The Role of HR in Managing Expatriates

Finding effective ways to manage expatriates is integral to success in today’s global markets. This global market means many companies are managing expatriates. But going the expatriate route could hamper growth without a clear HR strategy.

When an expat succeeds, the benefits to the company can be significant. But highly skilled employees fail often enough that many companies view sending expatriates as risky. Some of the most common reasons for expat failure include poor support and difficulty adjusting. Other expats find out they were not prepared to navigate basic daily living tasks.

Creating and implementing an effective plan for managing expatriates is key. Let’s look closer at the potential pitfalls of poor human resources management of expats and strategies that promote success.

Expatriate Inclusion and Work

Companies do not intentionally set up expatriates for failure. But failure does happen, often due to an underdeveloped HR strategy. Expats usually already have experience with the company’s business strategy and successes in the home market. But that connection with the company isn’t enough to ensure expat success.

Many organizations and expats underestimate functional social differences. This assumption may be especially true if there is no language barrier. But culture shock can and does happen even to well-prepared expatriates. And the greater the culture shock, the longer it takes to adjust. Language support and cultural training should begin well before arrival. It should also continue after arrival to ease the shock and smooth the transition.

The Selection Process and Human Resources

Part of a winning expat HR management strategy includes cultural training. But selecting the right employee for the assignment is critical. The expat most likely to adjust well should be open-minded and have the relevant skill set. Expatriate management begins with a thorough screening and selection process for global positions. Excellent support will fall short if the company selects and sends the wrong person.

The selection process requires HR to go beyond whether an employee has the correct skill set. Less tangible factors often play a deciding role in whether an expat will succeed in the mission. Other things that HR should screen for and consider include:

  • Family and spousal support.
  • Behavioral flexibility and a willingness to learn and try new things.
  • Verbal and non-verbal communication skills.
  • Interpersonal skills.

How an HR Can Support and Advice an Expatriate

All expatriates need ongoing support regardless of how “easy” or “hard” everyone expects the change to be. The most successful expats feel supported and connected by a present and helpful HR. Once an expat is in their new assignment post, HR must maintain open communication. Emails are likely to be ineffective. And waiting for the expat to come to HR with a problem is a recipe for disaster. The issue may be more difficult to resolve by then. Ensure that the expat sees HR as a resource. But remember that HR should proactively seek out potential pain points.

Besides regular check-ins, HR should ensure they pair the expat with sponsors at home and in the new post. This local support can provide a physical and tangible link to the company and HR. Even the most experienced workers can learn from mentoring during the expat process. And the best sponsors are usually former expats who can draw on their experiences. They can help the expat identify potential issues and avoid them.

The Role of HR in the Management of Expatriate Bankruptcy

Expatriates can struggle to adjust even with a great HR strategy. Financial adjustment is a huge part of the success or failure of the expat. Whether the expat arrives alone or with a family, personal financial health matters.

Sometimes, expatriates find themselves going through bankruptcy. This issue can arise when:

  • A partner or children fail to adjust.
  • The partner experiences lost or reduced income from the move.
  • The expat misjudges the cost-of-living expenses.
  • Poor coping mechanisms develop or increase.
  • Cultural novelty prompts uncontrolled spending.

A company must invest a significant amount in an expatriate. Providing support through an expat bankruptcy is vital because the cost of expat failure can be extremely high. Ideally, HR’s management strategy would prevent an expat’s bankruptcy, but life happens. Planning for possible financial distress can help HR work with the expat in place. This approach protects the company’s investment while reducing stress and interruptions for the expat.

The Takeaway

Sending expatriates can result in a significant payoff for the expat and the company. But many expats often feel woefully underprepared or uninformed. Both HR and expats underestimate the degree of difficulty involved in adjusting. And some HR departments take the “no news is good news” approach with expat communication. This approach is a mistake.

Is your company working with expats or encountering challenges? Investing in a detailed strategy from selection to support through challenges is key to expat success. Explore the entire approach to strengthen weak points. Then, gather feedback to hone the process for future expat investment further. Contact Kilpatrick to discover international talent and for our direct assistance to prepare them to work as an expat within your company.