What can U.S. Companies Do to Get the Most Out of their Expatriates in Hardship Locations (My Very Own Brownbag!)

This past month I had the opportunity to share with the CGS’s staff and some of my peers about my graduate research paper.

Having moved from my hometown at a young age, and having to adapt fast to a different culture and a new environment, combined with my passion for human resources management, made me very interested in the expatriate management topic. For this reason, when I had to decide on what I was going to write my research paper for my M.S. in Human Resources and Employment Relationships, I decided to do it on expatriates.

To give it an even more specific focus I decided to do research on what can American enterprises do to better manage their expatriates in hardship locations. In today’s globalized economy many American companies are looking to penetrate new markets, and even though this is a great business opportunity, most of the times these new markets are located in countries that are considered hazardous.

A country can be categorized as a hardship location when it provides poor quality of life, it has a very different culture from the home country of the expatriate, or it is very far away from the home country of the expatriate.

I started my presentation defining what an expatriate is and why is my research relevant to U.S. companies. Even though expatriates are the best approach to manage subsidiaries in different countries, it is also very expensive (expatriate compensation packages can cost up to $1million per year to a company!!!)

Therefore, if a company wants to get a large return on investment, they need to make sure they manage this process with caution.

On my research I found that the biggest challenges hardship locations have are: cultural adjustment, struggle for the expatriate’s spouse and family to adjust, and poor quality of life due to crime, violence, or diseases. Finally, another challenge companies have with expatriate assignments is that up to 20% of American companies suffer from expatriate failure because of such challenges, and many times they lose the expatriate to a competitor after the assignment because of dissatisfaction during/after the assignment.

To cope with such struggles, during my presentation I suggested several recommendations:

  1. Offer pre-departure and post-departure cultural training for the employee to build up expectations of the new country and for the employee to re-adjust once the assignment is over. This training should be administered to the expatriate and his/her family.
  2. Offer career-planning services for the accompanying spouse. With the increase of dual-income households, spousal career and the ability for a partner to be able to work during the assignment has become increasingly more relevant.
  3. Repatriation: this process should start months before the expatriate is back to the home country. Once the expatriate is back, he/she should have a significant role within the company where newly acquired skills can be used.

This was a great opportunity not only to share my findings, but also to practice my presentation skills. I was glad that all the people who attended my brownbag were interested on the topic and that we could have a short discussion at the end.

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