making local friends is equally important, empowering foreign assignees to escape the expat bubble, gain local insights, and integrate into their host country. The modern workforce is becoming increasingly mobile, with a large number (70%) of employers saying that having a global workforce is very or extremely important to their talent strategy (Envoy, 2018). As global talent mobility steadily rises, and as companies continue to access emerging markets, more locations are being added to the relocation map. This results in an even greater need for research and specialized local information, which is often a difficult task for global mobility teams who struggle to provide comprehensive localized information for all of their assignment locations.
More than any guide book or fact sheet could ever provide, making local friends can give employees moving abroad all of the knowledge they need about their new city — whether this be information on opening a bank account, schooling advice for their children, or local shop and restaurant recommendations. Creating a social network can also increase personal security, as foreign assignees quickly settle in and learn the do’s and don’ts in their host country. Knowing their way around and feeling comfortable and safe is critical, reducing some of the anxiety experienced by foreign assignees when stepping outside of their comfort zone and moving abroad for work.
Employees with a robust social network, made up of both expat and local friends, are not only happier outside of the workplace. Social integration increases their overall satisfaction abroad and gives them a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves. Satisfaction in their personal life, in turn, allows them to be happier at work, focus their energy into their job, and be more productive at work — with happy employees estimated to be 31% more productive than their unhappy colleagues (Harvard Business Review, 2011). This can result in committed and valuable foreign assignees who are more likely to stay for the full duration of their assignment.
Peer-to-Peer Support Makes for Happier Assignees
As the majority of foreign assignees generally do not have friends or family in their host country, developing meaningful connections and personal support systems, as well as creating a social network, are top priorities. Such relationships relieve some of the pressure on global mobility teams, by offering invaluable peer-to-peer support and, as a result, helping to facilitate successful assignments abroad.
Read the Expat Insider 2018 Business Edition: Expat Insider is one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive surveys on life abroad (18,135 expats from across the globe took part in the 2018 survey — 10% of respondents were foreign assignees).
Envoy. 2018. Immigration Trends Report. https://trends.envoyglobal.com/
Harvard Business Review. 2011. The Happiness Dividend. https://hbr.org/2011/06/the-happiness-dividend
Oxford Research. 2014. The Expat Study 2014. https://oxfordresearch.dk/projects/nyt-expat-study/
Dansk Industri. 2018. Expats risk loneliness after 4PM. https://www.danskindustri.dk/di-business/arkiv/news/2018/11/blog-risk-of-loneliness-after-4pm