Tag Archives: Repatriation

International HR Forum Year in Review 2009 – Best of Expatriates and International Assignments

This is the second of our three-part “Best of …” series, where we will feature links to our best posts on selected topics. This part is focused on Expatriates and International Assignments.  We will publish one more “Best of …” posting, featuring content about Leadership Development and Cross-Cultural topics, before the new year.  If you missed the first post about Compensation and Benefits, you can take a look at it here.

The posts below are some of the most popular ones featured on the International HR Forum.

We hope you find these summary posts to be a helpful way to explore some of the best content on our blog.

Best of Expatriates and International Assignments from the 2009 Archives of the International HR Forum:

10 Rules of the Road for Your Expatriate Program – Part II

bio_400x400 Author:
Chuck Csizmar – CMC Compensation Group

Last week I posted the first five of ten “Rules of the Road” for managing your expatriate program.  I hope you enjoyed reading them.  In this post, I’ve included the five remaining rules.  Enjoy!

Rule #6: Always have a Backup Candidate
It is very important to avoid a scenario where management believes that only one person is capable of handling the assignment.  If all your plans are dependent upon one candidate, and your choice discovers this (they usually do), the assignment from that point will likely become more contentious, problematic, internally disruptive and ultimately more expensive.  You will have lost leverage when trying to apply Company policies, demands for exceptional treatment will increase, costs will rise as a result and the likelihood of equity issues with other employees will increase.

Having a second choice will enable you to more easily finalize an equitable package of terms and conditions, test the candidates’ genuine interest in the overseas assignment and lower inflated egos down to earth.

Rule #7: Do Not Play “Let’s Make a Deal”
Everyone tends to lose on this slippery slope.  The expatriate community is a small group that will eventually learn of any special deals someone received that others did not.  While the expatriate policy document should provide a “safety valve” for approved discretionary exceptions covering extraordinary circumstances, be mindful of creating precedents where the sole reason is to placate an employee (or their spouse).  This problem can be a major dissatisfier for the rest of your community.  Explore cost sharing and trade-offs with the expatriate to mitigate the perception of inequitable treatment.

Certain employees, especially those with a sales background or like temperament, may view many aspects of the assignment terms and conditions as negotiable, simply because it is in their nature to question or challenge what they consider is the Company’s “initial offer”.

A word of caution:  if the employee considers the international assignment less as a wonderful career opportunity and more as a “favor” to the Company, the warning signs should be posted that this might not be a good match.

Rule #8: Have a “Hand-Holder” in Place
Another key to a successful assignment is to provide a ‘go-to” person in the host country for the myriad questions that will crop up as soon as the assignee arrives.  Set up a local contact point for host country issues, expatriate experiences and administrative fulfillment of the assignment terms.  Insist that the assignee utilize this person, not their manager, co-workers or even well-intentioned HR people unfamiliar with the expatriate program.  This go-to person should have the authority to make decisions, to “handle” whatever the question might be.

While this sounds like an easy step do not assume that anyone would automatically take this task to heart.  Left to their own devices, host country employees often find it difficult to invest the time to help assignees understand local business conditions and culture.  Thus you need to make it someone’s responsibility.

Likewise there should be a contact person in the home country as well, a designated individual prepared to handle policy interpretations, provide advice on navigating procedures and assuming responsibility for the home administration of the assignment terms.

Rule #9: Do Not Forget That They’re out There
A successful assignment requires constant attention from both the home and host country contacts.  Communication should be frequent, as should the “check-up” calls to gauge the assignee’s temperament.  For example, does the assignee understand the COLA calculations, have any payroll or currency exchange issues arisen, is the family acclimating well, are there issues the assignee would like to discuss?  A key source of dissatisfaction for assignees and their families is a feeling of being “out in the provinces” and therefore out of touch with what is happening back at the office they have left.  Make every effort to ensure that they do not feel marginalized, taken for granted or forgotten.

Make sure the assignee has a Mentor (as compared to a hand holder) back in the home country as well, a Senior Management-level individual charged with representing the assignee’s career interests during the assignment.  This person should schedule periodic career discussions with the assignee.

Rule #10: Have an Exit Strategy
All too frequently companies are at a loss as to what to do with expatriates who have successfully completed their assignments.  It is not uncommon for assignees to leave the Company upon their return from overseas or within the following year, because either no suitable position was available in the home country or what was available was a diminished or less visible role.

