For many working in organisations with international operations, there will come a time when some form of relocation is required. For some, this will be a short term visit of a few weeks to a couple of months in a different location, for others it will be an expat relocation lasting between months and years and, for a small number it could be a permanent relocation to a new country. Each of these forms of relocation has its own challenges, both personal and professional, and each its own rewards.
Assuming that you are an established member of the organisation for which you work before your expat relocation, there are a number of things to consider before embarking on what will be a life changing experience;
- Will you be going alone or will you have accompanying family, are you going into a role you have performed previously or into a new role?
- How well do you know the personnel in your new location?
- What support network will you have, both in your original location and your destination?
- How long will your expat contract last?
- What forms of travel, financial and accommodation allowances are made in your contract?
- And finally, what happens if it all goes wrong?
Single or Accompanied Expat Relocation?
If you are single, the likely form of your expat contract will also be single status, if, however you are in a relationship, with or without children there are generally options to undertake an expat contract either single status or as a family unit.
Taking the single status expat contract as someone in a relationship is frequently the chosen option for those with high school age children, or where the partner is in a career they are unable to break without losing future opportunities. This situation puts a lot of strain on both sides of the relationship and is one that needs careful consideration before making the commitment. For some it works well, for others it will be a disaster, ending in separation or major contractual issues as they try to break their contract to return home. Before making a decision either way seek out colleagues who have experience in the situation and get their guidance.
Previous Role Experience
There is little doubt that moving location in a consistent role is easier than taking a new role in a new location, however, for many expats the choice does not exist. Many employees are relocated as part of their career development plan and, as such, will be in a new role at their new location. Many others will be moving as part of a project progression, so moving to a new location to complete the next phase of their project. So, for the majority of expats, the new location includes a substantially new role.
Known Or Unknown Colleagues
Taking an expat relocation where you are established in the organisation, and have had time to meet and build relationships with your colleagues in your new location, is a far less risky undertaking than one where you join the organisation and are immediately deployed to a new place of work. I have seen a few instances where someone was hired into a company for a specific expat role, they quite literally pass through their home office, receive an induction and some plane tickets and head off to their expat posting, rarely have these postings been successful from the point of view of the organisation, though the individual’s experiences are often quite positive.
It is best, wherever possible, to have some period of establishment for the new hire, potential expat, to spend time in their office of hire before being deployed. Taking this approach allows them time to learn the organisation and meet key individuals before they are posted.
Having a support network in the home office can be extremely useful to the effectiveness of an expat relocation. This network should include both formal and informal relationships, and relationships with both the departmental personnel and support personnel such as HR, IT and other relevant departments.
While the formal support network is important as far as the day to day working relationships are concerned, to be able to survive an expat relocation you will need to have access and support from departments such as HR to resolve the inevitable issues that may arise.
Having informal support from work colleagues can also help in times of stress and pressure, they can give the expat insight into events at the home office and provide an easier re-entry experience when the expat relocation is finished.
Despite the best intentions a reasonably high percentage of expat relocations will not be successful. This failure to thrive can be the result of any of a number of issues, including; personal, professional, health, cultural, extended family, military tension in the expat relocation or just bad luck. Frequently the expat will wish to return to their home office, and often to their previous role if possible, though this may not always be possible.
When considering an expat relocation it is therefore important to consider the “what if” scenario, i.e. what if this does not work and I need to escape, how will I get myself home and what will I do when I get there. I would recommend the expat have an open and frank discussion with their manager before the relocation, taking the time to talk through ways things can be managed should the need to walk away from the deployment arise. I would also recommend that the organisation has strategies in place to manage most of the foreseeable scenario’s, ensuring both the safety of their personal and the continuation of the work.
Surviving An Expat Relocation
As you will have seen from the above discussion, there is a lot to consider when planning an expat relocation. Many questions to ask both for the organisation and the individuals. As with everything else, planning for the worst but hoping for the best is as good a place to start as any. Spend the time planning who, how, when and for how long before committing, and seek out as much knowledge from those who have been there before as possible, then seek out the best and most suitable people as possible for the roles.
For those undertaking the expat relocation, make sure you have fully considered the conditions and pressures of the role before accepting it and also considered your exit strategy should you need to use it.
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