Insights for Global Employers
Volume 2 of 5
we know expats
An employer's guide to a successful assignment
we know expats
An employer's guide to a successful assignment
4 Ways to Help Expat Employees Find Their Best Living Situation
Home is more than a place to eat and sleep. It’s a place that offers comfort, especially for employees on assignment. Companies that offer guidance to assignees in this area relieve a huge amount of stress. Here are a few ways you can help:
Work with a Destination Service Provider

There are many companies devoted to making the transition process easier for employees coming into the U.S. on assignment, especially those who are not fluent in English. A destination service provider (DSP) can arrange a pre-assignment visit, and will connect the employee with a real estate broker familiar with the area. They also manage every detail of the relocation process, which means they will:

  • Explain the home search process so the assignee knows what to expect
  • Counsel the assignee on school choices and neighborhoods
  • Set up all utility accounts (electric, cable, water, etc.)
  • Connect the employee with the expatriate community
  • Anticipate challenges and advocate for the assignee in negotiations

Manage Expectations

An employee with a lovely home in the countryside moves to New York City and the financially comparable housing is a modest apartment. Another, living in a downtown metropolis moves to Huntsville, Alabama, and marvels at the roomy house and yard, but realizes there is no nightlife or public transportation. When housing allowances are discussed, spell out these differences in living standards and help your employees prioritize the amenities that are most important to them.

Make Time for the Transition

Departing employees deal with warring demands on their time. They must wrap up work in the home office and prepare to move to another country. The direct supervisor’s natural reaction is to increase the workload and shorten deadlines while the employee is available to them. That creates stress for the employee and their spouse (who will be left to handle moving details and decisions), and may lead to rushed decisions and eventual dissatisfaction with their new home.

Since the visa process for working in the U.S. can take up to three months, and sometimes longer, there should be plenty of time to develop a clear transition plan that includes time set aside for the departing employee to meet with the person helping them through relocation. These pre-departure sessions help the employee and his or her family define their needs and preferences so they can settle in to a home that suits them.

Remember the Family

According to the 2013 Expatriate Trends Study conducted by the National Foreign Trade Council and Cigna Global Health Benefits, 61% of married expat employees bring their spouse with them for the assignment, and 36 percent bring children with them. The employee has a ready-made circle of colleagues to interact with every day, but a spouse can feel isolated, and children can have a hard time adjusting to new classmates. If an employee’s spouse and children are unhappy in their new home, there’s a good chance they will end the assignment early.
  • Include the family in all preparations from the start. If your company offers a pre-assignment visit, they should go also, so that they get the same first look at what will be their new home.
  • Offer cultural training sessions before departure, language lessons if necessary, and help them find their social footing once there.
  • Assign a mentor from the company, arrange a few social events soon after their arrival or connect them with another expat who can show them around.

As the United States continues to be a primary destination for globally mobile employees, it's increasingly important for multinational employers to remain cognizant of the many challenges for their employees embarking on an assignment here. While a U.S.-based assignment represents an exciting opportunity for most, often, complexities that can potentially compromise success are overlooked.

It is widely recognized that the U.S. healthcare system is among the most complex in the world. Health care reform has added to that complexity significantly and contributes to difficulties for employees to understand the choices available to them, and how to achieve better healthcare outcomes for themselves and their families. Global mobility managers need to be as nimble as possible to help their employees on assignment in the United States navigate this increasingly complicated healthcare landscape.

Better understanding the key issues and anticipating the evolving needs of their companies' most highly valued assets will enable global mobility managers to protect the considerable investment they make toward expatriate assignments.
David Maltby
President, Cigna Global Health Benefits