A Happy Family is a Key Predictor for a Successful International Assignment

The globalization of business today means more and more companies are relocating employees and staff to foreign countries.  But the actual move is often the easy part.

Working abroad, in different cultures, often with different languages is challenging, and an increasing number of companies are providing language and cultural training to their employees heading for a foreign assignment. A variety of research has shown that cross cultural training greatly increases the chances of success of a foreign assignment.

While most assignees are concerned primarily with housing and settling into new jobs, cultural and language learning for the entire family is critical to a successful transition and successful job performance.

Companies almost always pick up the tab for relocation costs, which can be staggering. But some don’t realize a happy family is a key predictor of successful job performance. In fact, research shows one of the most common reasons international assignments fail is the inability of the family to adjust to the language and culture of a foreign country. Yet, the vast majority of spouses say he or she were not appropriately prepared for the cultural differences they faced abroad.

Unhappy families often lead to unhappy results at work.

This is particularly important when the assignee has children. Very few men turn down an international assignment due to cultural concerns, according to the Harvard Business Review. However,13 percent of women do, and the presence of children is likely be one reason.

This is particularly true when the spouses are also employed. Suddenly they live in a vacuum, with little to do and unfamiliar with the language and culture where they have landed.

Relocation without preparation often results in anxiety and stress at home, further affecting job performance. This unhappiness sometimes ends in divorce.

The assignee is generally not as isolated as his or her family. While assignees must also learn a new language and culture, they are immersed by them through interaction at work. It’s also likely some colleagues speaks their native language, and can help them through the transition.

It’s the spouse that typically is responsible for the day-to-day household chores, shopping at the grocery store, looking for doctors, dealing with schools, mixing and mingling everyday with local residents he or she may not understand– both language and culture.

Learning both is essential to the entire family, avoiding culture shock, integrating into their new environment, enriching the experience of working and living abroad and opening a wide range of benefits, opportunities and unique experiences.

Living abroad can be a particularly enlightening for children, expanding their worlds, opening their minds to different ways of life and and giving them a more global perspective.

For the employee, international experience can often mean developing enhanced skills and achieving faster promotions.

Language and cultural training for the entire family also has significant benefits for the company by getting the best performance out of their assigned employee. Expat workers who understand the language or mores of the local country allows them to communicate, manage and negotiate more effectively, maximize company opportunities, and increases the chances of company growth abroad. Foreign experience also helps groom employees to take on greater responsibilities.

Successful foreign relocation can be a win-win for everyone, the employee and family and the company. But the environment at home matters just as much as the environment at work. And that cultural and language understanding is required by the entire family.

Learning needs to take place well before relocation, giving employees and their families the time necessary to be immediately familiar with their new home and able to hit the ground running.

Marcelo Almeida – Berlitz Languages, Inc.