Global Mobility – Ignore social support systems for your expat employee at your peril

Data suggests that between 25-45 percent of all international assignments fail [1], but quantifying failure can be problematic. What circumstances actually qualify as such?

Obviously, an assignee returning early from a posting can fall into this category, as it is an expensive and highly disruptive spasm for any organization, but so, too, does the loss of an assignee soon after repatriation. And with assignment costs regularly exceeding $1m per annum for senior assignees and their families, ensuring a positive return home to the best extent possible seems like a no–brainer.

But what makes for a positive return?

In many cases, it’s just a matter maintaining one’s connections while on assignment, which seems simple enough. Unfortunately, though, the opposite usually occurs. In many, if not most organizations, an international assignee is out of sight and out of mind – especially from a headquarters perspective. While the individual might stay in reasonably close contact with an immediate supervisor, other bonds and social networks soon begin to fray.

I experienced this firsthand while working for a major global insurance company that prized a go-get, stand-on-your-own-two-feet-and-produce mentality. Before going on assignment, I’d often walk the company’s corridors and drop by colleagues’ desks. Once in the new location, though, things changed. I not only had all the responsibilities of the new overseas posting, but also the need to integrate myself into a new culture, make new friends, navigate unfamiliar compliance issues, etc., etc.

With these and other mounting pressures, my daily contact with home office could have easily become weekly, then monthly. But fortunately this didn’t happen. I was lucky in that right from the get-go I was able to spend one day every other week back at home base — a privilege I exercised to the fullest. As a result, I was able to maintain my connections.

Most assignees don’t have that luxury, however, and before long, their business (and personal) relationships can easily start to erode. It has become commonplace to hear stories of returning assignees greeted with the exclamation: “Oh I thought you were in Hong Kong!” It goes without saying that situations like these do not bode well for a smooth reintegration.

But with effort and ownership, connections can be maintained and a smooth reintegration can be possible. Although regular trips back home can certainly help, this can be accomplished in other ways too: through an informal but active company (closed) LinkedIn group, Facebook (groups for employees and their families), Yammer, regular global team conference calls, and regular HR check-ins. It can also be helpful to provide the employee and partner with individualized coaching.

The payback that results is incalculable. Assignees will feel the love, know that they are valued, and stay plugged in to the larger corporate infrastructure.

To talk with a msi expert on this or other HR topics, please contact us at info@msimobility.com or visit: www.msimobility.com

  1. Stroh, L., Gregersen, H., Black, J., “International Assignments: An Integration of Strategy, Research and Practice.” New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc., Inc., 2006. Print.