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Why do expat assignments fail?

Written by on 7th July 2014
Category: Relocation

Serviced apartments are an important piece in the complex jigsaw of relocation, but they’re only one part of the puzzle. There are thousands of people relocating around the world for assignments on an annual basis. A number of these assignments regrettably fail. Assuming the company has a well-designed global mobility programme, and all things being equal, two of the main reasons for the failure of the assignment could be:

  • The assignee’s family fails to adjust/adapt to the foreign location – whether it’s the accommodation that’s provided, cultural challenges, or lack of career opportunities for the accompanying spouse.
  • Many companies are still doing a poor job clearly defining employees’ career paths and post-assignment career opportunities/responsibilities.

Access to someone who knows the culture of the country/city during the first year of expatriation in a new place will help with the different stages of cultural shock. This should be established by the consultant charged with leading the assignee’s relocation. Accommodation is pivotal to the assignee’s comfort and lifestyle, so a series of questions about said lifestyle should be asked well before the relocation. That’s why so many assignees opt for one of our international serviced apartments after being presented with the benefits.

It could also be an idea to work with assignees to help soften the risk of failure through greater preparation of the expatriate and their family. This is both in terms of the cultural and business environment, as it’s too late to think about this once the assignment is underway. Being adaptable to support the assignee where it’s needed has to be at the forefront of the relocation, as global mobility departments in multinational organisations can adapt and aid the situation at little cost to the company. By providing mentoring, connections to social networking, supporting spouses in cultural and language training and job searches, they are likely to settle into their environment quicker.

In addition, the HR department in the home country often can’t relate to the expat’s situation. For example, if there’s no plan to go back home, people are no longer visible in the organisation of their home country and are therefore forgotten about for job opportunities. The HR department should make an active effort to ensure the assignee has a career path that they can see. This means presenting the assignee with a route that not only shows their next role, but also the role after that.

Why do you think expat assignments fail? Do you agree with our blog? Let us know in the comments section below.