After incurring the huge expense for an employee to develop deeper and broader competencies on the international stage, it is a wise business practice to pay close attention as to how best to utilize that increasingly marketable (and therefore valuable) talent when the assignment ends.  Without due care and planning the career cycle of an assignee is left as an afterthought, one that usually crops up late in the assignment;  meanwhile the assignee has been worried (and thus distracted) for a much longer period of time.

While there are no guarantees that future positions will be available back home for employees presently working overseas, the international assignment letter should at least state that the Company will attempt to secure a “mutually agreeable position of similar stature” upon completion of the assignment.  It is in the best interest of the Company and the assignee to carefully plan for a successful repatriation.

Follow though
Well, that’s my list of ten rules.  The road ahead has curves, dips and more than its share of bumps and potholes.  However, if you manage to keep these sign posts in mind (commit them to memory, post them on the wall, send and resend them to managers), the experience does not have to be an endurance course for all concerned.

You will need to keep at it though (persistence is its own reward), because there is no pill or “Easy Button” that will magically ease the journey.  There is no cure for the realities that expatriate assignments will always be costly, procedurally complex and a personal as well as professional risk for those involved.  But by adhering to your own “rules of the road” your expatriate program can reap significant benefits: lower assignment costs, business objectives achieved, satisfied employees and host management, retained and developed talent and ultimately greater overall business success.  It can be done.

More rules?
Do you have rule that I did not include in my top ten?  Please, leave a comment and share your insights with the community.

More About Chuck:

Impact of Assignments to Remote Locations on Children’s Education

Photo Liz Perelstein (2) Author:
Liz Perelstein – School Choice International

As businesses expand more and more into developing markets, companies are often facing new challenges in finding appropriate schools for the children of their international assignees.  In some locations, schools haven’t caught up with demand for international education; in others, there simply might not be any international schooling options at all.  Now more than ever, local schools are an option, but you need to be well-prepared for such an approach to work.

Schooling is a Top Priority
Assignees often state that having access to good quality schools for their children is the most important factor in deciding to accept an assignment.  Parents are more uneasy than ever about relocating with children when international schools are not available.  By gaining some understanding of the local educational system and curriculum differences in countries where you send employees, you will be in a better position to create policies that provide children with access to reasonable education.

Consider these facts:
Some local schools in India consider handwriting so important that teachers may not consider content if handwriting falls short of expectations.

  1. A study by the University of New Hampshire indicates in many European countries, parental involvement is not permitted.
  2. So-called “International Schools” may not be truly international.  Instead, they may be targeted towards local children to help them acquire language and other skills to promote attendance at US universities and/or may exist for children whose parents do not want them to attend local schools.
  3. In some countries, schools “stream” students into tracks as early as 12 years old, and this could affect the ability to gain admission to universities in other countries.  Admissions decisions based on an “entry examination” or prerequisites make this a clear challenge for those who do not have the language or curriculum background.
  4. Religious education is a fundamental part of national curriculum in many countries, such as Ireland.  This may meet an unenthusiastic response from families not accustomed to such arrangements, or those that practice a different religion.  And, even if considered acceptable, students may not have the religious background to fit in.
  5. Special education is handled in varied ways throughout the world, from mainstream educational options in the United States, to China, where few schools have an open-minded approach, and few teachers are taught to teach children with learning or other disabilities.

Language is the main obstacle that many companies are aware of when evaluating local school choices, but integrating families into a local educational system where goals, philosophies and methods are so dissimilar requires a different type of preparation on the part of the family, and a more flexible policy on the part of the company.

Tips for Success:
Here is a short checklist which is useful to help companies and assignees examine educational options for any overseas assignment, as well as for their eventual return home:

  • Before moving a family, allow them time and means to review curriculum of the school in the host country, and discuss it with teachers back home.  Evaluating where a child may be ahead or behind enables parents and schools to develop programs that assist in entry as well as re-entry.
  • Recommend that families bring along books, course outlines and any other aids to maintaining academic skills required at home so that kids can keep abreast of knowledge required for repatriation.
  • Find out the exit requirements for schools in the home country before leaving.  These, in particular, will determine curriculum to continue studying while abroad.   Can these be satisfied on assignment, and if so, what kind of policy do you need to support these additional costs?
  • Decide what kinds of supplemental or alternative education your company will allow to reduce hardship for children whose families are sent on assignment, particularly at key grade levels.  These may include tutoring, on-line courses, summer school, home schooling or boarding schools.
  • If schooling is totally incompatible, is it possible for the employee or the family to repatriate either a year earlier or later, as appropriate to facilitate the transition?
  • Provide opportunity for students to become proficient in reading and writing as well as speaking of the new language well before the move; in fact, as soon as the move is announced is best.
  • Engage a professional who understands discrepancies in curriculum as well as culture to recommend individualized support so that students can be prepared before returning home.
  • Repatriation is always difficult for children, since even international schools teach different curriculum, have different course sequences, and offer different languages and promote different viewpoints when teaching history.   Children who have attended local schools in remote areas may be more significantly unprepared to attend school back home or enroll in university in their home country.  Be sure to pay careful attention to home country requirements before assignments begin.

