Foreign Assignees: Getting Them Connected and Up to Speed
23 Jan 2019
Based on an expat survey with 18,000 respondents from around the globe, InterNations Business Solutions has identified seven aspects of social integration that impact the success of global assignments.
“Global mobility teams are masters in moving households and helping employees set up their new life abroad. However, a relocation is not just about moving boxes, it takes away a person’s entire social life: friends, supporters, and professional contacts. Employers who want their foreign assignees to be successful need to help with their social integration — and it will save them a lot of hand-holding”, says Christoph Zeinecker, Head of InterNations Business Solutions.
7 Key Facts about Social Integration Every Global Mobility Pro Should Know
1. There is a Business Case for Social Integration
Social integration abroad happens, to a large degree, outside of work and after hours, with companies tending to think of it as a perk or personal matter. In doing so, they underestimate the influence that social integration has on a person’s emotional well-being — or lack thereof: Foreign assignees who are unhappy with their life abroad most frequently report a lack of socializing opportunities as a possible reason, as the Expat Insider Business Edition shows.
This issue affects them years into their assignment — a long-term decrease in employee well-being may lead to mental health issues, reduced performance, and even assignment failure. Other employees may reconsider going on global assignments as they fear social isolation and its effects on themselves or their spouses. Supporting the social integration of foreign assignees is a question of ROI and reputation management.
2. Social Integration Needs to Happen Fast
Time is literally money when companies send their employees abroad. Foreign assignees are frequently expected to pick up the reins even faster than usual, especially if their know-how is essential to a project’s success. This leaves them with less time to socialize outside of work.
Some forward-thinking employers are now stepping in and working with professional expat networks as a speedway to social integration. The expat network provides a newly arrived employees with the opportunity to connect with other expats, find people who share the same interests, and participate in regular leisure activities. This allows employees to be more focused at work and not have to worry about what to do after working hours.
3. Social Integration Needs to Be Local
Social integration involves employees getting used to their new environment and immersing themselves in the local culture. While taking language classes and intercultural seminars can help to prepare employees for this, most of it happens “on the ground”, in everyday life. Some companies therefore offer their employees a membership in a local sports club or cultural organization. However, the language barrier can render such measures less effective.
Again, a well-managed expat community may be a useful alternative. It provides a safe harbor in which employees can interact in English, yet also practice the new language. They can explore the local culture with knowledgeable insiders and get up-to-date information about their new host country. For employers, this translates into a leaner, more focused onboarding, as the community covers much of the employee’s integration outside of the workplace.
4. Social Integration Needs to Be Personal
Social integration has a strong practical side to it which impacts the relocation industry more than other sectors. It means knowing people who can help with the numerous issues that employees face when relocating: how to find a trustworthy babysitter, how to behave during appointments with the local immigration officer, how to enroll children in school, etc. The lack of a personal support network can be stressful for foreign assignees — it is one major cause of unhappiness, not just in the first few months, but also in the second or even fifth year of their stay abroad. The survey results presented in the Expat Insider Business Edition confirm this.
However, offering this highly individualized support also puts great pressure on companies, who may not have the staff or infrastructure in the host country to support their global employees locally. One solution to this problem is to provide an easy way for employees to build a personal support network on their own, which greatly reduces the administrative load of the employers and the local HR staff.
5. Social Integration Needs to Go Beyond the Expat Bubble
Spending time with other expats is normal for foreign assignees and provides a short break from living and working in a different culture. Some may even stay exclusively within their expat community without immersing themselves in the local culture. However, this is often not a deliberate choice.
Employers should not forget that making local friends can be a challenge. Among the foreign assignees participating in the InterNations Expat Insider survey, 41% considered it difficult to find local friends. This can pose a problem even during the second or third year of their stay abroad. Employers should be aware of this when planning the support for their foreign assignees, as socializing with locals is crucial for honing intercultural skills, breaking into local business networks, and acquiring in-depth knowledge of the local culture. These are all aspects that employees and employers will benefit from long after an assignment is over
6. Social Integration Needs to Include Spouses
Spouses are often the glue that holds a family’s social life together. However, when the couple moves abroad, this role can change dramatically. For instance, spouses often lack the social interaction at work because they cannot get a work permit or need stay at home to look after young children.
It is hardly a surprise that spouses have a greater need for social interaction, networking, and personal support compared to other expat groups — their social integration virtually starts from zero. Statistics from the Expat Insider Business Edition show: For spouses who are unhappy abroad, the lack of a personal support network is the biggest pain point, with a lack of socializing opportunities coming a close second. Forward-thinking employers should take this into consideration when planning their expat packages. Employees are more likely to agree to a global assignment if they know that their partner will be socially connected abroad. Plus, employee satisfaction will be higher if the partner enjoys a healthy social life, which leads to higher productivity.
7. Social Integration is a Must for the Next Generation of Foreign Assignees
In the past, foreign assignees would sometimes go abroad and put their social life on hold until they returned to their home country. For them, socializing meant sharing the occasional beer with a colleague. However, today’s assignees are increasingly younger — well-traveled employees whose professional experience is shaped by the Future of Work concept. When these employees agree to a global assignment, they may still expect a fair compensation, but a good work-life balance and a great personal experience are equally important to them. Their idea of social integration is different in several regards. They are used to a high degree of social connectedness, both online and offline. Growing up with online shopping and social networks, they are used to a smooth user experience and expect to adjust to a new culture just as effortlessly.
Helping these employees integrate quickly and successfully may mean providing them with local networking opportunities and a high-quality digital experience. Extending this offer to their spouses should be a given for any company seeking to win young top talent for a global assignment.
About InterNations Business Solutions
InterNations Business Solutions was launched in 2018 by InterNations, the world’s largest network for professionals living and working abroad. The B2B division is based in Munich and develops peer-to-peer-based solutions for successful global assignments in 420 locations worldwide. Global mobility teams are able to minimize the risk of assignment failure, reduce the workload and improve the performance of employees abroad.
About the Expat Insider Business Edition
The Expat Insider survey is one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive surveys on life abroad. It takes a look at the world through expat eyes in the form of an overall ranking of common expat destinations and information. In total, 18,135 expats from across the globe took part in the survey. They represent 178 nationalities and are living in 187 countries or territories. The new Expat Insider Business Edition looks at global talent mobility through expat eyes on a global level. Download the report at business.internations.org/expat-insider.