HR Trend #3 — Bringing in Expats


CEO: “We need to hire someone from the outside into this position, as there is no expertise in this area in the region. Do we have a programme in place to help them to assimilate once they get here?”

VP-HR: “Huh?”
CEO: “How about their family?”
VP-HR: “Hmmm….”
CEO: “Does it make a difference if they are coming from another Caribbean island?”
VP-HR: “To be honest, I have no idea….”
It’s a good idea for human resource professionals across the region to ensure that when the above conversation takes place they are ready. What are some of the things that they should be ready to tell the CEO? How can they prepare themselves to address what is quickly becoming the norm for most progressive companies? What are the essentials they need to address?
Here are some facts that the VP-HR needs to know at the onset:
  • They will probably underestimate the difficulty of the expat’s adjustment (especially if they have not lived abroad recently).
  • The emotional issues are intense, and come in all flavours.
  • The main success factor will surround the experience of the “trailing spouse” (usually a woman). 67% of failures can be traced to the trailing spouse.
  • The non-working spouse will probably be a professional who has had to give up their own career.
  • A simple set of policies created from the beginning will make things much easier.
  • The move will cost up to US$1million for an executive and family.
  • Of all age groups, teenage children have the most difficult time adjusting.
  • The pre-transfer trip and negotiations will be critical to the success of the transfer, and must include the non-working spouse.
  • Preparing the company for the arrival of the expat will be important (especially in terms of understanding, and expectations).
  • There will be varying degrees of culture shock experienced as the family makes the transition.
  • Few companies offer assistance to either spouse in making the cultural adjustment (and end up paying for it in the long term) .
  • At times a professional mentor, a trained counsellor or a psychologist are needed.
  • Expats who build their network of friends around other expats, rather than locals, will not be as successful.
  • The couple needs a way to escalate their issues and concerns outside the regular company hierarchy.
  • A transition from one Caribbean island to another is no easier than any other transition, IMHO.
  • Some expats have mastered the art of adapting to local conditions, and of working in developing countries
These are just some of the issues that a VP-HR can prepare the company to deal with. The better prepared they are, the greater the chance of success from everyone’s point of view.
In the worst cases, when there is a failure and early termination, the couple and the company end up at loggerheads, blaming each other for things going badly.

The job of HR is to make sure that the company’s investment is not wasted, and sometimes it may require them to say no to someone who they think will just not make it. Saying “No” is not easy to do, but it could be the very best thing for the working spouse and their family.