How to encourage feedback from expats as an international HR manager

   June 25, 2020
Supporting expat employees with clear, concise and helpful communication from HR before, during and after an overseas assignment is important. Communications between expats and HR are complicated. When the assignment starts, geographical distance, different time zones and lack of in-person interaction all have an impact. 

Communication problems between HR and expatriates can happen. It is worth spending some time analysing the communications between your department and those on assignment and assessing:


Are HR messages hitting the mark?

Judge whether your communications are being received correctly by paying attention to:

  • the number of responses received
  • how many people completed the requested action? E.g. if the goal was to have recipients complete a survey, how many completed it?
  • where most negative/positive responses are coming from i.e. the same or different sources?
  • whether the audience now understands the message. 

If you are still getting questions about the situation HR was trying to clarify then it is likely the communication is missing the mark.


Are HR communications empathetic enough?

Empathy matters, particularly to a cohort of employees who have moved to complete an overseas assignment. Monitor the responses to your communications to understand if empathy is lacking from your messages:

  • expats complain that they are not understood within the business
  • expats do not believe they are treated fairly
  • expats and their families do not know about or take advantage of services available to them


Are there a lot of early expat repatriations (expat failure) or do expats leave the business soon after repatriation?

This is the ultimate sign there is a problem with the expat programme. If your business is having high levels of expat failure, HR communication is unlikely to be the entire cause, but it may well be an issue. 


No matter the impact communication difficulties are causing within your business there are steps you can take to encourage honest feedback which can be used to improve your expatriate programme. 

Developing honest communication between employees on assignment and your HR department involves creating a culture where feedback is listened to and acted upon. Some useful suggestions to achieve this include:


Creating an expat communication strategy

Take some time to map the steps your mobile workforce goes through from deciding to apply for a role abroad to repatriation. Plan a communications plan around each step including frequency and method. Sharing this plan with employees before they leave has the duel benefit of setting expectations around HR communication from the outset and informing them where HR can help so they do not struggle alone unduly.


Allocate each expat a Human Resources contact

This is a simple but effective way to make communication with HR easier. Having one point of contact enables the expat to build a relationship with that individual and it will encourage employees to raise issues and provide effective feedback. This is something a time-poor expat is likely to appreciate. 


Conduct anonymous surveys

Regular anonymous surveys are a useful way for businesses with a number of expats on assignment to discover the real challenges they are facing. In addition to rated questions, have one or two that are open ended so expats can highlight areas that can be improved upon. 


Communicate proactively

Proactive communication with expatriates can help your department identify potential issues early on and work with them to resolve a problem before it becomes serious. Do what you can to bridge differences in time zones and work schedules to have fortnightly calls with expats. Use this time to understand how the employee feels and how your team can support them on assignment.


Show interest

Gain constructive employee feedback by staying interested. Ask questions that help you gauge what may be causing issues and how you may be able to assist them. Some suggestions to understand what is going well and what they are struggling with when it comes to their environment, workload and productivity include:


  • how is your assignment coming along?
  • what is going well?
  • what could be improved?
  • what roadblocks are you finding?
  • what do you need to reach your goal?
  • thinking of a time when you were highly productive what factors influenced this?


Encouraging honest and open communication between HR and expats on assignment is worth investing in. It will not only assist in a better experience for everyone, it may also save your business a considerable amount of money. 


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