Managing expatriates is a multi-stage process, where each stage can be crucial to the overall success of an overseas assignment for your business, as well as the individual assignee, on both a personal and professional basis.
The following guide looks at best practice for employers when deploying individuals overseas, including some important practical tips for expatriate management, from preparation through to repatriation.
Preparing expatriates for an overseas assignment
The management of overseas assignments can be a complex process for employers and HR personnel to get right, especially when trying to balance the cost of an assignment within the shifting demands of the global business environment against the individual needs of the expatriate.
By thoroughly preparing in advance of the assignment, and by properly investing in the necessary processes from the outset, you can help to minimise wasted expenditure and unnecessary costs at a later date. This can also help to avoid any loss of revenue, and even the potential loss of top global talent from within your organisation, resulting from a failed assignment.
The level of preparation required in the expatriate management process can vary depending on the nature and length of the overseas assignment, the location of the assignment, the number of assignees involved and the individual personal circumstances of each assignee.
In broad terms, however, your pre-assignment expatriate management process should include the following.
A comprehensive assessment of the nature and length of the overseas assignment needed to meet your business objectives, having regard to the flexibility offered by various different types of assignment, from business trips to permanent relocation. This process should also be carried out in the context of any prospective candidates, their level of experience and their personal circumstances. For the novice expatriate, the option of commuter and short-term assignments may be a sensible starting point.
The provision of an adequate compensation package to adequately incentivise prospective overseas assignees, attracting the best available candidates. This should include a suitable salary that matches or exceeds the typical salary that an employee would get paid in their home country for doing the same job, together with relocation costs and a cost of living allowance to reflect any additional daily expenditure in the host location.
Implement a thorough selection and vetting procedure for prospective assignees, ensuring they are suitably qualified and capable of undertaking the assignment in question. Each assignment will present its own unique challenges and demands, so you will need to match the right person to the job, having regard to the individual needs of the assignee in the context of the specific assignment and host location. This could include formal and informal assessments of their capabilities, career aspirations, physical and mental wellbeing, and whether they are emotionally equipped to withstand any cultural adjustment.
A full assessment of any travel and legal risks prior to deployment tailored to the specific assignment, the host destination and the individual assignee(s), ensuring that you fully research the country and region in which the assignee will be working. You should also keep abreast of any imminent changes that may affect the assignment or assignee prior to their deployment.
A pre-deployment programme of training and education for overseas assignees and their families, where applicable, about the host destination. This could include cross-cultural training and language classes, as well practical information about the region or city in terms of transport, education, recreation, healthcare services, and any safety and security issues. For those travelling to high-risk destinations this should also include security briefings and training on hostile environment awareness.
Supporting expatriates during an overseas assignment
Even with thorough preparation prior to the start of an overseas assignment and through to deployment, the provision of ongoing support for an expatriate during the lifecycle of their assignment can be key to its’ overall success.
A human-centric approach should be taken to expatriate management, where absent the right personal and professional support for your overseas assignees and their families whilst abroad, this could seriously affect the outcome.
The level of support required can again vary depending on the nature and length of the overseas assignment, its’ location t, the number of assignees involved and the personal circumstances of each assignee.
In broad terms, however, your active-assignment expatriate management process should include the following:
The provision of an ongoing benefit and support program to help assignees and their families integrate into their host destination. This could include local support, where you could consider outsourcing this role to a specialist who can help novice expats to settle into their new surroundings and signpost them to different services. You should also provide key HR contacts back home to address any personal or professional problems, or in the event of an emergency.
Ensure a positive employee experience, where psychological wellbeing and happiness while on an overseas assignment is strongly linked to expatriate success. This could include the use of informal introductions, employee-centric activities and social networking events on the assignee’s arrival in the host destination to help them integrate with their new work colleagues and other ex-pat families within your organisation.
Maintaining regular contact with your overseas assignees, ensuring effective coordination between management and HR, as well as any local support team in the host destination. Through clear communication you can help to pre-empt any problems that may lead to job dissatisfaction or difficulties with cultural integration. This can also help assignees to keep abreast of any workplace changes and not feel disconnected or isolated.
The provision of quality healthcare for maintaining the physical and mental health of your employees and their families. You should ensure that you opt for an international health insurance plan that offers the assistance and protection your assignee’s may need, including access to a 24-hour helpline that can be used to answer any medical or security questions, or facilitate the provision of emergency assistance, at a time when an assignee’s usual points of contact would not be available.
Remain fully informed of any risk factors that may impact on the assignment, where even relatively safe destinations can quickly become high-risk regions due to health, safety, security, political or social reasons. You should also be able to effectively communicate any such changes and important information to assignees working remotely, especially in relation to health and safety.
