International hiring – it's about social connectedness

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Investing in the social integration of international hires can provide employers with a winning edge

Even today, with Facebook and Skype making it easier to stay connected with loved ones back home, a relocation is one of the most disruptive experiences. When moving abroad for work employees leave behind a treasure chest of relationships – people who share their interests and fun moments, who relieve the stress of a hard day at work, and listen to issues that would not be shared with any colleague or superior.

The InterNations Business Solutions Expat Insider Business Edition, a report based on one of the largest surveys with expats worldwide, explores the reasons for happiness and unhappiness among global employees living abroad. The report shows that a lack of socialising opportunities is one of the biggest reasons for unhappiness among international hires. Far more international hires rate this as having a negative impact on their happiness than culture shock, an unhappy partner, or struggling with the language barrier, for example.

More importantly, the difficulties that international hires experience in building a social life outside of work are not limited to the first months after the relocation. According to the survey, even expats who have lived in their new home country between six months and two years are affected by social disconnect. For almost a third of them making new friends remains a challenge.

The fear of social isolation can be a roadblock for employers. When you speak with international candidates about a relocation it is very likely that they will have concerns about this, or fear that their spouse will end up lonely. By developing a plan to support their social integration you can already begin to alleviate these fears during the recruitment process.

Here are some suggestions on helping your international hires feel connected inside and outside of work:

Enable interactions with other expats

When international hires start out in their new country of residence, having the opportunity to meet with other expats is an invaluable resource. Their peers can provide up-to-date information that is crucial to a good start – tips about local life and etiquette, recommendations on where to open a bank account, and information on which neighbourhoods are safe to explore.

Make it part of your onboarding strategy to connect your new international hires with other expats. Organise events where new and existing global employees can socialise. Research and share with them other expat networking opportunities taking place in the community.

Promote regular leisure activities

Remind your international hires that your organisation cares about a good work/life balance and act on it. Develop connections with sports clubs, cultural organisations, and other networks outside of the workplace that speak to an audience of educated and internationally-minded professionals. Make leisure activities part of your approach to support international hires, and provide a choice that appeals to them regardless of their relationship status, gender, and life stage.

Include spouses in your approach

Unhappy spouses are the number one reason foreign assignments fail. They may not be able to work in their new country of residence due to language issues or lack of a work permit, and thus miss out on the opportunities for social interaction that the workplace provides. Chances are they will be even more affected by social isolation and feel alienated by the new culture around them.

When developing a support strategy for your international hires include their spouses. Inviting the spouses to a welcome evening is a good starting point. Offering both your employee and their spouse access to local networking and leisure activities will have a long-term impact on their wellbeing. Some platforms even organise special groups for the spouses of their global employees; either exclusively or as a mixed group for expats and locals.

Communicate what you offer

Keep in mind that international candidates rarely receive support with their social integration. On a global scale roughly one out of 10 get access to local socialising and networking opportunities from their employer. It’s your opportunity to offer a benefit to your potential employees that has both practical and emotional value and makes your offer stand out.

When you talk with international candidates about the job offer, take the time to explain your social integration strategy. This will send a strong message that you care about the wellbeing of your international hires, and want them to have a fulfilling experience in their new home country – both professionally and personally.

Theresa Häfner is head of business solutions at InterNations

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