The ORC Worldwide Survey 2007 found that expatriates identified the following top five stressors of moving and working abroad:
- Challenging new job (62.8%)
- Inability to take part in activities available at home (44.6%)
- Loss of support network (42.8%)
- Language and other cultural difficulties (40.7%)
- Spouse unable to find work (37.9%)
It is undeniable that expatriate programs are inherently risky mainly because an organization is uprooting an employee from a “comfortable” position within a familiar culture and re-planting them into a new unfamiliar culture. But, with proper planning and selecting, some of those inherent risks can be mitigated.
To properly plan for the international assignment, an organization needs to consider all aspects of the assignment and prepare the assignee and their family for the relocation and immersion into a new culture and assignment. Selecting the right person for an international assignment is just the first step for an organization. In addition to the selection process, an organization must properly plan for the relocation, reassignment and support of the employee and the employee’s family. Since the role the family plays in the relocation does contribute significantly to the overall success of the assignment, it is important to support the expatriate families in both professional and personal areas.
Studies of expatriate relocations have highlighted how “culture shock”, i.e. being impacted by cross cultural differences, can negatively impact upon a relocation assignment, and so organizations have now realised the importance of intercultural understanding and its potential impact upon relocations. Cultural training aids the employee and family to better approach and deal with the relocation, ensuring that the negative consequences of “culture shock” are greatly reduced. However, this proactive step alone will not ensure the success of the assignment, as expatriate families won’t really know how life in their new country will be until they actually move abroad. Therefore, support during the expatriate assignment becomes an even more critical factor in ensuring the family adjusts and enhances their new way of life in the best possible way. And this is where coaching can provide this kind of support and assistance.
THE REAL COSTS OF EXPATRIATE ASSIGNMENTS
According to recent surveys, about 20% of all expatriate assignments fail, which means that the expat returned home prematurely – either for personal reasons or because he or she is recalled by the head office – and the stated business objectives for the assignment were not met. The typical length of time a repatriate stays with his or her former employee is only nine months. These figures represent a significant loss of ROI on both financial and personal levels.
Costs for international assignments have been steadily climbing with typical costs for a long-term assignment approaching $1 million (Runnion, 2005, p. 21). Considering that the average mid-sized business relocates an average of 34 people every year (Runnion, p.21), costs for international assignments can quickly add up.
When an expatriate assignment fails, the costs, both direct and indirect, can also be substantial, ranging from $200,000 to $1.2 million or more (Swaak, 1995; McNulty, 2001).
The implications of assignment failure are, at a minimum:
- Huge costs in terms of salary, recruitment, training and relocation
- Failure of intended business objective and potential damage to client relationships
- “Costs” to the employee in terms of loss of self esteem, career derailment and relationship / family issues.