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Across the globe, it is common practice to relocate employees for overseas assignments, rather than hiring domestic workers. Trusted and proven staff members are often considered more valuable than untested members of the foreign employee market, especially when it comes to critically important roles in managerial positions.

Moving staff abroad comes at a cost though — an average of around £90,000 per international transfer. With such heavy investments in one worker, HRs want to ensure their assignee secures a strong result on their overseas working projects. Yet, in reality, a high percentage will not.

40% of all overseas assignments are judged to be failures, with workers repatriated without completing their goals, often much earlier than expected. This is not a new occurrence either; since global mobility became commonplace in the mid-60s, failure rates for overseas assignments have remained largely the same.

Failure is not simply a role of the dice, though. There are reasons behind the figures. To avoid failure, or at least reduce the chance of it occurring, HRs need only pay attention to the lessons of those before them and work to overcome the most common problems.

70% of Failed Moves Are a Result of Family Issues

In a statistic that may shock some, international assignees dispel the myth that work comes before loved ones, with as many as 70% of failed overseas working projects put down to unhappy families. While it may appear that this creates a looming threat, uncontrollable by HR, there are actually plenty of ways you can get involved with an employee’s personal life to help ensure the assignment is a success.

The goal is to remove stressors. Moving abroad is a stressful experience, which can lead to culture shock, isolation, homesickness, difficulties settling in and general distress. Yet, in most cases, these problems can be remedied by removing said stressor.

You should keep an open dialogue with employees and identify any issues that they or their families are having. For example, if they are having trouble settling in, you can use third-party international services to help with getting to know the local area and integrating with the community. If cultural differences are a problem, you can provide support in the form of educational resources. If the family is having problems getting set up at home, assist them in gaining access to the day-to-day things they need, like transport, financial services, schooling, utilities, etc.

The more weight you can remove from their shoulders, the more likely they are to adapt, settle in and support your assignee.

9 out of 10 Recruiters See Language and Cultural Skills as Key to Achieving International Success

In two separate surveys, global recruiters & HRs identified language and cultural skills as the most important factors in a successful overseas assignment. Without these core abilities, workers cannot hope to communicate properly with their colleagues and international clients, and, as a result, risk confusion, misunderstandings and even disrespectful practices.

Despite this, overseas assignees are constantly hired without strong enough skills to manage the strain of culture and language, leading to early repatriation and the failure of their work projects. While arguments can be made that these skills will be learned over time, attempting to juggle important tasks while being unable to effectively convey messages puts workers at a severe disadvantage.

HRs must focus on assigning employees with the skills required to combat foreign-working barriers. A less experienced worker with advanced language skills and a knowledge of foreign cultures could be more valuable in an overseas assignment than an executive with decades of industry knowledge but no ability to overcome these barriers effectively.

75% of Businesses Are Setting Assignees up for Failure

As we’ve identified in this article, the biggest issue facing international assignees is a lack of preparation when it comes to international work. Whether they’re unable to communicate correctly, can’t decipher the work culture or have family problems too difficult to overcome, most dilemmas can be avoided through pre-move prep.

When it comes to preparation of assignees, though, the majority of businesses are guilty of a lax attitude towards the process. Only 25% offer full cultural and language support, with as many as 16% of brands providing nothing in the way of pre-move prep at all. Given the problems faced and the lack of support, it may even be considered remarkable that the rate of failure isn’t higher.

At a price tag closing in on £100,000 per move, HRs need to push for greater investment of resources in corporate relocation preparation. This will, of course, drive costs up further, but the benefits of success vastly outweigh the price of failure.

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