Consider the Human Side of Relocation

People are the heart and soul of a company and the single greatest factor in an organization’s success or failure. This is especially true for organizations with offices around the globe, where it’s often a relatively small group of intrepid, relocated employees who have planted the corporate flag and are responsible for their brand’s reputation and growth. It’s incumbent upon an organization’s leadership and HR managers to ensure those assignees have everything they need to succeed and feel fulfilled at their new destination.

Enter the human side of global relocation. While an assignee may look good on paper and fit a company’s needs in a certain market, it’s the personal elements that are important to consider when relocating people. What gives an assignee peace of mind and happiness? What do they require to have the same quality of life they enjoyed back home? Do members of their family need special medical, housing, or educational accommodations?

Allow me to use myself as an example: I’m a passionate skier and am fortunate to live in Colorado near some of the best ski resorts in the world. Having the opportunity to ski in the Rocky Mountains makes me happy and provides a sense of fulfillment and joy outside of my work, which in turn allows me to be more productive in my professional life. Say, for example, I was transferred to Dubai, where the closest ski resort—at least an outdoor ski resort—is a 10-hour flight away. I would feel unsettled in my personal life, and my relocation might harm my emotional well-being. That would likely negatively impact what I’d be able to achieve while on assignment.

Most companies have a well-defined process for meeting their assignees’ basic, tangible needs—food, clothing, shelter, health care, and wages. But a successful relocation, both for employees and for the company, requires the leadership and human resources managers to fully understand their employees outside of the office, and what they and their families need to live happily in another country. With that in mind, here are three tips to help HR managers ensure employee fulfillment, satisfaction, and success during their relocation assignment.

Create an Open Dialogue With Assignees

In a typical corporate structure, it can be an uncomfortable dynamic for midlevel HR personnel to have in-depth, personal conversations with senior leaders who may be considered for relocation. In fact, personal conversations between HR managers and any potential assignee can feel awkward, no matter the seniority of the two parties. Perhaps that assignee has a spouse with a medical condition that requires access to special medical facilities, a child with special educational needs, or a live-in parent who requires 24-hour care. Unfortunately, any hesitancy to engage in personal conversations can lead to an assignee not having his or her needs met, resulting in an unsuccessful or unproductive assignment.

In one instance, my company relocated a U.S. tech company executive and his family to a rural town in China. One of the assignee’s children had special educational needs, and the town lacked many of the modern amenities and facilities required to accommodate his family. Although the executive was the right transferee for the assignment based on his skills and experience, and the company had spent a lot of time and money to facilitate his relocation, it was our responsibility as their global mobility provider to request that he be transferred to a destination that would better fit his family’s needs.

HR managers need to facilitate conversations upfront to identify these types of issues and ensure assignees’ professional and personal needs are met in their new destination. This requires a company to instill a culture of openness and transparency, in which the HR and mobility managers feel comfortable asking potentially sensitive questions, and assignees are willing to share intimate details relevant to their relocation.

Provide Orientation and Cross-Cultural Training

Whether they’re moving to Paris, France, or Paris, Texas, assignees should receive an orientation and cross-cultural training to better understand and feel at ease in their new homes. Properly equipping them with the knowledge and skills to adapt to a new destination will help them navigate a world that can often be dramatically different from what they’re accustomed to. This in turn allows them to quickly become more effective and productive assignees.

One of the trends I observed during a recent thought leadership event is that companies are starting to offer a hybrid of cross-cultural and language training. This combination training has emerged in an effort to reduce costs and time with a variety of new technology-driven programs, and it is typically arranged by the company, often with the assistance of a mobility provider.

Establish a Support Network

Assignees need support—both logistical and emotional. I recommend companies provide an assignment mentor or on-call “concierge” to support employees and their families, especially in the very early stages of their relocation. This can be either another employee who has been in that destination for a longer period and can provide guidance and recommendations, or a third party, such as an in-country expert or global mobility provider, that is able to assist with urgent requests requiring special attention or troubleshooting.

I’ll never forget one situation that required this level of specialized support: During an emergency evacuation of all U.S. citizens from Libya, an expatriate family made the difficult decision to leave their family dog with a neighbor family. However, just days later they learned that the neighbor had left the dog with a local veterinarian. Through a tremendous amount of research, investigation, and networking, the company representative managed to locate the dog, along with 50 others scheduled to be evacuated to Malta, coordinate multiple legs of travel, and meet all requirements for transporting pets across international borders. Ultimately, the dog traveled more than 7,000 miles before being reunited with its family. While not all situations are as dramatic as that, transferees often need an at-the-ready lifeline to address needs that emerge due to changes beyond their control.

Human capital is the single greatest determinant of an organization’s success, and companies are duking it out for the best and brightest talent to represent them around the world. Attracting and retaining the cream of the crop requires executives and HR managers to think beyond basic needs and address what truly makes people feel empowered, fulfilled, secure, and happy in both their personal and professional lives. In the long run, this mindset and duty of care will pay dividends for all parties and send a message to current and prospective employees that a company puts its people first.

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