A global assignment, working abroad in a new destination, while experiencing a new culture and meeting new people, can be incredibly rewarding for the expat and beneficial for the organisation. For the employee, such a move offers the opportunity to experience a different culture, country, and people that can help them grow as an individual. For the employer, it can increase their market presence and assist with the development of their top talent.
However, expats can face a whole range of challenges and stressors when relocating abroad. Moving house or starting a new job can be difficult on its own, but combined with the absence of the usual support network, the exposure to a new culture and language barriers can cause tremendous pressures which can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression. It is crucial that individuals looking to relocate are aware of this possibility and prepare for it.
According to the World Health Organisation, “Mental disorders are not rare among travellers. Overall, mental health issues are among the leading causes of ill health among travellers, and “psychiatric emergency” is one of the most common medical reasons for air evacuation, along with injury and cardiovascular disease.”
International assignments can be an expensive endeavor and very strategically important, consequently, failure can affect have a detrimental on the company.
Key areas that could pose a risk to expats
Although living abroad can be exciting, it can also be overwhelming and challenging. A new destination often accompanies a different culture which could mean a restriction to social activities the expat was involved in. We have put together plenty of advice for expats in this recent blog on how to prepare for cultural shock.
Building a new social network can be challenging itself, but when it’s accompanied with language barriers this can further complicate things which can lead to loneliness and isolation. Expats are also confronted with a new working environment, with different organisational structures, new supervisors and working culture. All of this newness can surface emotions such as fear, frustration, and stress. Back home, people know where to express their emotions but expat life means losing their support network, making it hard to deal with everyday stress. One of the key issues is that expats that relocate for work usually place all their energies on their new job, ignoring other important areas of their life such as making new social connections.
How can employers support their globally mobile employees?
In order to make a difference, employers should take a proactive approach. It is advised that organisations help employees prepare for the move even before they’ve left their home country.
This initial stage is key; selecting the appropriate employee for an international assignment, screening them effectively to assess their suitability. Choosing the right panel to select the candidate is key — it should include a manager from the department, staff from the assignment destination and HR staff from both the home and host country. Employers should also provide a realistic assignment preview to the candidate, making them aware of what their new role would entail and details of their assignment destination. According to Paula M. Caliguiri, an industrial — organisational psychologist at Rutgers University, “Studies have shown that in predicting which employees will succeed in international assignments, it’s critical to weigh not only technical suitability for international assignments but also a host of psychological factors, including employees’ open-mindedness, flexibility, emotional stability, intellectual curiosity, relationship skills and ability to cope with stress and ambiguity.”
Another approach, although it can be costly, is offering the employee to experience the new location for a short period. This will reduce the risk of the assignment as the employee will be able to make a more sincere decision.
Mindfulness can be an excellent tool for turning everyday experiences into more purposeful and fulfilling. Whether its meditation, writing a journal, or yoga, incorporating these habits in our daily lives can make a huge difference. Meditation can be practiced anywhere by anyone and can help expats deal with the mounting pressure. For example, employers can advocate mindfulness by offering meditation breaks in the office.
Lack of language skills is one of the biggest obstacles expats face. By learning a foreign language, expats win the opportunity of having a comprehensive experience of life overseas. Employers can encourage employees of learning the language by stressing the importance of it and guiding them.
Spousal and Child Support
Emotional stress is also heightened for those relocating with their families, particularly if their spouse and children find it hard to adapt. Expatriate spouses can suffer from feelings of isolation, putting relationships under strain. Employers can offer spousal support by helping them secure employment, establish a social network or develop a sense of purpose.
Tackling expat mental problems is very important as employees that experience high levels of stress are less likely to perform well struggling to meet expectations — not dealing with these issues can result in assignment failure and premature repatriation.