Assignee Experience vs. Assignment Success

Sending an employee on an International Assignment can be a costly experience for a business in terms of both time and money; particularly long-term assignments which can last for years. Various studies have shown that a significant number of assignments end in failure, but why? A key contributor to either success or disaster is the nature of the assignee experience – good or bad.

There are several ways to ensure that your assignee has a great expat experience…

1. Finding the right person

How do you quantify what makes a good assignee? Whilst on paper a candidate may look like an excellent fit for the assignment, this does not always translate into real life. One person’s idea of an exciting expatriate adventure may be another’s nightmare – personality is a factor.

Things to look for when identifying an appropriate assignee include flexibility, experience and cultural adaptability. Does your candidate cope well in different working environments? Do they have international experience? Do they regularly work with colleagues from the host country?

Another key question is whether their language skills are up to the challenge? Sending an assignee from London to Osaka when they do not speak any Japanese could be a recipe for disaster when it comes to coping with the various cultural differences and nuances between these two cities.

Language and intercultural training can offer a solution. Even if your assignee is not fluent by the time they touchdown in Japan, being armed with a few phrases and an understanding of why and how the locals do things differently can be invaluable for combating culture shock.

2. Family support

If your assignee is relocating overseas with their family, the importance of family-support cannot be underestimated. Even if all is going well in the office, an unhappy family is more than likely to cause upset and even the total failure of the assignment.

If you are offering cultural training to the assignee, consider extending this to their spouse (and children) as well. ‘Trailing spouses’ can experience a whole host of issues, from isolation if they have no one to socialise with, to frustration if they have put a career on hold to follow their partner.

Discussing career opportunities / networking events with the spouse can help to combat professional frustrations. Holidays can also be a hard time for family members, offering flights home once or twice a year is a cost-effective way to counter home sickness.

Being able to interact with locals/expat communities can help families during the settling in process, giving opportunities to build friendships. Social clubs and community events are therefore an important area to cover within family support, helping to promote overall happiness.

3. Preparation

Whilst time is not always on side when sending an employee abroad, preparing your assignee on what to expect in advance is very important. Offering your candidate the chance to visit their potential new home is always a good idea in advance of any pending assignment.

Allowing the assignee to spend some time in their new office and local area before their assignment officially begins can be a great way to put their mind at ease, improving familiarity with local systems and amenities as well as reducing culture shock.

Home finding trips with the family can also be a great way to get everyone on board with the new move. Even if the trip goes terribly and your candidate decides against the assignment, this can save a lot of time and money compared to the assignee coming in unprepared and quitting 3 months in.

Providing ongoing support to your assignee is essential. If you plan to have your assignee return to their home office once the assignment has been completed, then arranging regular catch up calls with the team ensures that they stay in the loop with everything that is happening at home.

4. Learning & Moving Forward

When an assignment fails, employers can be disheartened by the process and avoid future assignments altogether. However, just because one assignment fails to deliver on its expectations, this does not mean that this will be the case for all future expatriate endeavours.

By speaking to your assignee to uncover what went wrong, these issues can be remedied and avoided in the future. According to AIRINC’s Survey, 89% of companies surveyed are taking steps to improve the employee experience.

With so many companies proactively working on this essential element, it will certainly be interesting to see if there is an impact on the future percentage of assignment failures. Hopefully retrospective evaluation will improve success rates for future assignments moving forward.

Written by Sophie Watkins – Consultant – Global Mobility & Expatriate Services at Alchemy Global Talent Solutions.

Posted in categories: Culture & Languages, Expats, Global Mobilty