Brexit: Can Expat Communities Contribute to a Positive Employee Experience?
11 Mar 2019
With the world now more connected through professional and social networks and technology, the number of tools available for employers looking to safeguard and enhance their globally mobile employees’ experience has grown.
Online and real-life communities have long been a feature of many an expat’s experience. A useful information exchange and reality check for life in a new city, they are often a go-to source for the inside track on accommodation, cost of living and navigating the intricacies of local administrations.
However, with studies showing rising risks of significant geopolitical events, could the expat community be coming into its own once more, especially with Brexit day nearing?
The Role of Expat Communities
Carmine is a Consul in InterNations’ London Community, which has a membership of 111,000 expats and locals from 225 different countries. Together with 139 other Consuls, he organizes regular activities, from brunch get-togethers to expeditions to the local art museums, professional networking events, sporting activities and pub trivia outings. For an employee not affected by Brexit, these activities may sound like a nice add-on to an already busy social schedule. However, for many EU nationals working in London — and UK nationals active in the 167 other communities InterNations manages in Europe — this local expat community provides benefits that are essential to their personal and professional wellbeing abroad.
How Peer Communities Safeguard Employee Experience During Times of Geopolitical Upheaval
InterNations identifies three key benefits that expat communities and their peer-to-peer support deliver to global employees and their employers during times of crisis:
1. Social connectedness
International employees who are directly impacted by Brexit may have a greater need for social interaction and community than normal. Not only do they suffer from the stress of an uncertain future, they may also lack the private contacts and network that a permanent resident can draw from. Even without the added anxieties of Brexit, foreign assignees and international hires can often struggle with social integration when moving abroad. According to Carmine, global employees in the UK capital are no exception to this trend. “London can be a difficult place for expats to make friends.” The expat community fills this gap, providing global employees with a safe space to meet outside of work and feel a sense of connectedness. “With InterNations events, you know you can go there and always meet people you can bond with.
2. Personalised information
Another key benefit of a well-managed expat community is the vault of useful information that expats exchange with each other. Carmine, for example, helped his peers understand the proof of residency requirements so they can apply for settled or pre-settled status. With their collective knowledge, expats can answer many of the smaller questions that typically ensue around relocation issues — questions that may otherwise land on the desks of busy global mobility and HR teams. While employers need to fulfill certain obligations towards their international employees, expat communities can provide an additional channel of support. Peer-to-peer support may be particularly useful for global employees from younger age cohorts, with their affinity for informal, how-to advice.
3. Support with feeling settled
While geopolitical events can have their positive and negative outcomes, most Brexit-related relocations are unwanted. Forced to make professional and personal changes, global employees may experience a lack of meaning and lowered morale. This may lead to difficulties feeling settled in their country of residence, and ultimately impact work performance. An expat community can be structured in a way that alleviates the anxieties caused by an unwanted relocation, especially if it is part of a wider global network spanning across key destinations. Within the InterNations network, all communities provide a standardized environment so international employees can easily connect with their peers and settle in. Newly arrived expats enjoy exclusive welcome events, get to know the community’s local ambassadors and receive up-to-date advice from their peers. Those returning to their home country may join the local InterNations community there and receive support settling into their own culture.
Delivering a Positive Employee Experience
Providing social connectedness, personalised experience, and support settling in are key to a good employee experience abroad — and chimes with the motivations of the millennial generation keen to experience local life. With political instability spreading globally, employers need to think of new ways to improve employee wellbeing and resilience, without adding to their administrative workload. For InterNations, local networks are an innovative approach to managing both of these themes.
“A cooperation between an employer and an expat community is a new and flexible approach to improving the wellbeing and stability of a company’s global employees,” says Theresa Häfner, Head of Business Solutions at InterNations. “The peer-to-peer community provides value in all stages of the relocation, but even more so when companies want to protect their employees from the pressures of a geopolitical event.”