David Kentish: Travelling far and wide within the sphere of global mobility

What are the social and emotional implications of relocating to another country? David Kentish discusses the emotional support needed to aid those who are relocating globally.

Norman Tebbitt famously said when the government of the day was criticised for not creating enough jobs (or in certain areas of the country reducing them) that when he was young his father would get on his bicycle and cycle for as long as it took to find work. The meaning of this was clear, if you want a job badly enough, go out and find it and if that means having to travel or move, then so be it. At the time this was not a generally accepted idea.

I can remember 25 years or so ago, the company I was working for moved the offices from Baker Street to Kings Cross, only a few miles, but back then (culturally) for us advertising types, it was like being on another planet. We did adapt and it was only a cab ride back to civilisation, so we were able to cope. But what if your relocation was to another country?

Today, as a society, we are far more flexible and open to the idea of having to travel or even move to gain the job that we want, but even so, for many the thought of relocating to another country can be a major psychological block.

Social media has helped enormously with making us all feel more connected with the world around us. We feel we know more about how other countries work because many of us will have travelled on holiday to them, but holidaying and working in another country are two very different things.

From a company’s point of view, having experienced staff that are willing and able to relocate to different countries for a defined period is wonderful for both its business and because it does not create any major issues from an HR perspective.

But what of other staff who are asked to relocate who do not have this experience, how will they cope? For those who have chosen to go, I’m sure they will be looking at gaining more experience and furthering their career prospects, but have they or their company worked out a support process with how they manage working in a country where they may not have sufficient grasp of the language or have insight into the cultural differences?

Have the emotional stresses that will come into play been fully discussed? Are they taking their family with them, and if so what are their families’ thoughts on this, because it has the potential to disrupt partnerships. There’s housing, schooling for children and cultural differences to think about – the priorities. Is the employee going alone and then travelling back home every month or so, what could be the social implications of either scenario?

Companies may never be able find all of the skills that they need for their business within easy reach of where they need them to be, which often means relocating staff from further afield, or one country to another. This is especially relevant to large organisations that have clients and offices all around the world, and the consequences of not having this support available could result in a move working out badly for both parties.

The nature of our business means we have known many people who’ve moved abroad for work, some with families and others who have travelled on their own, returning at regular intervals. Many can make the emotional adjustment and understand that even though they have been working in a particular country for years, they are still visitors to that country and must conform to the laws and norms of the land. On the reverse, there are many who cannot adjust, whatever the reason, and return home as soon as they can.

Unfortunately, a lot of decisions to relocate an individual abroad are taken even before a conversation has been had with that person, and will have been taken at a strategic level to address a gap in experience that the company needs to fill to maintain an agreed level of service or client expectation.

For global mobility to truly work, an organisation must have the right packages available which are fully acceptable to all concerned, not just from a financial point of view but also in terms of having the right emotional support to ensure that the transition of the individual, and possibly their family, is in place.

Even with everything fully in place, as with any change of job or move within a company, it may not work out. That’s life. Move on (…or move back)!

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