As business becomes increasingly global, there’s an accompanying rise in international relocations of employees. Such relocations can deliver enormous benefits to both companies and employees. But they can also go wrong.
Without proper planning, staff moves won’t lead to the results your company desires. Even worse, an unhappy employee might cut a relocation short. When that happens, your company loses everything it invested in the relocation, and the employee suffers a demoralizing career setback.
That’s why it’s essential to do everything you can on the front end to help your employees have successful international relocations. At Fluency Corp, we’ve worked with a lot of expat employees, and we’ve seen that these are they key ingredients to productive relocations. Not to mention, most of us have also been relocated, so we have a personal experience to back up our suggestions.
So how do you make sure your employee relocations are a complete success?
As corporate language trainers, it’s natural that we start here. Even if your relocating employees have some experience in the language they’ll be working in, additional training is still essential. They’ll be interacting all day with native speakers, which is a huge challenge even for someone who studied the language for years in school. When our CEO relocated, she had spent over 8 years in Spanish classes, but when she arrived in Guadalajara, Mexico, the native accent (her Spanish teachers had not been native speakers in high school) and the ‘normal’ daily language she heard on a daily basis made it almost impossible for her to communicate effectively at her job.
Remember also that a language can be very different in each of the various countries where it’s spoken. For example, British English and American English are not the same. That’s not to mention regional differences within the same country — like Texas English vs. New York English. And then there’s the fact that different fields have distinct vocabularies. For example, employees of a software company would need to know different words than employees of a transportation company would. The best language training is customized according to where your employees are relocating and the vocabulary they need for their jobs.
For expat employees, learning about the culture of their new country goes hand in hand with learning the language. After all, they aren’t just speaking different words every day. They’re also dealing with unfamiliar etiquette and customs. In their home countries, they probably lived a lot of their lives on autopilot. They could do daily tasks without giving them a second thought. But when they move to a new country, suddenly they’re among people who live by a different set of everyday rules. They realize that daily practices they took for granted aren’t so universal after all. They have to switch off their autopilot and put thought into even simple tasks like grocery shopping (in Japan they don’t provide bags!) or mailing a letter (no blue boxes!).
All of that can be exhausting and frustrating. You can help ease this transition for your employees by making sure they’re not alone in navigating their new culture. That’s one reason we recommend that expats work with a language tutor and make friends as their job. Their tutor can become an invaluable advisor on the ins and outs of daily life in their new home (without the embarrassment of asking a boss). You can also pair your expats with local employees who can answer questions, offer advice and give encouragement. A new culture buddy!
A successful international relocation isn’t just about how the employee adjusts. The employee’s family also plays a huge role in whether a relocation succeeds or fails. Even an expat employee who loves living and working in a different country isn’t likely to see a relocation through if his or her spouse and kids aren’t happy. That’s why we recommend extending the same language and cultural training you offer to expat employees to their families.
Other relocation benefits that help expat employees’ families include:
- Career placement for the employee’s spouse
- Area tours
- Help with finding temporary and permanent living arrangements
- Getting the kids enrolled in school
- Education on their new country’s banking system and how to build credit in the new country
Breaking the Bubble
If you’re relocating a number of employees to the same overseas location, they’re likely to stick together and not interact much with their local colleagues or their new community. This isn’t a criticism — it’s just how humans are. We like things that are familiar; we gravitate towards our tribe. Unfortunately, this reduces the business benefits of relocations. The expats aren’t picking up language and cultural fluency if they’re mostly spending time with each other. And there’s no cross-pollination of ideas between the local and relocated employees. At the same time, the expats and their families never truly start feeling at ease in their new country if they stay in the little bubble of home they brought with them.
Companies can help foster interactions between local and relocated employees. Set up some social events where employees and their families can get to know each other. Look for ways to share cultures at the office. (Hint: Food is a great starting point.) Assign your relocated employees a work buddy who can show them the ropes and answer questions. You could even pair your expat families and families of local employees.
International relocations are a big project, so it helps to have expert guidance. We’re happy to answer your questions about language training and the other subjects covered in this article. For a free consultation, contact us at [email protected] or (800) 401-3159.