International Hires: 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 recruiting and retention of international hires.
“Employers are investing heavily in housing or logistical support in order to win the global talent war. 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 seek a long, productive relationship with their international hires need to focus on the social integration of their global talent”, says Christoph Zeinecker, Head of InterNations Business Solutions.
7 Key Facts about Social Integration Every HR Pro Should Know
1. The Business Case for Social Integration
The social integration of international hires happens, to a large degree, outside of work and after hours. So, when the topic is brought up, companies tend to think of it as a perk or a personal matter. They underestimate the influence that social integration has on a person’s emotional well-being — or lack thereof. International employees who are unhappy with their life abroad most frequently report a lack of socializing opportunities as a possible reason, according to the Expat Insider Business Edition.
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 international hires is a question of ROI and reputation management.
2. Social Integration Needs to Happen Fast
When students attend school or university abroad, their social integration will often take care of itself over time. However, time is literally money when companies recruit internationally. International hires are frequently expected to pick up the reins even faster than regular employees, 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 getting used to a new environment and immersing yourself 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 to. It provides a safe harbor from which they can explore the local culture with knowledgeable insiders and get up-to-date information about their new place of residence. Newcomers can address their numerous questions in English, yet also practice the new language. For employers, this translates into a leaner, more focused onboarding, as the community covers much of the employee’s “outside” integration. According to the Expat Insider Business Edition, 8% of all international hires globally received this type of support from their employers, the report shows.
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 your children in school, etc. The lack of a personal support network can be rather stressful for international hires: it is one major reason for their unhappiness, not just in the first few months, but also in the second or even fifth year of their stay abroad.
However, offering this type of highly individualized personal support also puts great pressure on companies, who do not have the staff or infrastructure at their disposal to support their international hires outside of working hours. One solution to this problem is to provide an easy way for employees to build a personal support network on their own. This greatly reduces the administrative load of the HR staff.
5. Social Integration Needs to Pop the Expat Bubble
Spending time with other expats is a matter of course for international hires — 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 international hires participating in the InterNations survey, 48% considered this as difficult. It can pose a problem even during the second or third year of their stay in the new home country. There are many reasons why employers should help their international hires break out from the expat bubble. International hires who spend leisure time with locals may settle in faster in their new home country and resist thoughts about a premature departure. Also, they may feel more confident to build professional contacts with locals which benefit their employer’s business.
6. Social Integration Needs to Include Spouses
Spouses are often the glue that holds a family’s social life together. However, when a couple moves to a new country, this role can change dramatically. For instance, spouses often lack the social interaction at work because they cannot get a work permit or stay at home to look after young children. Their social integration virtually starts from zero.
It is hardly a surprise that these spouses have a greater need for social interaction, networking, and personal support compared to other expat groups. For those who are unhappy with their life abroad, the lack of a personal support network is the biggest pain point, with a lack of socializing opportunities coming second. Forward-thinking employers should take this into consideration when planning their expat packages. International hires are more likely to consent to a relocation if they know that their partner will be socially connected in the new place of residence. Plus, employee satisfaction will be higher if the partner enjoys a healthy social life abroad, which leads to higher productivity.
7. Social Integration Is a Must for the Next Expat Generation
Lastly, employers should not forget that today’s international hires are increasingly younger — well-traveled employees who have a clear concept of what their life abroad should be like. When these employees agree to an international relocation, they may still expect a fair compensation, but a good work-life balance and a great personal also matter. 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 seek 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.
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