Preventing Failed Assignments: Relocation Success

Failed assignments can pose a significant challenge to even the most experienced HR and global mobility teams. Navigating global mobility and ensuring successful overseas assignments is similar to steering a ship through uncharted waters, facing challenges like cultural misunderstandings and logistical issues. However, the benefits of a well-executed overseas assignment are significant for both the employee and the organisation, contributing to growth, innovation, and the development of a truly global workforce.

Exploring Reasons for Failed Assignments Overseas

1. Limited Cultural Adaptation

Cultural differences can cause an unexpectedly wide disconnect, which could have a significant impact on the employee’s productivity and happiness. Expatriates often grapple with cultural challenges such as integrating into new professional ethics, understanding social norms, and adjusting to everyday routines. This sense of alienation can significantly impact motivation and engagement, potentially leading to underperformance or an unexpected early return from the assignment. For example, an American expatriate assigned to work in Japan may struggle with the hierarchical structure of Japanese companies and the emphasis on group harmony, leading to misunderstandings with colleagues and difficulties in decision-making processes.

2. Insufficient Preparation and Support

The foundation of a successful overseas assignment is established long before an employee steps on a plane. Comprehensive pre-assignment training, along with continuous support, is vital in ensuring that employees are not only professionally prepared but also psychologically ready to adapt to changes. This includes strategic cultural training, practical relocation assistance, and establishing clear lines of communication. Without proper preparation and support, employees may struggle to acclimatise to their new environment and face challenges that could have been prevented with adequate training and assistance. This lack of preparation can lead to feelings of isolation and disorientation, ultimately affecting their performance and overall well-being.

3. Communication Obstacles and Language Barriers

The absence of clear communication can rapidly spiral into misunderstandings, which can negatively impact project timelines and productivity. Overcoming language barriers extends beyond the ability to speak a language fluently. It involves understanding implicit cultural subtleties linked to communication styles. Technology aids, such as language training applications or language-accommodating technological platforms, can support better understanding and collaboration.

4. Family-Related Challenges

Family adjustment issues, including partner or spouse dissatisfaction and the impact on children, rank among the top reasons for failed assignments. The stress of relocating to a new country can sometimes lead to Expat Child Syndrome, which is characterised by withdrawal, changes in sleep or eating patterns, and behavioural disruptions. Ensuring comprehensive support for accompanying spouses or partners is essential for the overall success of the assignment. Addressing their concerns, providing resources for cultural integration, and offering assistance in finding fulfilling activities or employment opportunities can significantly alleviate the challenges associated with family relocation and contribute to a smoother transition for the entire family unit.

Key Strategies for Successful Overseas Assignments

1. Detailed Selection and Evaluation Process

Choosing the right candidates for overseas assignments is core to the success of the project. The use of robust assessment tools that measure cultural adaptability, receptiveness to change, and resilience, such as Self-Assessment for Global Endeavors (SAGE) can provide early indicators of a candidate’s potential success. Additionally, conducting thorough interviews can further ensure that the selected candidate is the right fit for the role. It is important to consider not only the technical skills and experience of the individual but also their ability to thrive in a different cultural environment. By carefully selecting the right candidates, organisations can increase the likelihood of a successful overseas assignment and minimise the risks associated with expatriate failure. In addition, ongoing support and training throughout the assignment can help ensure the candidate’s continued success.

2. Cultural Training and Support

Effective cultural training programmes need to delve deeper than basic etiquette; they must involve employees in immersive learning experiences that nurture empathy and mutual understanding. The incorporation of ongoing cultural coaching throughout assignments promotes continual learning and adaptation and reduces the risk of failed assignments. This support system can help employees navigate unfamiliar cultural landscapes and build strong relationships with colleagues from different backgrounds. By providing ongoing training and support, organisations can ensure that their employees not only adapt to new cultures but also thrive in them, leading to increased productivity and success in global endeavours.

3. Extensive Family Support

Ensuring a successful transition encompasses not just the employee but the whole family unit. By offering comprehensive assistance such as school location services, language training for family members, and career development resources for partners, a smoother, more inclusive transition is facilitated, significantly increasing the likelihood of assignment success. This level of support recognises the importance of the family unit in the overall success of the assignment. By providing resources and assistance tailored to the needs of family members, organisations can help alleviate the stress and challenges that often come with relocating to a new country. In doing so, employees can focus on their work knowing that their loved ones are also being taken care of, leading to a more positive and productive experience for everyone involved.

4. Ongoing Support and Mentorship

A strong support structure, both at home and in the host nation, acts as a safety net for expatriates. Assigning mentors or coaches can facilitate smoother transitions, while maintaining regular check-ins makes employees feel appreciated and acknowledged. This ongoing support and mentorship not only helps expatriates adjust to their new environment, but also enhances their overall job satisfaction and performance. Additionally, having someone to turn to for guidance and advice can alleviate feelings of isolation and homesickness, leading to a more positive expatriate experience. Ultimately, by prioritising the well-being and success of expatriates and their families, companies can reduce the risk of failed assignments and foster a more inclusive and supportive work culture.

5. Promotion of Work-Life Balance

Establishing a work environment that encourages work-life balance is crucial. Positive reinforcement from upper management to engage with local cultures, pursue hobbies, and develop a supportive social network can greatly enhance an expatriate’s overall experience. Encouraging employees to take time off, use flexible work arrangements, and prioritise self-care can lead to increased productivity and job satisfaction. Providing resources for mental health support and stress management can also contribute to a positive work-life balance for expatriates. Ultimately, promoting work-life balance not only benefits the individual employee but also the overall success of the international assignment.

Final Thoughts

Overseas assignments possess the capacity to shape the future trajectory of global businesses and the professional journey of those embarking on these assignments. By identifying the common pitfalls and implementing strategic interventions, HR and global mobility teams can substantially improve the success rate of these endeavours.

Preventing failed assignments overseas hinges on thorough preparation, improving cross-cultural understanding, and maintaining reliable support systems. HR and global mobility teams must actively implement these strategies to ensure smoother sailing for your global workforce.

The potential rewards for all parties involved can be enormous if the complexities of relocation are proactively managed with a strategic and knowledgeable approach.

Speak to one of our experts or send a message today and find out how we can add value to your relocation programme.

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