Managing a mobile workforce is one of the most challenging areas for international human resources professionals to master. It is also one of the most expensive with some research indicating a three year assignment can cost a business in excess of $3 million. So the cost of expatriate failure or early repatriation is high.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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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