Insights for Global Employers
Volume 4 of 5
we know expats
An employer's guide to a successful assignment
we know expats
An employer's guide to a successful assignment
Effective methods for keeping assignees from feeling stranded
Out of sight, out of mind. That’s the fate of many employees on overseas assignments. The more time spent in the host country, the more pronounced the feeling of alienation from the home office. Homesickness is regularly cited as a factor for coming home early, and unhappy assignees often say they feel abandoned in their host country. Failed assignments are bad for the company and the employee, so it’s important to implement a plan for staying connected.
Assign a home office contact

Regular conversations, whether by phone, Skype or email, will keep the assignee in the loop about what’s going on in the home office. But it also ensures that the home office doesn’t lose touch with an employee who is gaining valuable experience. Though the conversation will be work-focused, this connection should minimize the assignee’s stress, not add to it. While it’s fair to pick their brain about issues related to the job they left behind, keep in mind that they have their own job to focus on in the host country.

Ideally, home office contacts should be senior executives who have been assignees themselves. The shared experience of working outside the home office can lead to productive conversations about overcoming obstacles during the transition, and applying new skills and knowledge to work being done at the home office. The connection to someone in a leadership position indicates that the company sees a future with the employee after the assignment.

Make it easy for them to find relevant company information

Time differences combine with full workdays to thwart assignee to company communication. Today’s technology is the obvious solution, but an astonishing 19 percent of employees told the 2013 Expatriate Trends Study that their company does not provide assignment-related information online. Another 20 percent said they didn’t know if that information was available online.

A company intranet should be the natural first stop for any expat employee with a relatively straightforward question about health care claims process or compensation plans. As the assignee population gets younger, the importance of mobile phone apps will increase to reflect their preferences.

If this information is not available online, it should be. If it is already available, employees must be made aware of it.

Pair them with a local

The first few months of an assignment are filled with excitement as the employee dives into a new job, a new home, and many new experiences. But when the newness of the experience winds down, they may realize that they are still bumping up against cultural differences that they don’t understand, or that they haven’t made many real friends. Though an expat community helps in some ways, a local colleague can offer insider knowledge of cultural norms and expose the assignee to people and places they might not learn of otherwise.

In the host country, the ideal pairing is the opposite of the home office contact. A junior level executive working with the assignee gets exposure to a senior leader, which could be a valuable career step. That incentive could ensure that more time and care is spent in helping the assignee outside of work hours. The assignee also will avoid the pressure of trying to impress somebody higher in the office hierarchy, and so feel more able to relax.

Schedule home visits

Employees working in another country often want to use their vacation days to travel, or even explore their host country as a tourist. Companies should not assume that the employee will come home during their time off. Allot a budget for home office visits, clearly designated as workrelated, and have a plan for how the visiting employee will spend their time there. Provide them with a clear vacation schedule as well, so they can plan a few days off while they are home if they choose.

Ask them to share stories

Give the employee a space to blog on the company intranet. Profile them in a company newsletter. Send them a list of questions from other employees considering an assignment. Have them give an informal talk to colleagues during a home visit. By letting them know that their new experience is valued, they will likely feel more confident in the host country and have an easier time navigating the repatriation process once they return home.

Keep them in mind for job openings

Often an employee sees an assignment as a stepping stone on their career path; however their employer may believe that they are simply distributing company resources where they are most needed. Discuss this topic before the employee takes the assignment so that everyone understands what will happen once the assignment ends.

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