Preparing new Nordic expats-to-be

Seasoned employers know that being properly prepared is key for a successful posting in Asia, while minimizing the risks – and they prepare their employees accordingly.

Nordic employers mostly prepare their assignees well for their posting in Asia to achieve a successful foreign assignment. While learning the cultural do’s and the don’ts may be critical to prevent and handle the challenges that may arise while working and living in Asia. Being properly prepared can help ensure a smooth transition into a new lifestyle and foreign culture. This is a process so crucial that it can make or break the opportunity. The corporate global trend of sending employees abroad for work offers many opportunities and benefits for both the employee and the employer, but also comes with potential risks.

The preparations
Wanting to know how Scandinavian expats come prepared for a posting in the region, ScandAsia talked with two leading Nordic companies present in Asia who let us in on their preparation process.

Starting with Scania, the 128 year old Swedish transport solutions provider with worldwide presence in about 100 countries, has in recent years set ambitious growth targets for Asia with 57 Scandinavian expats currently posted in their Asian markets. Like other large business organizations, a foreign assignment is a key element in a career development at Scania.

“The preparation phase for each assignee starts 4-6 months prior to the estimated start of the assignment with practical information distribution in regards to the assignment and policies, before meeting the global relocation management company, that we use for handling all aspects related to the relocation process – from shipping of household goods to immigration,” says Maria Baqeri, acting Head of global assignments at Scania.

Maria Baqeri, acting Head of global assignments at Scania:
“The preparation phase for each assignee starts 4-6 months prior to the estimated start of the assignment with practical information distribution in regards to the assignment and policies”

A chance to get an understanding and feel of how life in the host country may look like is part of the preparations.

“There will be a pre-assignment trip for the employee and their family, where they will be accompanied by our provider on a location tour, school search and home search,” adds Maria.

Partner support
Scania focuses on support for the accompanying partner in order to achieve a successful stay abroad and Maria explains:

“There will be partner support, for those with an accompanying partner, where the partner will receive a coaching program in the host country. The mapping of needs and wishes and tailoring of a coaching program with options such as job search, self-employment, career continuation and integration will be done prior to arrival, in accordance with what the partner wants to do during the time abroad. A web based social network 100% dedicated to relocating partners from around the world will also be available with online assessment, a job search engine and relevant information material.”

“Next are briefings about insurance, taxes in both home and host country before a medical examination for the assignee and their partner as well as vaccinations for the entire family. And there will be security training for the assignee in the host country in accordance with local procedures and country specific necessities.”

Preparations to get culturally integrated are also encouraged.

“Language training is offered to the whole family before assignment start for a smoother integration, which can be continued when they arrive to the host country. And at the start of the assignment there will be a cultural training for the employee and accompanying partner held in the host country by a local consultant, focused on the culture of the host country and the possible cultural shocks,” concludes Maria Baqeri, acting Head of global assignments at Scania, about how their employees are being prepared to undertake a posting in Asia.

Regarding experience with early repatriations, Baqeri had the following to say:

“We have had a few early repatriations in the Asia region and most of them were due to that the person received a job offer in the home country. The end date were, in those cases, not that long before the original end date.”

Assessment test
Next we talked with KONE, the 109 year old Finnish company in the elevator and escalator industry with a worldwide presence in 60 countries including eleven Asian markets.

Hanna Rutanen, Communications director at Kone, let us in on their process for a successful expatriate posting:

“When we consider a new assignment and have identified a potential candidate, the first step is to evaluate an employee’s readiness and competencies seen as critical for a successful international assignment,” Hanna Rutanen explains.

Hanna Rutanen, Communications director at Kone:
“Before final commitment to the assignment, the employee and partner have a possibility to visit the destination country to see potential living areas, housing and school options as well as visit the local Kone office.”

“Working in a foreign environment requires cultural understanding, adaptability and interactive skills. And as the family plays a key role in successful expatriation, also accompanying partners are included in the assessment process.”

