Ensuring Success in International Assignments

June 27, 2023

An international assignment is often a prerequisite for senior positions at global companies. However, international assignments come at a significant cost - approximately US$311,000 (£245,000) per year, according to previous research by PwC and the Cranfield School of Management.

Unfortunately, many of these assignments fail to yield a return on investment, with studies suggesting that 6%–10% of them are prematurely terminated, due to unnecessary underperformance or even burn-out.

So, where do international assignments tend to fail? About 80% of assignees relocate with their partner or family, and it is often their inability to adapt to the new environment that leads to failure. However, we have found that these problems can frequently be prevented. The key lies in preparing the whole family adequately at each stage of the move.

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Our advice is to consider the extent of change involved for everyone from the outset. Help them evaluate the pros and cons, including the impact on careers, family dynamics, and social networks, as this will shape expectations and prevent future resentment.

Preparing for the move entails identifying choices such as the best timing, housing needs, support networks, and schooling. Acknowledge the challenges of the transition and discuss what are the consequences of each of the various decisions.

Building a support system before the move can also alleviate stress, including finding essential services, connecting with a ‘buddy’ in the new destination and joining expat organisations.

Beyond the basics, arrange cultural training to learn about the destination's work culture and way of life with expert advice from organisations, such as Babel. Furthermore, offer support to the assignee and family to learn the local language as this will give them a better insight into the people and their customs and start the relationship-building process.

When making the move, allocate your assignee sufficient time to say goodbye to loved ones and take a break from all the logistical tasks. For them, maintaining regular contact with family and friends back home will contribute to a smoother transition for everyone involved.

During the settling-in period, prioritise keeping in touch with the assignee’s family, particularly in the critical first few months. Recognise that their partner and children may face greater culture shock and logistical challenges, so extend understanding and offer resources to help them find purpose and a social network. Prioritise their children's adjustment and integration into their new school.

While there is no foolproof way to make an international move effortless, adopting a systematic approach at each of these stages will significantly enhance the likelihood of success.

Need help? Babel offers a wide range of pre-assignment preparation, family sessions, country briefings and post-arrival support.

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