Social Integration Is the Key to Global Talent Mobility Success

Expat employers move international hires, foreign assignees, and relocating spouses from their familiar environment to a completely foreign one. Therefore, they need to accept their responsibility to socially integrate these expats to ensure satisfaction abroad throughout the expat lifecycle. As this is a crucial contributor to achieving business success, the relocation support offered by employers should focus on both professional and personal aspects.

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Social integration abroad means settling in, feeling at home, making friends, becoming part of the new environment, and being immersed in the local culture. People that move abroad for work move with more than just the items in their boxes and suitcases. They move with emotions too as they leave behind friends, family, and their social and personal support networks. Global mobility and HR teams that focus on the social integration of expat employees will ensure more successful foreign assignments and improved international talent retention. How? By putting the people more in focus and offering support that will help them to settle in. Why? Because employees that are unhappy with their personal life abroad cannot be productive at work, resulting in assignment failure and high turnover of international talent which can significantly impact business goals.


The Impact of Social Integration Abroad

Integration abroad has strong social and emotional aspects because it goes beyond just integrating well into the work environment and settling into a job. Adapting to the local culture, meeting new people, and building social and personal support networks all form part of social integration abroad.

As stated in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, human beings have a need to feel they belong and if this need is not met, they cannot function optimally. Findings from the Expat Insider 2019 Business Edition indicate that the lack of socializing opportunities and personal support are key reasons for the unhappiness of international hires, foreign assignees, and relocating spouses. These factors should, therefore, be important considerations for global mobility and HR teams supporting these expats.


Why Integration Is the Employer's Responsibility

With the global war for talent and a new generation of global employees impacting business success more and more, employers need to adapt their approach to ensure that they attract and retain the best talent. While many employers offer comprehensive relocation packages, the support leans more toward financial support, such as reimbursement and a lump-sum payment, and practical aspects, such as an organized move, than personal aspects, such as access to local socializing opportunities — findings from the Expat Insider 2019 Business Edition.

Employers seem to be afraid to get involved in the private lives of employees and miss out on the chance to support them in an area where they can really make a difference — social integration abroad. If employers want to have happy and productive employees that can achieve business goals, they need to look at relocation support holistically. They need to accept that social integration is part of their responsibility.


Employer Misconceptions about Social Integration

Employers need to accept that they are moving people, not just employees. Common misconceptions by employers are that the private lives of employees are not related to work, that if they support the leisure activities of their employees they are paying for a party, and that those moving abroad for work have international mindsets and will adapt easily.  

The reality is that relocating for work has a strong influence on both a private and personal level. Global mobility and HR professionals need to look at an employee as a whole person — professionally, in terms of skills and talent, and personally, in terms of emotions and well-being.


The Social Shift Needed in Expat Support

As global mobility is a well-established industry, existing expat packages could be improved to also factor in the social integration needs of foreign assignees and relocating spouses. Providing these expats with socializing opportunities and peer-to-peer support networks are sure to improve assignment success.

Due to the global war for talent and the fact that more and more companies need to hire internationally, HR may need more significant changes. HR professionals need to think differently and more holistically about the onboarding and retention of international hires. They can really benefit through offering social integration support as it not only improves talent retention, but also employer branding.


Supporting Expats throughout the Expat Lifecycle

Employers tend to focus relocation support on the actual move abroad and onboarding of global employees. The reality is that these expats need ongoing support — beyond the honeymoon phase and throughout the expat lifecycle.

The honeymoon phase is often referred to as the first months just after relocation, when everything is still new and exciting. Once the daily routine and reality of life abroad kick in and the excitement wears off, expats often find themselves in a dissatisfied, unhappy state — also proven in findings from the Expat Insider 2019 Business Edition. This is the period where social integration support is critical as it helps them to establish personal support and social networks with locals and other expats. It is, therefore, crucial for employers to acknowledge the entire expat lifecycle when offering support.

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