I have seen companies who go out of their way to make employees from other countries feel at home. Not only are companies finding their employees a place to stay or providing information on where the employees can find food, bars and people from their home country, they are also providing phone cards and Internet access so they can communicate with their friends and family back home. At the same time, I have also seen other companies not welcome new employees, not provide any type of orientation to their new city or country and leave the new employee floundering when there are problems.
For example, I knew of an employee who was meant to spend six months in a country on rotation. She went back to her home country every two to three weeks not only for the weekends, but also sometimes for weeks at a time. Her behavior baffled me; it was almost as if the new place of work was a vacation place of work, not an actual rotation. She told me she was happy with her team and happy with her work, but she missed home, and as the company was paying them extra money, she thought she would use it to go home.
How can you expect to have productive employees if you fly them in on Sunday and expect them to be at work all ready and rearing to go on Monday morning? As intelligent and motivated as your employees may be, they will still need a helping hand when it comes to getting to know the customs and language of their new county. Preparation should start months before hand, preferably with a person from the new country. Useful and clear information about what is expected, along with information about the country, is vital. With this information in hand, the employee will know what he or she is getting into. It creates the opportunity for employees to change their mind. Most employees feel pressured to go through with the assignment, despite misgivings, because they do not want to let the team down or create a negative impression when it comes to their performance review.
HR and Management must do everything they can do reduce the culture shock that an employee will feel. You can never have the employee over prepared and even so, there will be some shock involved. The employee must just have the right tools to deal with it. They must know whom they can go to when they need to ask questions, they must also not feel scared of any repercussions. Their relationship with their host manager and their home manager must be open with lots of communication in a variety of different ways.
The team that the employee is going to work with must also be informed about their new member and how that person may feel along with information about the kind of culture they are coming from. This can only go so far. Very often the expat employee feels pressured to blend in with the local customs even when it goes against their personal culture just they look like they want to be part of the team, and to avoid problems.
However, all of this may be in vain if the employee just does not want to be there.
**cross posted at globalhrblog***