Dr Maranda Ridgway: Five tips to support expatriate wellbeing

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Dr Maranda Ridgway: Five tips to support expatriate wellbeing

As more organisations extend their reach into the global market there is an increasing requirement for globally mobile professionals.

It is becoming more commonplace that international experience is a pre-requisite for progression to senior management positions.

Expatriate assignments remain one of the most expensive staffing models and yet remain a popular option to meet global talent requirements. Despite the cost, both in terms of finance and effort, many expatriate assignments fail, largely due to lack of adjustment on the part of the expatriate or their family members. Needless to say, the inability to adjust and perceptions of failure can have a negative impact on expatriate workers’ wellbeing.

Here, five tips are highlighted as a guide for HR professionals to support expatriate workers’ wellbeing and thus increase the likelihood of success both for the organisation and individual.

  • Facilitating local networks

Having local support networks to rely upon and refer to can mean the difference between success and failure. Ideally, helping assignees to start building networks before they depart will have a positive affect and provide them with another avenue to raise questions. Sharing experiences and learning from peers will have a much greater impact to helping expatriates adjust than relying on third party information.

Facilitating local networks could be through established, or establishing, relationships with local branches of professional institutes. Alternatively, asking for volunteers in overseas subsidiaries and organising a ‘buddy’ system could prove beneficial. Sign-posting assignees, or even facilitating introductions, to local expatriate communities are great ways to help staff adjust to a new life overseas. Accessing a community of individuals in a similar situation will help expatriates feel reassured about their relocation decision and more inclined to immerse themselves in the overseas experience.

  • Offering pre-departure support

Pre-departure support typically takes the shape of formal training. Despite the benefits associated with such training, surprisingly few organisations consistently provide training to all international assignees. Pre-departure training can encompass a range of topics from cultural etiquette to language lessons. Such training is highly beneficial to alleviate the stress associated with moving to the ‘unknown’. Having an expert to talk to about the specificities of a particular location will help expatriates, particularly those embarking on the first overseas stint, feel prepared.

The practical aspects of settling-in to a new country are as important as the cultural considerations. Remember to be transparent when communicating local procedures for routine tasks, such as acquiring a driving license, arranging internet connection etc. Often these processes are not straight-forward and cause a lot of unnecessary frustration if expatriates’ expectations are not managed. Indeed, it is unreasonable to expect expatriates to produce any form of useful work until such ‘life management’ worries have been resolved. The quicker the nitty gritty tasks that come with settling in are completed, the sooner expatriates will feel settled and become embedded in their work.

  • Partnering with local representatives

Experiencing a different way of life is one of the most fulfilling aspects of an international assignment and often one of the underpinning motivators for employees to accept international opportunities. Depending on the assignment location, however, it can be challenging to fully immerse oneself in local life.

Working with local entities, such as tourism authorities and native employees, may be useful ways to establish ambassadors willing to help your expatriate embrace the cultural experience. A more meaningful and enriching experience is more likely to encourage your assignee to remain for duration of the assignment. A meaningful experience is also likely to support expatriates’ wellbeing as they are able to reflect positively on all aspects of the international adventure, and not just work.

  • Articulating what expatriates should take accountability for

It’s a fine balance between providing comprehensive support and inadvertently developing an overly-reliant expatriate worker. It is vital that international assignees take accountability for their relocation and have a clear understanding of the boundaries of organisation-provided support.

There may be cases where assignees need to take the lead on sourcing specific information pertaining to highly personalised situations, such as the availability of specialist medication or the insurance provision for certain circumstances.

This balance can be achieved by clear signposting of available resources and transparency in the limitations of the support that will be provided.

  • Maintaining regular contact

Being physically distance from the home country locations can easily result in expatriate falling in the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ category and lead to an increase in feelings of isolation. Maintaining regular contact with expatriate workers provides reassurance and demonstrates the organisation’s long-term commitment to their career development. Regular contact will also enhance expatriate’s engagement, which is notoriously challenging with a remote workforce.

As technology continues to advance, particularly through the availability of cost-effective voice-over-internet-protocols, that allow both audio and visual communication, it is becoming easier to maintain contact by virtually removing physical barriers.

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About Maranda Ridgway

Dr Maranda Ridgway is a Senior Lecturer in the Human Resource Management Division of Nottingham Business School. Prior to moving to academia, Maranda, a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, worked as a senior human resource practitioner within a diverse range of industries. She spent five years in the in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), during which time she led numerous global projects including acquisitions new business creation, programme implementation service centralisation and organizational restructure. While in the UAE, Maranda completed a DBA at Newcastle Business School, her research explored the different factors that influence self-initiated expatriates when considering overseas employment. Since joining Nottingham Business School, Maranda has published in Organization, Employee Relations and Human Resource Development International. Her principal research interests lie in the fields of global mobility, intersectionality and human resource management.

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