After moving to Mexico for a job in 2008, I believe that assimilating to the culture is critical. Moving to a new place can be exhilarating, but also devastatingly lonely, confusing and isolating. But it doesn’t have to be. And you can ensure your employees get the support they need.
Expectations and excitement can be high for your employees, in those months and weeks leading up to an international move. They don’t know what to expect and they’re dreaming of a foreign land with exciting new foods, cultures and traditions. They worry a little bit, as do you, but mostly you’re all thrilled about this new job post and the growth of your company. Maybe you’re sending a single person, or maybe you’re sending a couple with two kids. But managing expectations is the key component in relocating any employee to a new country.
Be aware from the start that it will be hard for them, very hard, a lot of the time. And they’ll likely even go through a phase of really despising the new location (this happens even when we move locally), but knowing what they’re getting into, and how to support them, will help the most. Preparation in managing those expectations is the key.
Make sure the Global Mobility team or HR team help to prepare them. Keep reading to discover how you can support your expats and their families through these simple, easy suggestions.
Understand the Needs of Your Expats (and Their Families!)
Culturally assimilating if you are an internationally relocated assignee (or family member):
- Makes your employee feel less alone and more a part of the new community (less isolation)
- A coaching session before moving helps keep expectations under control. This should be with the whole family, not just with the employee.
- Many times, it can make or break the assignment
- Can help ensure the assignment is completed
- Can help an assignee’s family feel at home (if the family isn’t happy, the assignee’s work can suffer)
- Allows the assignee to be more productive, because he or she understands the ‘why’ behind what people are saying and doing
- Will allow your assignee to pick up on nuances that will build bridges rather than push employees and clients apart
For me personally, during my year and a half in Mexico, I never stopped culturally assimilating. Since I did not have a guide or someone who could help me at the beginning, I had to figure out a lot of things on my own. Although I was able to adapt, it was challenging and the transition was harsh, much harsher than I thought it would be. I was quite angry, confused, and frustrated at the beginning. I found myself wishing I had not made this decision, and I almost ended the contract after just a few weeks at my new post. I decided to stay in the end, but if I had had a guide or support person, I do not believe this risk would have happened.
10 Secrets to Managing your Multilingual Global Workforce
Cultural Isolation and Misunderstandings – Don’t Assume
To understand a little about culturally assimilating in ways you might not think about, read about a few examples below:
For example, I arrived at meetings about 15 minutes late, and my coworkers would arrive about 30 minutes after the chosen start time, which means I was often waiting 45 minutes for the meetings to start. But of course, no one knew that I would arrive early, so no one knew that I didn’t know that they would all be arriving “late”, which was not considered late to them.
Other examples would prove more challenging. A Swiss woman who was relocated to the USA with her husband and children struggled daily for over 6 months due to the differences in the school systems. One of her children pushed back against all the changes very hard, refusing to go to school. They felt that someone should have been there to help them understand the differences, and they were confused why the school did not set up a meeting to discuss the differences with them. I remember explaining to her that the school did not know what the differences were, just as my coworkers in Mexico did not know that I would arrive 15 minutes early to meetings.
Of course, at work, if many of your team members or coworkers come from 1 country continuously throughout the year, or if your relocation assignments are rotating, then your company can learn through experience how to prepare team members for the changes. Companies should set up an assimilation meeting (or meetings over 6 months) to assist newly relocated employees and families.
Solutions to help Employees and their Families Assimilate
- Previously relocated families can take newly relocated families under their wing with monthly get togethers or brown bag lunches to learn about the new city
- You can hire a professional language and assimilation coach (because if they can’t communicate, then how can they progress?)
- Set up a Buddy System with employees that have moved abroad before to be support for the newly relocated employee
- A monthly happy hour or weekly lunches one on one with other employees to create bonds. One on one is better than groups. Groups are overwhelming and often hard for the newly relocated person to understand (if they have a different first language)
But no guide or support at all is a recipe for a failed relocation. If the family at home is in tatters, then it will be very challenging for the employee to work at peak performance. And if the employee is left to his or her own devices (ie. allowing him or her to show up 45 minutes early to meetings), then a sense of isolation and ‘figure it out yourself’ mentality could cause serious productivity loss, engagement loss and collaboration loss. It’s too big a risk not to help the new employee adapt. And it’s too easy to set up support to let it slide.
Companies should prepare for these changes by coaching the family beforehand. Not only about what the differences will be in a work setting, but also how it will be at the school, with the healthcare system, in social settings, and more.
Micah Bellieu is CEO and Founder of Fluency Corp, a global company providing language instructors and assimilation coaching. If interested in learning more about supporting your internationally relocated employees (expats), go to www.fluencycorp.com to learn more, and click on Contact Us to set up an initial free consult to go over what you might need.