Tips for managing a successful international assignment

Adjusting to life overseas can be challenging for relocating employees. Mobility professionals need to be tuned into the possible challenges and able to balance the needs of the organization with the needs of individuals. Jo Danehl, our Global Skills Practice Director, explores areas where your employees may struggle and provides tips for managing a successful assignment.

Couple in Africa

Finding the balance

The risk of employees experiencing difficulties is high, often they are simply measured on their technical attributes and willingness to go. However, there are other areas to consider and it is important to evaluate if they are prepared for life in the host country.

It’s important to have an assessment process in place. There are some simple steps that can be incorporated into your pre-departure process. These don’t necessarily require a big budget and are well worth considering to increase the readiness of relocating employees.

Self-assessment questionnaire

This focuses on the employee and their family. They will be directed to discuss their lifestyle and what aspects of their home life need to be recreated in the host country to be successful. This will also prompt a focus on the potential impact on the partner’s career – a big concern for most relocating families.


Increase the decision-to-departure timeline. For example, allowing room to maneuver for dual-career families. This will provide relocating employees and their families more flexibility and freedom as they prepare for the changes ahead. And make sure talent can access opportunities at a time not only professionally, but also personally, so they are able to manage a move and perform at their best.

Candidate assessment

Candidate assessment programs can identify the possible strengths of an individual and challenges that may be encountered in the host location. A neutral coach can deliver the assessment and guidance on steps to mitigate failure risk.

Roles and responsibilities

An unenthusiastic partner is not uncommon and understandably so. A spouse’s hesitation to relocate shouldn’t impact the relocating employee’s ability to do their job, but an unhappy home life can spill into the workplace. Without everyone onboard and prepared for the transition the relocation is destined to fail.

Previously, expat packages offered many benefits and incentives for employees making the decision to relocate easier. Not many companies can offer this luxury with economic pressures requiring restricted budgets. It is important to engage the employee and their family during the preparation process with a commitment to succeed. Sharing the responsibility for assignment preparation and success between the organization and the family will lead to a more positive relocating experience.

One concrete way to share the goal of success is to mutually agree assignment objectives. These can be both personal and professional, and should be regularly reviewed throughout the assignment.

Culture shock

Meeting in Hong Kong

One aspect of moving abroad met with much challenge is adapting to the local culture. It may be difficult convincing some relocating employees to take on such training. Many assume their future destination to be the same, for example the U.K. and U.S., or that a previous visit has provided them with a cultural foundation. This kind of conclusion leads to much disappointment when the employee finds that there are many differences that they are unprepared for.

While there is plenty of useful materials online, the most effective tool would be having the family attend intercultural training. Being presented with a mechanism to build their own cultural self-awareness and understand the culture they will be living in will help them navigate the host culture and handle culture shock.

Issues adjusting

Everybody goes through culture shock and the “symptoms” can be physical to psychological – everything from increased frustration levels to tiredness. The reason could simply stem from not coping well with change or minimizing the depth of the change. Some may feel overwhelmed that there is a need to start again and reestablish a home. Most people underestimate the complexity and this is obviously very difficult when being uplifted from what you are used to.

Easing the adjustment is critical and taking the family into account is vital. Providing the necessary support to allow partners and children to create their own lives, independent of each other, is a step in the right direction. While cultural training is an obvious choice to assist with adjustment, there are also other options such as language training, partner support programs and school searches to help.

The main objective is to promote a successful stay in the new location, offering not only support to the employee but also their partner. Especially now with dual-career and dual-income households – finding ways for the partner to develop new skills will allow a welcome transition.

For more information on how you can upskill your people to improve their focus and performance on assignment, visit Global Skills or contact Jo Danehl.

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