Conclusion:
School choices for expatriate children are always challenging, and even more so in locations where the traditional choices are limited or non-existent.  Families who have overcome these obstacles and successfully educated their children in local schools find the rewards to be significant.  Children truly learn new languages, cultures and curricular subjects and enjoy an unprecedented window into the customs of a different country.  As schools are a microcosm of the cultures they inhabit, children raised in local schools abroad can be our true ambassadors in the global world of the next generation.

Providing support in the form of tutoring, on-line learning and language instruction is a key consideration companies should consider when developing policies to support your employees in remote locations.  Inviting parents to reframe their definition of education as learning rather than schooling is the key to promoting the right attitude for a successful assignment.

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Abrupt Repatriation: Tips to Pass on to Parents

Photo Liz Perelstein (2)Author:
Liz Perelstein – School Choice International

Although the merits of sending families home before scheduled repatriation dates are a topic of continuous debate, we know that some companies are resorting to this course of action.  Where children are involved, the situation is understandably more sensitive, and companies are struggling to come up with cost-effective, yet fair and reasonable solutions.

If you find you have to make or implement difficult decisions when it comes to children and their education, preparing yourselves, and helping parents prepare, is the most effective way to handle the delicate task at hand.  Three things that parents should keep in mind are:

  • The resilience of children
  • Opportunities that come from change
  • Thoughtful communication

First, anxious parents need reassurance that children are extremely resilient and don’t, as a matter of course, suffer long-term as a result of transition, although the anticipation of change and the early stages in a new school are challenging for everyone.  In typical circumstances, the children who find change most difficult are those whose parents do.  So it is important that parents make every attempt to recognize and convey the opportunities the family has had and will have, and to address any problems as a family.  Any concerns that children cannot comprehend should be saved until after bedtime.  Parents should share as much about the circumstances as children want to know and are able to absorb, using their questions as a guide.  It is essential that they are told that neither they nor their parents have done anything wrong, and that the current economic circumstances are something that the world is confronting together.  Parents can explain that many of their friends also have been making life changes as a result of the recession.  Some have moved homes, and others have switched schools.  Different families will make different kinds of choices, but sacrifices are now common among friends and family members.

These are some additional tips that can be shared with parents to provide them with peace of mind:

  • Be available to speak with children and to answer any question they may have.
  • Make thoughtful choices about the new school, reflecting on academic and social characteristics of children and how they have fared in their current school, in addition to family values and logistical circumstances.  Gather lots of information and ask many questions about matters important to children, rather than focusing on factors more important to adults.
  • Before starting the new school, engage the head and/or teacher in a conversation about the child so that good class placement decisions are made and the new teacher understands the child, his/her needs as well as current transitional circumstances.
  • Address curriculum differences through tutoring or outside enrichment, but first clarify that there are likely to be discrepancies between performance in their new and former schools; parents should explain that each school teaches different material so that the child is not at fault if s/he struggles at the outset.

Communication, both with the school and with the child, is the key to a successful transition.  When families are calm and thoughtful, a change of schools can give children an opportunity to learn essential life skills such as making new friends and dealing with uncertainty, which is an invaluable part of any education.

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Reverse Culture Shock (or Why Do I Hate Being Back Home?)

maryd-pic5Author:
Mary Dougherty – Shepell-fgi

When employees begin an international assignment, they often experience “culture shock” in the host location.  Many companies provide support services to ease the transition for these families, ensuring a quick adjustment and a productive and satisfying international assignment experience.  But what happens when the assignment is over, and the family heads home?

