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Social Integration Support: A Real Need for International Hires

Providing international hires with personal support to ease their social integration abroad should be a key focus for all HR teams that are responsible for international talent acquisition and retention. Global employees need to feel at home abroad, and if employers don’t help them with this aspect of expat life — taking the focus beyond work — there is a great risk of unhappy employees, low productivity levels, and talent loss. 

The recently released Expat Insider 2018 Business Edition Country Focus, a country-specific report based on the InterNations Expat Insider survey of 18,135 expats, identifies the needs that international hires have in terms of personal support.

The report provides insights into expats who moved abroad for work and live in China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the United Kingdom (U.K.), and the United States of America (U.S.). The report explores the mobility assistance received by foreign assignees (survey respondents who were sent abroad by their employers), international hires (survey respondents who found a job abroad on their own or were recruited by a local company), and relocating spouses (survey respondents who moved abroad with their partner). The study also examines their general satisfaction with life abroad

The core types of relocation support covered in the survey are: language classes, intercultural training, additional spouse support, access to local networking opportunities, access to local socializing opportunities, membership in an expat organization, information on local life, an organized move by the employer or a service provider, and a lump-sum payment for expatriation-related expenses.

Of these support types, the global shares of international hires that received more personal assistance stood out as being low, compared to the more practical assistance, such as the lump-sum payment and organized move. For example, on a global level, 36% of international hires received the lump-sum payment and 43% received moving assistance.

Looking at personal support on a global level, only 14% of international hires received intercultural training (52% wanted it), 17% received access to local networking opportunities (62% wanted it), 20% received access to socializing opportunities (59% wanted it), and 8% received membership in an expat organization (63% wanted it).

The differences in the shares of international hires who received personal support versus those that didn’t but wanted it are significant. It is important for employers to work toward closing these gaps, because these types of support can ultimately help international hires with their social integration and to really feel at home abroad.

What International Hires Have to Say — In Their Own Words

Survey comments from international hires provide a snapshot of their views on life abroad and some of their difficulties with social integration.

For example, an American male international hire living in Germany said: “Socializing is hard here.” Another, a German male living in France, stated: “I dislike the language barrier and closed social circles, which are impossible to get into.”

An Italian female international hire living in Switzerland also shared some struggles with integrating into the country: “I don’t like the very poor social life. It is very difficult to integrate with locals,” she said. An American female international hire living in China stated, “The cultural differences are very difficult to adjust to.”

Where Employers Are Getting It Right — And Where They Aren’t

The results are not all negative, though, with employers responsible for international hires in certain countries setting benchmarks with their social integration support.
Employers in China and the Netherlands, for example, stood out most positively in terms of offering their international hires these more personal types of support.

Of the international hires in China, 24% received intercultural training (57% wanted it) and 33% received access to local socializing opportunities (51% wanted it). Of the international hires in the Netherlands, 22% received access to local networking opportunities (62% wanted it) and 12% received membership in an expat organization from their employers (59% wanted it).

International hires in the Netherlands were also happiest of those in all the featured countries.

Although this is a positive sign, the shares of international hires receiving personal support are still quite low - below 35%.
While employers with international hires in China and the Netherlands offered some of the better social integration support, those in countries such as the UK, France, and Hong Kong, provided some of the poorest support - below the global averages.

The findings, therefore, indicate that employers supporting global talent still have quite some room for improvement.

What the Benefits of Social Integration Are — for Global Employees and Employers

Employers should put a stronger focus on supporting the social integration process of international hires. This doesn’t mean that it’s solely for the international hire’s private gain. This aspect of relocation and integration support needs to be viewed from both the professional and personal angle. Professionally, it’s about their skills, knowledge, and talent, and personally, it’s about their emotions and well-being.

Social integration has a great impact on the international hire’s productivity at work and ultimately the organization’s success. Therefore, it’s worth investing in as it will not only lead to more satisfied employees abroad, but more successful and sustainable international talent acquisition and retention for the organization.

Theresa Häfner is Head of Business Solutions at InterNations, which provides personalized solutions to global mobility and HR professionals to ensure successful foreign assignments and improved international talent retention. She has nine years’ experience in the expat field and working with international teams.

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