Mobility

Mo_Aug2012 Issue_New

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have looked at creative ways to provide additional or new types of assistance as well as giving detailed information about housing, schooling, and medical care in the assignment location. There are also those that are offering alternative assignment types such as unaccompanied status or rotational assignments in response to situations where an employee's family is not able to relocate." EXPECTATIONS AND ADJUSTMENT One sure-fire way to support a successful transition is to set realistic expectations about the adaptation to the new country. This is commonly called the "expatriate adjustment cycle." Why is it important to know? Everyone who embarks on an international assignment enters the cycle of cultural adjust- ment—a predictable progression through a series of phases that eventually allows the expat to adapt and adjust to the new location. Experts identify the following stages and offer activities to help move expats through the phases: preparation, honey- moon, culture shock, and adaptation. Repatriation is also an important, yet often overlooked, compo- nent of a successful assignment experience. The first step is to understand the stages and the implica- tions of the adjustment lifecycle. Preparation—This predeparture period is a crucial time of mixed emotions. Usually, there is excitement at the prospect of "starting over" and experiencing a different country, culture, and life- style. However, it's also mixed with the anxiety of moving into unfamiliar territory. Compounding this is the fact that, while the spouse is trying to manage the process, the information needed may be communicated only through the employee. This is a time when the HR professional wants to avoid becoming the faceless "gatekeeper" in a situation where the spouse has most of the responsibility for the move but none of the information. Says Gaster, "Global mobility professionals have an opportunity to make a big impact in a variety of ways. For example, they can include the spouse/ partner in the assignment briefing meetings and provide detailed information about housing, school- ing, and medical care in the assignment location. They can connect them with a mentor or someone in the assignment location who is willing to assist with on-the-ground questions and needs. 48 Mobility | August 2012 "Furthermore, they can share assignment loca- tion information by providing a list of references where specific information can be found. Finally, they might consider offering flex benefits, where the employee and spouse/partner can choose the type and level of assistance that best fits their needs from a list of approved services." This is also one of the main benefits of pre-depar- ture cross-cultural training, because the family gets an opportunity to learn about the destination culture and begin to anticipate some of the issues they might encounter. Honeymoon—Rather like a traditional honeymoon, this is the time when everything seems new, exciting, and exotic. However, expatriates commonly report that they initially adopt the more temporary and sheltered mindset of a tourist: happy to sample the delights of the local environment to the extent to which they're comfortable, but not having to interact with the locals directly. Experts suggest that this is the time when assignees begin to get involved in the new community and anticipate the support they'll need in the new location. It is helpful for expats to create a list of resources they might call on for busi- ness, social, and personal needs and then begin to pursue some of those activities and individuals. For example, they'd do well to locate a local commu- nity center, health club, and recreational group they might enjoy. Parents will want to be sure to sign up their children for local events and school activities. Culture Shock—This is the difficult phase, when the reality of daily life sets in. It is when the weight of confronting new and different experiences every day produces fatigue—and perhaps isolation and discomfort—with some aspects of the culture or local environment. Moreover, family members may miss the close relationships they had at home, and the children may have left best friends with whom they'd had daily contact. They may have grandpar- ents or caretakers they're missing. New caretakers, teachers, and classmates present even more new challenges. To minimize the severity of culture shock, it is important to remember that there is usually a correlation between the amount of realistic information and informed support that assignees and family members receive during these phases and the degree of severity with which culture shock hits. The greater the help up front, the better the outcome.

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