The effective use of technology, including data and analytics tools to make informed management decisions in respect of overseas assignments, from cost control to key performance indicators. Further, by providing overseas assignees with the right equipment and devices to do their job can help to maximise productivity, monitor their progress and even measure the assignee experience. This should include the provision of secure wireless networks, good connectivity and up-to-date software.
Making provision for expatriates following an overseas assignment
Having successfully completed an overseas assignment, this is not the end of the process for either you or the expatriate. The repatriation process, even though this is the last step in the expatriation lifecycle, can be just as challenging as the deployment process. In many cases this will involve a process of practical, mental and emotional readjustment for the assignee, as well as their families.
The level of support required for expatriates following an overseas assignment can vary depending on how long an assignee has spent abroad, the extent of any family ties back home and the nature of any role that they will be returning to.
In broad terms, however, your post-assignment expatriate management process should include the following:
The provision of an adequate repatriation package to adequately incentivise overseas assignees to return home to work for your organisation. This should include the potential for career progression or a suitably senior role to return to home to, ensuring that you retain your top talent and benefit from their overseas experience.
The provision of other initiatives to alleviate the risk of losing key employees, including a suitable relocation package following a long-term overseas assignment to enable an employee to easily move back to the UK. The issue of costs must always be balanced against the need to retain talent to ensure the continuity and success of your business for the future. Given their international experience, expatriates are open to being headhunted by your competitors, so the cost of financial incentives must be weighed against the risk of losing them altogether.
The use of debriefing interviews to capture lessons learned from the overseas assignment, making the most of any invaluable insight and new industry knowledge the assignee has gained from their experience abroad. This will help you to develop your business back in the UK and stay ahead of your competitors. This will also give you the opportunity to explore any career aspirations and potential options available to your assignee, as well as the possibility of any future overseas assignments.
Practical tips for effective expatriate management
Although statistically there can be a high failure rate for overseas assignments, the risk of an unsuccessful assignment can be minimised by applying the following practical tips to the expatriate management process:
- Carefully consider the assignment in the context of your business goals, including the nature of the assignment and number of assignees needed
Offer adequate compensation packages to attract the best available candidates, including relocation and costs of living allowances.
- Implement a thorough selection and vetting procedure for prospective assignees, ensuring they are suitably qualified and capable of undertaking the assignment in question in the host destination.
- Thoroughly research the host destination for any travel and security risks, keeping abreast of any imminent changes that may affect the assignment or assignee.
- Thoroughly prepare your assignee for deployment through a programme of pre-deployment training, including their families where applicable
Invest in an ongoing benefit and support program to help assignees and their families integrate into their host destination.
- Encourage a positive employee experience through the use of informal introductions with ex-pat families, employee-centric activities and social networking events on the assignee’s arrival in the host destination.
- Maintain regular contact with your overseas assignee to help pre-empt any problems and avoid any feelings of isolation.
- Remain up-to-date with any changes in the host destination that may affect the assignment or assignee.
- Provide adequate healthcare, including access to a 24-hour helpline and the provision of emergency assistance where needed.
- Provide adequate equipment and up-to-date ways of increasing productivity, monitoring performance and staying connected.
- Provide adequate repatriation packages to incentivise assignees to return to work for you, including the potential for career progression or a suitably senior role, as well as any necessary relocation package.
- Utilise debriefing interviews to capture lessons learned from the overseas assignment and explore potential career options available to the expatriate, including the possibility of further overseas assignments.
Seeking expert advice in expatriate management is often money well spent. The cost of sending employees abroad can already be significant, but the risk of losing that investment through either a failed assignment or loss of the assignee altogether from within your organisation should be weighed in the balance.
Getting it right can result in an increase in revenue, the retention of talent and the ability to repeat the process successfully time and time again.
DavidsonMorris are employer solutions lawyers with specialist experience in global mobility and supporting businesses with their international workforce needs. For advice and help with your expat management, speak to us.
Expatriate management FAQs
What is expatriate in HRM?
Expatriate in Human Resource Management (HRM), commonly shortened to expat, is someone living in a country different to their own for the purposes of undertaking a short or long-term overseas work assignment. This can include employees sent to manage a new office or set up a new location.
How do you manage an expatriate employee?
Managing an expatriate employee is a multi-stage process, where each stage can be crucial to the overall success of an overseas assignment for both your business and the individual assignee. Effective expatriate management should run throughout the lifecycle of an assignment, from pre-deployment preparation through to repatriation when the employee returns back home.
How do you manage expatriate failure?
In instances where an expatriate is inadequately prepared for a short or long-term overseas assignment, or where the language and cultural differences cannot be overcome, this can often lead to early repatriation. By providing support on a personal and professional level both prior to, during and after the assignment, the risk of expatriate failure can be minimised.
Last updated: 11 April 2020