12 February 2019

Business Travel – Make Global Mobility Work


Fortunately, global moves are becoming increasingly easy for companies to manage. Technological advances allow for immediate communication and collaboration, transportation options continue to become faster and more flexible, and flexibility is also at play in the type of relocation options available – commuter assignments, for example, allow families to avoid the upheaval of a long-term move while one parent commutes between locations on shorter-term assignments.

This article explores how global mobility – in other words, reassigning your colleagues to overseas locations – can help you attract talented employees. It also looks at some of the reasons why international assignments sometimes fail, which highlights why cultural and linguistic integration is at the heart of relocation success.

Why Make International Assignments Part of Your Talent Acquisition Strategy?

Many employees acknowledge the opportunities that conferences and meetings in different territories present for their careers. Overseas travel for work has long been a part of the package for employees, but for some people the idea of being away from home for more than a few days – no matter the location – is daunting. However, while the prospect of a major international move might present a stark choice for some employees, global mobility companies and supportive human resources (HR) policies increasingly make assignments well-organised, well-managed and welcomed.

These opportunities are not just for senior executives moving into international leadership roles. The business landscape and the skills gap evolves continually, and companies require skills mobility at all levels of the organisation to ensure competitiveness and maximise key talent. In fact, many organisations use their willingness to consider overseas placements to attract and retain talented and ambitious staff.

Now that global mobility options are better catered for, companies are more inclined to factor relocations into their strategic plans. Millennials in particular have evolving ideas about what an international assignment might look like and how it would work for them: they show an increasing desire for flexible and personalised travel options that allow them to enjoy a life experience as well as a professional opportunity. Employee-initiated moves are also becoming more popular, though it is important for companies to keep their focus on the benefits to everyone involved so that these so-called “adventure moves” deliver on employee and business objectives.

Flexibility is a recurring theme. Employees are attracted to organisations that offer them the chance to develop their skills overseas, but they may not like the personal cost that comes with it, especially if they have a young family. This is where commuter assignments and short-term relocations can work well – but these wider-ranging options require just as much HR support. Truly forward-thinking organisations need to ensure that they offer both flexible opportunities and carefully considered strategies for managing any potential challenges.

The Importance of Language Learning and Cross-cultural Training

One central aspect of HR support revolves around cross-cultural training and awareness. It seems that although organisations are recognising the value of language skills and cultural training when it comes to settling into a new location, there is still a long way to go – one 2018 survey suggested only 54% of companies provide cross-cultural training. This survey also found that cross-cultural awareness is a key issue that global mobility organisations will be focusing on in the near future – which is no surprise to us, because we are constant witnesses to the value and necessity of cross-cultural skills training.

Without a firm grounding and understanding in the local culture, traditions and language, it can be difficult for employees to feel fully comfortable in their new location. Language barriers can make it hard for employees and their families to make friends and interact in practical ways (such as when shopping or accessing health services), and if employees struggle with their emotional wellbeing, it may start to impact upon their happiness and productivity at work. A greater focus on settling-in services, from language training and cross-cultural training to emotional support and encouraging a positive work/life balance, can help to take the pain out of the settling-in stage.

Employee and family wellbeing and cultural integration continues to be viewed as important to a successful international assignment, and we would hope that by this time next year the 54% score will have increased as organisational awareness grows. If employees and their families have the language skills they need to tackle everyday challenges as well as professional conversations, they should feel far more settled and able to negotiate the country’s culture.

Invest in the Whole Family in order to Maximise Relocation Success

Employees willing to embrace the opportunity for a global move have a lot to look forward to, but they also face several challenges. What if they struggle with the language and/or culture? What if they find it hard to meet people and build relationships both at work and in their community? What if their partner or family feel unhappy or unsettled?

Unsurprisingly, these personal factors are most likely to undo an employee’s overseas move. EY discovered that 71% of corporations surveyed cited an unhappy partner as the number one reason for relocation failure. Considering the significant costs involved in relocating an employee (including transportation, finding a home, moving personal items and furniture, as well as the inevitable disruption to productivity and work hours lost along the way), a failed relocation can be a costly mistake.

The happiness of partners and family members is just as important as the happiness of relocating employees. Integration support (including language training and cross-cultural training), as well as counselling services and school support for families with children, could make all the difference for a successful relocation.

How about returning employees? They will have invaluable skills to share based on their experiences, both related to the specific country and more broadly relating to the ups and downs of international assignment. As they settle back into life at home, they can demonstrate directly the many personal and professional benefits, challenges and adventures that are woven into an overseas move. Any successful relocation should consider the experience from start to finish so that repatriation is a great advertisement for future international assignments.

Deciding to relocate is not straightforward. The journey often leads to upheavals for everyone involved, but there is more support now than ever before for employees and their families as they try to build a life in their new location. Language learning opportunities and cultural training are just part of the package, but they can be the difference between an exciting venture (and adventure!) or a disappointing round trip. The more care and energy you invest in planning for positive relocation experiences for your employees, the more likely you will see a significant return on this investment – one that ripples across your organisation, engages your employees, and leads to greater productivity and job satisfaction.

If your organisation would benefit from a second look at your approach to language or cross-cultural training, so why not contact Simon & Simon today. We can help you refresh your global mobility strategy so that it attracts the expertise you need for international success.

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