If you’re an HR professional involved with international employee relocations, you know that this is a tricky area. How do you get the right people into the right jobs? And how do you help them succeed over the long term?

As providers of corporate language training, we’ve been able to observe a lot about what works — and what doesn’t work — when it comes to employee relocations. We want to let you in on a couple of mistakes we see all too many companies making when they move workers overseas.

Mistake #1: Underestimating the Value of Language Training

Sometimes companies have some funny ideas about what’s affordable and what’s a waste of money.
Take this actual conversation I had once with a director of HR:

HR director: “I think our expat employees lose around five to 10 hours per week of work due to their struggles with English.”

Me: “So you want them to start language training to improve their fluency?”

HR director: “Well, we don’t have the money for this type of program. But we’ll give the employees your card, and we’ll let the employees contact you if they want to pay out of pocket.”

I’m still trying to figure out how this company didn’t have enough money for language training but did have enough money that they could afford to have expat employees lose five to 10 hours of productive time per week. Remember, too, that it isn’t just the employees who lack language fluency that are less productive. Their communication problems also affect their colleagues’ productivity.

Language training is an investment. We get that. But we can also tell you that we’ve seen time and again how this investment pays off by increasing employees’ productivity. We actually did the math on this, and it shows that the real cost of corporate language training is a lot less once you factor in the money saved by improving productivity.

Mistake #2: Relocating Based on Language Fluency Alone

Just as relocating employees without offering language training can be costly for your company, so can selecting employees for global assignments based solely on their language fluency.

Robert Steven Kaplan and Tsedal Neely wrote about this back in 2014 for Harvard Business Review, but we still see it happening today. As Kaplan and Neely explain it, being fluent in the local language doesn’t necessarily mean that an employee has the right skills for the international assignment you’re considering them for.

Here’s what they suggest instead: “To ensure that you are hiring the best people, you may need to accept some limitations on language capabilities and be prepared to provide training to meet both global and local language needs.”

In other words, when your company has language training programs in place, you’ll make better choices with employee relocations because you aren’t evaluating job candidates based only on their language abilities.

What it all comes down to is the fact that your employee relocations will succeed when you choose the right people and give them the right training. Both factors are equally important. Need some ideas about what kind of language training would work best for your company? Would you like a consultant to discuss and help you assess which employees might succeed in relocations and for what jobs? Contact us for a free consultation: getfluent@fluencycorp.com or (800) 401-3159.