The desire to work as an expatriate is an offer many employees will not resist. Many employees cannot resist the challenge to try new frontiers after years of working in a home country. These employees can’t wait to put their accumulated years of skills, training, and experience to a tough test by accepting to relocate to another country. Working as an international expatriate is not only challenging, it can open numerous doors for one to pursue adventure. The positive benefits of working as an expatriate have been documented by numerous quarters. Some of the key benefits that arise out an international career are the fact that one can develop faster as an individual, and acquire more skills that will put them ahead of the rest when it comes to marketability (Marx 2009). Some of the crucial skills that one can be able to acquire include negotiation skills, better decision-makers, maturity, and skills to manage people better.
Today’s changing business environment requires companies to plan on a global perspective. Expatriate assignments are part of the global human resources practices that are inevitable in today’s hyper turbulent business environment. This involves employees being given international assignments that help them learn important lessons as far as international management is concerned and also learn how professionally interact in a culturally diverse environment. A typical expatriate assignment takes a minimum of two years to a maximum of five years after which relocation to the country of work becomes a viable human resource decision.
Factors contributing to successful expatriate
For this kind of assignment to be a success great attention should be paid to the expatriates’ adjustment to the new social and cultural environment. The adjustment has been defined as “the degree of fit between the expatriate employee and the new environment in both work and nonwork domains’’ (Aycan 1997). This adjustment takes place at various levels i.e. social, psychological, and economical levels. Several personal factors will determine how fast an expatriate employee will adjust. A human resource manager should keep in mind the following factors when selecting the ideal expatriate candidate.
Age is an important factor that might contribute to the assignee’s success or failure in his assignment. Younger expatriates with limited family responsibilities have an easier time adjusting to a foreign environment, as fronted by Fieldman and Thomson (1993) Middle-aged and elderly expatriates have more socially demanding lives, and in case of anything it may force the expatriate to terminate the assignment beforehand. On the other hand, a married expatriate with a supporting family may be better placed to carry out the assignment properly. It may be worthwhile for the human resource manager to weigh these two options carefully to find out what suits best.
Personal characteristics of the expatriate will also determine the effectiveness of one in his assignment. These personal attributes will determine how well and how fast an individual copes with the change of environment. The expatriate should have a high level of self-motivation; have individual ability to deal with stress, effective communication skills, dependability, and cultural flexibility. These characteristics have been used previously in studies to measure an expatriates’ level of performance and adjustment (Bodor 1999)
After considering these personal attributes a human resource manager is now left with the task of narrowing down to the particular skills and expertise required of the expatriate assignees. Many multinational companies look at expatriate assignments as the ultimate opportunity for career building. The organization should be keen to offer this opportunity to the most talented employees and also ensure that this assignment is in line with the employee’s changing career needs.as indicated by the data from the 1996-1997 International Assignee Research Project this will increase the success rate of the assignments.
Factors contributing to the failure
Even though many factors contribute to expatriate success, others might lead to failure in their assignments. An organization could be affected negatively if there is no proper management of expatriates and their families in general. In most cases, most companies tend to put more emphasis on the technical competencies of the expatriate and disregard other key important attributes like an expatriate’s ability to build relationships in the host country. Other companies send expatriates overseas just because they showed superior job performance in the home country. However, this does not necessarily mean that the same would be transferred to the new job location. Their ability to display exceptional technical skills back at home becomes the only basis for selection. Additionally, many expatriates do not receive any form of departure preparation and they end up going to new countries while unprepared to face new and unusual challenges.
Expatriate assignments could achieve a high success rate if various strategies are implemented. Once the right candidate has been selected, a relevant and reasonable time frame should be given to the employee to prepare for the assignment.
It is important for companies that operate overseas to put in place proper communication mechanisms support systems for their workers who are posted in those countries. More so, these companies must anticipate any adverse effects that will arise as a result of overseas postings for their staff. Therefore, ensuring that there are good expatriate planning mechanisms on how their job assignments will be related to their future career goals (Farid, 1998). According to a survey done by a company dealing in global relocations of expatriates, thirty-five percent of expatriates who are planning to go overseas were not aware of the consequences their assignments would have on their career goals and objectives (p. 123). This kind of situation was noted to be very worrying because these employees relocate to countries that are foreign and take considerable risks by moving out of the home company. In most cases, some might have established a track record that might be the same in the new country of assignment. This has the potential to lead to disenchantment. Expatriates are more likely to adjust more easily to their new roles if companies understand the importance brought about by effective career development strategies while doing the assignments.
It is of absolute importance to prepare employees for “culture shock” The expatriates may be faced with inexplicable behavior in the new environment. They lack the mental models that determine what in accordance to the new culture is morally right and morally not right. This can cause a high level of anxiety and by extension low productivity but the situation is alleviated with time. Selecting an employee with almost similar cultural beliefs as those found in the new work designation is a good idea. The adjustment process will be relatively fast and smooth.
Studies and experience have shown that it is considerably expensive for expatriate assignments to fail. It is therefore very important to understand this implication and the major reasons that could contribute to this state of affairs. Nevertheless, expatriate failure rates have been declining in the recent past as more companies appreciate these cost implications of failure and put in place appropriate strategies to deal with the issue. (Daniels 1998). Many organizations continue to make the big mistake of focusing on the technical competencies of those they want to post to international assignments and forget other important factors like family and how they could be affected as a result of the assignment. According to Sappinen (1993), this state of affairs usually takes place because companies have failed to understand the definition of assignments that fail and that much research has only focused on defining failure of expatriates as those who return to their home countries prematurely. Negative consequences can occur if there is no proper management of expatriates in terms of their professional and family welfare. Expatriates have been known to undergo enormous financial and psychological challenges (Mendenhall, 1987). Companies expend a lot of costs carrying out relocations, compensating, and offering new training to newly posted expatriates. Therefore, these companies may end up incurring huge financial costs if the programs run as expected.
Proper human resource policies should be put in place to cater to expatriate assignments. This ensures proper management of human resources globally and also makes sure employees accept foreign assignments because they know their interests are well covered. These policies create an environment whereby employees can be most successful because without the best environment even the best performers may falter. Managing successful expatriate assignments is more than just the global management of talent by companies. It requires more. Bodor further states that the single most important aspect is what happens to the employee after the assignment (p. 235). Corporations that invest in mentoring their expatriates and giving them holiday opportunities back home tend to achieve more success because the expatriates are motivated to produce within an encouraging working environment. “Planning for the individual’s next job should be part of the international assignment decision,” (Daniels 1998).
First-time expatriates should be advised on how to take a few steps to ensure their smoother adjustment to international life. Undertaking a cross-cultural pre-departure and/or post-arrival training will help them realistically look at their expectations and assumptions. Finding a mentor in the local office early in the assignment will make it both a working and a learning experience.
Training and orientation for international assignments are more common today. It is estimated that 50 percent of companies who sent employees overseas were conducting pre-training and orientation (Aycan 1997). Other countries, such as Japan, are more committed to the importance of training for international assignments. This may explain the low (less than 10 percent) failure rate cited for most of Japan’s MNCs. In Japanese firms, international training is typically conducted over a one-year period where expatriate employees are taught about the culture, customs, and business techniques of the host country (Farid 1998).
A growing number of Multi-National Companies have also shown a strong commitment to international training and orientation (Sappinen 1993). More increasingly companies are also outscoring expatriate training (p. 123). Familiarization” trips, which also serve as “realistic job previews” and can be used especially as a part of its junior trainee program. This program is aimed at building careers with a global perspective and experience (Mendenhill 1997). Therefore, emphasizing training is key to ensuring that expatriates get well settled in their workstations.
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