“Next, every international assignee at Kone is provided with the same support and information at the start of the assignment process. They are guided with different information sources depending on the destination country, together with global and host country specific policies of Kone. Briefing on policies, assignment terms and conditions, and life opportunities in the new country is provided – including housing, living conditions and other relevant information in accordance with the assignee’s family status.”

“Before final commitment to the assignment, the employee and partner have a possibility to visit the destination country to see potential living areas, housing and school options as well as visit the local Kone office,” Hanna explains further.

Kone supports working towards breaking cultural and language barriers before moving to Asia.

“To support settling into the new culture, working and living environment, Kone emphasizes the need for cross-cultural training, which is arranged for the employee and partner before relocation to the new country. And they may also receive language training.”

“To ensure a smooth transfer process, Kone offers relocation services related to immigration, accommodation, health care, children’s schooling and household goods move,” adds the Communications director in her explanation how Kone prepares their employees for a fruitful time in their Asian markets.

When things go wrong
Things do not always go as planned and early termination of the expatriate assignment sometimes happens.

“Early repatriation tends to be a small minority for most companies, however when they do occur, they are significant due to the financial cost to the company and the emotional and professional cost to the employee, their family and for the employee’s host team,” says Lisa Johnson, Global practice leader of the consulting services of Crown World Mobility, a leading global mobility services company assisting many Nordic clients with relocation to countries in Asia.

“Early repatriation tends to be a small minority for most companies, however when they do occur, they are significant due to the financial cost to the company and the emotional and professional cost to the employee, their family and for the employee’s host team,” says Lisa Johnson, Global practice leader of the consulting services of Crown World Mobility.

There can be many reasons why some expatriates do not find a new home in their new host country. According to Crown World Mobility, inability to adapt to the new location is a primary reason. Other reasons are that the job responsibilities or the location is not what was expected – based on what was presented beforehand. Or an unexpected change in the employee’s personal life or in the quality of life of the host country such as political upheaval.

Family and partner related issues, and the assignee getting a new job are also common reasons for early repatriation, research shows.

“Best practices for setting up employees and their families for success is to ensure that expectations are met. Setting realistic expectations up front is a priority,” advises Lisa.

Joanne Danehl, the intercultural and language training expert at Crown World Mobility, uses an analogy we can all understand:

“International assignments are like sandwiches. Everyone is worried about the filling – the actual assignment – but people forget you need solid bread to hold that filling together.”

Premature termination of an assignment is only one risk. On the other hand you have those expatriates who decides to stay on in the country or region after the completion of their work assignment. They often fall in love with the place and want to stay and look for other work opportunities.

In many cases, this workforce can be more flexible since they are already based in Asia. They are obviously well integrated and they come without the requirements of the additional costs that comes with posting a new expat. Hiring localized expats on a localized package, on local terms with local conditions, has become an increasingly popular option for employers in Asia.

Quitting after returning
Back in the home country, a high proportion of returning expatriates leave their jobs within the first year or two of coming home, according to industry research.

There are several reasons for this, according to research findings by Benjamin Bader, professor at Newcastle University who has done extensive research on global mobility issues over the years. According to Benjamin Bader, here are the main reasons:

  • Not knowing which position they will work in when they get home – which is common for expatriates
  • Dissatisfaction with the new position not meeting expectations
  • Not utilizing knowledge gained abroad
  • The feeling of being less important or less appreciated by the employer compared to when they were on assignment
  • Failed reintegration and reverse culture shock

Joanne Danehl, intercultural and language training expert at Crown World Mobility

Many corporations underestimate or do not see the repatriation time as an important period of the cycle of the international assignment, and do not have a sufficient repatriation process in place to prepare for the return of expatriates.

Danehl at Crown World Mobility advises corporations to plan employee’s repatriation before the assignment even starts.

“This way you can also manage their expectations and make them responsible for learning the skills they will need for their future role,” she says.

Expatriates are typically considered highly valued employees by their employers with knowledge gained in their foreign markets, suggesting the key importance of their retention. Sending employees abroad is an employer’s risky investment that may become costly if they end up losing valuable employees.

 

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