The InterNations Business Solutions Team had the pleasure to speak at the latest Next Gen GM event, that was held in London on 26 September 2019. A panel of experts talked about how the relocation experience impacts an employee at work, their well-being and their families. In this Ask the Expert interview, Holly Creed, Global Mobility Expert and Co-Founder of Next Gen GM, provides her expert view on what makes a relocation program successful. She also highlights small adjustments that can improve the relocation experience monumentally with minimal costs.
1. Do you think that career expats need more support than “regular” employees, who do not relocate abroad for work?
I believe that expat employees continue to need more and better support. On the one hand, career expats should receive additional help to integrate not only into a new team, but also into a different country. On the other hand, the support they receive needs to be more consistent.
Many people assume that career expats don’t need the same level of support when they go on multiple travels. However, as country regulations and cultures differ, it’s important to keep that process streamlined and consistent — there needs to be an understanding that certain steps should be taken regardless of whether employees have been on an assignment before or not. Some employers believe that an employee who has been on an assignment before and already had a cultural training, wouldn’t need to have it again — but it’s important to consider that different countries might have very different cultures.
On the whole, I think that career expats are particularly resilient and therefore have a better opportunity to cope but they also need to receive a certain level of guidance — if we do keep the process consistent, they will know what to expect. If we do change it up, we might create an issue and risk a potentially failed assignment as it may differ to their expectation and prior experience.
2. What kind of support could help expat employees to better integrate into their new team and the culture of their new country?
To be successful, relocation packages need to be tailored to the individual needs of employees. I often hear that employers do not actually talk to their employees before they go on an assignment — so how do they know what employees need? Employers need to chat with the employees to understand what they want.
Employees often need guidance, as they sometimes underestimate the challenges posed by life abroad and don’t realize they need something until it’s too late. That upfront investment of someone having an open and frank discussion to understand employees’ circumstances would actually help tailoring the relocation package to the specific needs of an employee to ensure a smooth transition abroad. This package should not only address the needs of employees but also of their families.
3. Why is the spouse integration so important for employers and what should they do to support them where they most need it?
I would say that more assignments end because of issues with the spouse rather than challenges with the employee. The reason behind this is that, while employees are working and usually have access to a professional network, their relocating spouse has potentially left behind their career and opportunities in their home country to move abroad. In their new country, they can have no support network and career opportunities.
According to the Expat Insider 2019 Business Edition, which was presented at the Next Gen GM event in London, while 87% of relocating spouses have a high level of education, 57% of them don’t work. It’s not surprising that the top reason for unhappiness abroad is the lack of professional networking opportunities, according to the survey. This is something that has also been highlighted during the Next Gen GM panel discussion: relocating spouses do not only want to stay at home and take care of their families, they also want to go out there and retain their lifestyle that they previously had.
The lack of self-fulfillment can be disruptive. I think the saying “happy partner, happy life” also applies to assignments because if the employee is happy at home, they will also be happy at work. But if their families are not happy, they probably will want to go home rather than risk detrimental damage to their relationship.
Unfortunately, spouse engagement is still underestimated — it’s considered a nice-to-have, but it should actually be a need-to-have, but I think this will change over time. As employee experience is becoming an increasingly important focus for global mobility managers, I think that in the next five to ten years, spouse support will become almost a norm in terms of what is offered.
4. Along with spouse support, what kind of offering should a relocation package include?
A well-designed relocation package needs to address both the hard and the soft side of relocation, meaning the practical and the personal needs of employees. At the moment, there is a lot investment on the hard side of the relocation, while social integration is often neglected. However, I think the soft side is really what makes or breaks an assignment. If you get the compliance wrong, the employee typically won’t go on an assignment. However, the risk is even higher if you get the soft side wrong, as this might result in a failed assignment, or worse, the employee leaving the company.
The relocation package shouldn’t only be holistic but also tailored to the specific needs of every individual. As mentioned before, it’s very important to speak with the employee before the assignment starts to better understand their specific needs and make sure they are ready. Even if the employee thinks this preparation is not needed, I think it should be strongly recommended. As much as they may feel that they don’t need it, they may be surprised at the benefits, as it becomes harder to sort out after the relocation. Having these conversations upfront, understanding what the employee and their family need, pays off. I really don’t think that a one-size-fits-all approach works, an effective relocation program should be based on what the employee needs versus their colleagues.
Global mobility professionals should also stay up-to-date about the latest trends and innovation. They should be able to discuss with the business about what is recommended to be able to ensure the right package.
5. What do you think the global mobility professionals can take advantage of innovation to better support their assignees?
Times are changing, so are the tools that we can use to improve the employee experience. We shouldn’t be so steeped in tradition, it’s up to us as global mobility professionals to be innovative and look around to understand what could work in our program and in our company.
This process of evolution is still a bit slow but it’s happening more and more, especially as budgets are getting tighter and we are focusing more and more on the employee experience. I don’t think necessarily that employee experience and budget cuts go hand-in-hand but I do believe that if you are losing your budget, then you have to be creative and test yourself to come up with solutions.
6. What kind of innovative solutions do you see in the global mobility world?
There are a lot of new companies coming into the global mobility space who are utilizing technology to keep the costs down. Thanks to them, it’s getting easier for companies to improve the employee experience.
Offering access for employees to communities of expats also represents an inexpensive solution to help expat employees integrate abroad, offering them the opportunity to create a network with other people who deal with the same issues. I don’t think companies are embracing peer-to-peer mentoring as much as they should, as it can be highly beneficial. For career expats, being able to catch up with someone who has been in their shoes before might actually make a difference between someone continuing an assignment or wanting to go home. It is also good for employer branding too, as it is visibly showing that the company does care and is dedicated to help employees integrate abroad.
7. In a nutshell, based on your experience and the highlights from the latest Next Gen GM event, what are your tips for global mobility managers to design an effective and forward-looking relocation package?
I think that successful relocation programs should be holistic, personalized, and streamlined. It’s important to think outside the box and keep testing new solutions, especially at a time when employee engagement is high on the employers’ agendas but budgets continue to shrink. Upfront investments can really make a difference — because there are many little things we can do to improve the relocation experience monumentally with minimal costs. It’s our responsibility, as global mobility professionals, to find new effective solutions in line with our company and employee requirements.
About the Expert: Holly Maria Creed is a Global Mobility Manager at DXC Technology and Co-Founder of Next Gen GM, a forum supporting the next generation of global mobility professionals. She writes as a global mobility subject matter expert, and was shortlisted for the 2018 FEM Expatriate Management and Mobility Award for Global Mobility Professional of the Year. Alongside her DXC Technology colleagues, she was also shortlisted for six other awards, with DXC Technology taking home the award for Global Mobility Team of the Year (Large Program).