How HR can save a failed relocation

Around 40 per cent of international relocations fail but HR can mitigate the risk, says one expert

How HR can save a failed relocation
Moving employees overseas is not only costly, it also comes with significant risk but that doesn’t mean HR is powerless to help – according to one industry expert, there are a number of measures which can significantly improve success rates.

“International assignments, especially those of a managerial position, are failing at an alarming rate,” says Mark Costa-Rising, a member of the management team at Gerson Relocation.

In fact, recent data collected by Right Management and historical data collated by research group Harzing suggests that the failure rate of overseas working assignments is around 40 per cent.

“This information has huge implications for the international relocation process, as businesses invest hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on moving employees overseas,” says Costa-Rising.

“However, HR professionals have the power to influence these international relocation failure rates in a big way,” he continues.

According to a separate Right Management survey, just 25 per cent of businesses around the world provide some form of preparatory training for their assignees.

When it comes to finding out what’s so challenging about overseas assignments, a CEM survey of global HR heads found that cultural differences and language barriers are the two greatest impediments to success.

“It’s not hard to see why so many assignments are, indeed, failing,” says Costa-Rising. “Cultures overseas differ greatly, as do languages. If a worker is unable to communicate with their team and clients effectively, they cannot be expected to complete their work to a satisfactory level, nor can they expect to operate well if they aren't familiar with workplace customs and cultures.”

Breaking down these barriers is key to a harmonious working environment and the success of an assignment, says Costa-Rising.

“HRs can help to ensure this happens by supporting prospects through providing educational materials, language lessons, training resources and other options for cultural exploration,” he tells HRD.

“Trips overseas to become acclimatised before relocation — and arranging meetings with future colleagues and clients — are great ways to help reduce problems when relocating employees internationally,” he adds.

Of course, assignment failure isn’t always down to the working environment – often, problems are related to external factors such as homesickness, issues settling in and family disturbances.

“Moving is one of life’s great stressors, and moving overseas amplifies these stresses immensely,” says Costa-Rising. “The pressure of the relocation process itself can be a major challenge. But, when faced in combination with attempting to integrate with a foreign community, overcome language and cultural barriers and establish a daily routine, all while being miles from home, that pressure can be too much.”

However, there are ways HR professionals can reduce the effects a move overseas has on a candidate.

“They can do this through a comprehensive support structure that goes beyond the typical points of interest for corporate relocation. Usually, a company will offer support with immigration, accommodation and shipping, but to secure strong work results, HRs need to take this further,” says Costa-Rising.

“For a worker to be able to focus on their job, they need to be happy and stable in their home life, which means more attention needs to be paid to the smaller details,” he continues.

According to Costa-Rising and industry experts Gerson Relocation, HR professionals should ensure the business supports a number of elements necessary for settling in, including:

Social education — regarding languages and customs

Establishing daily essentials — banking, transport, schools, shopping, phones, insurance, etc.

Family support — family matters can lead to upwards of 70% of failed relocations. HRs need to be aware of problems the family are facing, not just the employee

Community integration — supporting the development of a social life, such as helping your employee and their families become involved in their local scene

Area orientation — similar to community integration, help employees get to know their local area. Making a foreign country more like home than just a place they are visiting

Pet moving — pets are part of the family, and having to move without a pet can be difficult. Help moving a pet can make a huge difference to happiness levels

However, organisational efforts to support assignees should not stop after these actions have been carried out.

“Support should be offered for the length of the relocation project, with assurances from HR that they provide help and guidance through any issue that may affect the employee's ability to succeed in the workplace,” says Costa-Rising.

“Especially in the early stages of relocation, HR may be the only support structure an assignee has. The stronger the foundations you can provide, the higher the chances of international relocation success.”

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