  • 25% of expatriates leave the company within 2 years of repatriation (National Foreign Trade Council survey)
  • 69% experience significant “reverse culture shock” (Bureau of National Affairs, Washington)

Coming Home is Not So Easy
Repatriation is not as simple as it sounds.  “Reverse Culture Shock” is often experienced by those returning from an international assignment, and this can have tremendous impact on professional and personal adjustment.  The challenges inherent to living in a different cultural context for a significant period of time do not end with adapting to the host culture; they continue through the process of returning home and re-adjusting to what was left behind.  In fact, it is often those who have adjusted most successfully abroad who have the most difficulty returning home.

It can take up to 18 months to adjust and reintegrate after an international assignment; adjustment issues effect employees and their families both personally and professionally.  Understanding the problems that they may encounter upon reintegration is the key to a successful repatriation.

What to Watch For
Here are some common symptoms or situations that repatriating families encounter:

  • irritability/ resentment
  • sense of difference and disconnect
  • disappointment
  • inability to concentrate
  • low morale
  • change in values/attitudes
  • marital conflict
  • fatigue
  • parent/child conflict
  • educational/adjustment problems for children
  • depression
  • feeling unappreciated personally/professionally
  • decreased productivity
  • loneliness

What Can Employers Do?
One way to lessen the negative impact of repatriation is to provide support to the employee and their family in the form of a “Repatriation Debriefing.” Skilled repatriation counselors can help these individuals recognize the symptoms of reverse culture shock, and provide techniques to manage through it effectively.  To support family members, providing an opportunity for the employee and family to candidly and confidentially discuss repatriation challenges with regard to both work-related and family experiences is key. This process provides an opportunity to examine and explore the potential difficulties of returning home, as well as assisting in problem solving and goal setting.

Employers should also carefully manage repatriation assignments to ensure that expatriates are retained in their organizations, and that the new skills acquired during the international assignment are recognized and leveraged.

Finally, don’t minimize the importance of taking care of the family.  When an employee relocates, so does their family, and the impact on a spouse and children can be profound.

These steps will help minimize turnover amongst repatriates, preserving your international assignment investment, and also ensure that your repatriating employees are quickly and effectively reintegrated into their home country.

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Recalling Expats? Handle with Care

Photo Liz Perelstein (2)Author:
Liz Perelstein – School Choice International

“In recent months, companies have begun recalling expats from multiyear assignments up to 12 months early… The CEO of a Pacific Northwest manufacturer (who requested his publicly traded company’s name not be used) is pulling his European division manager home after only eight months of a two-year assignment because the business can’t continue to foot the $500,000 annual bill for his salary and living expenses.”  –Workforce.com, March 16, 2009

Education is a top priority for middle class families in every culture worldwide, and always has been.  This is true of 32,200 Tamil school girls praying before entering examinations in Madurai, Chinese families who have pinned all of their hopes and dreams on their sole child, and parents in the Northeastern part of the United States who are still, according to The New York Times blog The Choice (July 18), willing to spend $40,000 on college placement counselors for their children despite the economy.  This results in scarcity of suitable school options in major cities globally.  Even if there are vacancies in less popular schools, those that are generally considered “top tier” are overbooked no matter what the economic situation.

As a result, repatriation, which always is difficult, brings additional challenges when it is sudden and forces families to seek schooling for their children mid-year, particularly under rushed and stressful circumstances.  In addition to the logistical challenges involved in gaining admission to schools, children are excluded from extracurricular activities – the cricket team already has been chosen, as has the cast of the play – essential aspects of re-entry if they are to successfully make friends and reintegrate into their home cultures. Repatriation to one’s former home is particularly difficult, according to The Art of Crossing Cultures by Craig Storti, because expectations and reality clash.  When employees are moved home without sufficient notice, they, and their families, do not have sufficient time to process the emotional aspects of the repatriation so it is all the more important that they receive assistance with the logistics of the school search and transition, as together both aspects are quite overwhelming.

Regardless of the country of repatriation, employers can provide:

  • Accurate and easy to use information in the form of books, research, websites and web based tools;
  • Transition assistance so that families understand that the former school may no longer be the best school for a child given the wealth of experiences s/he has had overseas as well as the curricular differences;
  • Expert help in identifying and getting into schools that meet the unique needs of each child at this point in time;
  • Specialized assistance for children with special needs, gifted children, and those seeking schools in particularly competitive locations.

This is something that companies must think about if their goal is to develop policies that will serve them in good times as well as bad.  Benefits of good support when employees with children are recalled are rapid employee productivity, increased loyalty, talent retention, willingness to take future assignments, and improved morale, which includes encouraging other employees to undertake assignments when needed.

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