When your company decides to relocate an employee, a lot is at stake. You risk lost productivity and lost money (relocation costs typically range from $72,000 to $1 million) if the move doesn’t succeed. And there’s a very real chance that it won’t. Brookfield Global Mobility reports that relocations have a 54% failure rate, and Right Management reports that 40% of relocations have failed. Either percentage you look at, that number is mighty high.
Now consider that the No. 1 reason employees are reluctant to relocate is family resistance. A 2015 survey found that 60% of all relocating employees experienced some family pushback to the move.
This statistic doesn’t surprise me. As a language trainer, I’ve taught hundreds of people who have relocated to the U.S. for their jobs. Most of them work in engineering, tech, finance or management. Back when they were studying these subjects in school, most of them never pictured relocating abroad. So they didn’t study language or culture. But then they come to a turning point.
Most People Do Not Anticipate Relocating to Another Country for Their Job
“There’s an opportunity to work in our U.S. office,” their companies tell them. “We think this would be a good step in your career.”
Of course, they want to seize this opportunity. But with that decision comes big challenges — not just for the employee, but also for their spouse, their kids and even extended family members.
If you’re involved in relocations, it’s important to pay careful attention to the challenges employees’ families face, because they can make or break the success of a move.
It’s Hard to Leave Your Comfort Zone When You Relocate
I recently assessed the needs of a wife who decided to relocate with her husband to the U.S. He works for a Japan-based Fortune 100 company, and they were relocated to Texas for a minimum of two years. She said she wanted to take advantage of this time. When a large number of employees are relocated, they often form the same networks and social groups they had in their home country. In other words, they’re still living in Japan — but doing it in Dallas. There’s nothing wrong with this, as it’s human nature to flock to your comfort zone or to want to be with people like yourself. I did the same thing when I lived in Spain (and learned very little Spanish during this time, might I add).
But I wouldn’t recommend this route. The company sent those employees to the U.S. to learn, collaborate, grow and bring back new ideas and stronger relationships. If the transferred employees don’t integrate, then isn’t the point of relocating them a moot one?
They need support to do this, though. It’s incredibly difficult to dive into a new culture speaking a language that you’re not used to using on a daily basis – and exhausting! The first months I lived in Mexico, working so hard to understand what was being said to me and form coherent sentences in return left my brain fried at the end of each day. A native French-speaking friend of mine recently started working for an American company in Chicago. She had been working in Dallas for five years at a French company, where she mostly spoke French, even though she was living in the US. After the first week of work in Chicago, she called me, exhausted, and exclaimed: “I’ve never had to work in English before now! And I’ve been in the U.S. for five years!”
A Fluency Coach Can Help With More Than Just Language
A fluency coach or private English tutor can be a huge help in getting the employee and his or her family settled in. This person can come to the home or office for two hours a week – assisting with questions about schools, community, how to get involved, grocery stores and vacation spots, all while increasing the family’s confidence and skill in the new language.
That’s important, because confidence and practice are the most common things that hold someone back from speaking their second language. They may have had great formal training, but now they simply need time to practice the language and get comfortable. This affects every aspect of their workday: how much they speak in meetings, how much they understand in meetings, how they collaborate, how long it takes them to respond to an email.
We even had one gentleman from Spain who wanted to take advantage of all the space in Texas ask us where to buy a horse for his son! Now this gentleman was really adapting to the local culture! And, of course, we hooked him up. One of our local language teachers knew exactly whom to call and how to introduce our client to local ranchers and horse owners. It’s these personal touches that can make or break a relocation. Happy family = happy employee!
Another interesting example of what helps a relocation succeed: I learned from Cartus that in Brazil you can’t get a driver’s license without being fluent in Portuguese. But it wasn’t possible to get their relocating employees fluent (300-plus hours of one-on-one lessons!) before moving them to Brazil. So they had to spend $10,000 per month to hire drivers for each employee. For the employees, their drivers came to play the role that language instructors often fill: a valuable source for assimilation, knowledge and support. Employees practiced the language with their drivers and got important insider information about the city and specific neighborhoods. The drivers’ support made the the decision to relocate more manageable and successful, albeit at a huge cost.
Think of a language coach this way: A guide to not only the language, but the community and the culture. And it won’t cost you $10,000 a month, either. Most language coaches cost $5,000 to $10,000 per year. That’s a small investment to keep your much larger investment from being wasted.
Dawn Mugavero, from Toyota Global Mobility, summed it all up well at a recent Texas Relocation Network event: “Now that we’ve moved to Texas, the real work begins. It’s not just getting everyone to the new location, but also ensuring their satisfaction in the years to come.”
How are you supporting the happiness and confidence of your relocating employees? Contact us for a free consultation to learn more about language training and cultural support from Fluency Corp. Who knows? We might be helping you buy a horse someday, too (in the local language, of course!).