Expatriate Assignments Pay Big Bucks

Globalization continues to demand interaction between and among participating countries. Propensity for success in overseas assignments is an important determinant in the viability of many businesses today. However, expatriate assignments are risky these days, so U.S. companies are paying the big bucks to entice employees to travel abroad. Still, they are not putting very many employees on planes headed overseas.

War and terrorism have complicated the equation for U.S. companies hoping to send American employees on expatriate assignments. There is talk of safety and evacuation planning, and of global policies. Exchanging workers with Saudi Arabia for instance now means employees coming and going between the countries requires elaborate procurement of foreign work permits and visas. Visiting employees are fingerprinted and registered upon entry.

Alternatives such as conducting e-business are creating a new wave of virtual work teams across the globe. Still there is some scrambling to select candidates for expatriate assignments. College grads may present a viable population. They don’t yet have families and they tend to be more adventurous and eager to succeed. Families may be left behind for their security.

Adaptability in a long-term assignment in which family members need to be included is a major issue and the major reason for assignment failure. One reason seems to be that the spouse who tags along often finds it difficult to secure meaningful work during the assignment. Now, not only are companies paying the big buck to the employee taking on the expatriate assignment, but spouses are provided training and education to assist in career development suitable for the host country.

A selection factor in determining individuals who are appropriate for expatriate assignments is previous overseas experience. Such individual typically possess the necessary interest and motivation for the assignment. Ability to adapt to life in a foreign culture is dually considerable. Propensity for successful selection hinges on many additional dimensions. Two are the self dimension and the relationship dimension that enables the employee to “tough it out.” The “self dimension” includes skills that enable the employee to maintain good mental and physiological health and well being. The “perception dimension” includes ability that enables the employees to perceive and evaluate the environment. Assessment testing for “toughness” characteristics measures such parameters as expectations, open-mindedness, social adaptability and acceptance, flexibility and tolerance, and initiative and risk taking.

Some companies are purchasing formal assessment tools for expatriate assignment selection. Surveys provide measurements revealing cultural and personality assessments that may assist in increasing successful selection. A well-established survey, the Overseas Assignment Inventory has gained a new application in selecting expatriate candidates. The survey screens out those who may be a high-risk selection. The questions help identify certain problematic personality traits in those individuals concerning foreign integration challenges.

In general, it can be a mistake to think that because individuals are successful working in U.S. companies that they will be successful overseas. Those in the IT field have particular complications. They may not represent experienced managers, but rather they are more astute in training. According to human resource experts, employees and their families that accept expatriate assignments do so out of ignorance. They don’t understand the challenges they will face.

Even returning from a long-term expatriate assignment is troubling due to lack of preparedness. Employees are asked to adapt to the foreign culture, but it takes a reversal process to once again acclimate to the previous culture. Children who became accustomed to the new culture and even parents upon returning discover that they are out of the loop on the current environment of school and work matters.

The issue of compensation is likely the greatest one in which success may ultimately hinge. Overcoming culture shock for instance can be muted with adequate compensation that is flexible according to need. If compensation is too low, it can compound acclimation issues. Adequate compensation enables families to remain technologically astute and in touch with changes at home. Further, expatriates should be permitted to remain in the host country until a way has been paved for the family to return. Compensation may be the major means by which expatriate assignments can be marketed as an advantageous experience.

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