Job relocation? How to conquer culture shock. (Part II)

In the next post of my 3-part series on adjusting to a new cultural environment, I’m sharing some fast facts and perspectives on the topic. As you’ll learn, adjusting to a new environment can be a very challenging time in a person’s life – both for the individual and for those she is close to.

What Happens When Relocation Goes Wrong?

When people are unable to adjust successfully to a new environment, the result can mean much more than just general disappointment and a sooner-than-expected return home.

From an individual perspective, the person may experience:

  • Increased family or interpersonal conflict
  • Feelings of being a “failure”, “missing out” on a perceived opportunity, or being inadequate
  • Diminished self-confidence and self-esteem levels
  • Financial and time losses associated with relocation

From an employer’s perspective, a failed work relocation can mean:

  • Lost or dropped contracts
  • Angry, disappointed, or dissatisfied clients/customers
  • Financial losses, sometimes significant
  • Possibly having to select and prepare a new employee for the assignment

Did you know? Failed expatriation is estimated at around $2 billion in losses each year in the US alone.

Factors Involved in Assignment Failure

A survey of major American companies looked at what factors were involved in work assignment failure. The most common ones were:

  • Partner dissatisfaction
  • Family concerns
  • An inability to adapt to a new environment
  • Job performance issues

Another survey of 196 HR Managers (NFTC) indicated that the main causes of expatriation failures included:

  • Inability of family to adapt to the new location
  • Inability of the employee to adapt to the new location
  • Voluntary termination
  • Stated assignment objectives weren’t met

Here’s something to think about: Roughly 60% of early returns happen because of a “bad adaptation of the expatriates themselves or their family”, according to one source. Not only does the employee need to adapt to the overall cultural environment of the country, state, or region, but she must also adapt to the new company environment as well, which may be very different from the environment she is used to.

When Repatriated Employees Return Home

Multiple sources suggest that employees who spend time on a foreign assignment and eventually return home feel dissatisfied with their new assignments upon return and unappreciated or not respected for their global experience. One study found that 38% of repatriated employees voluntarily quit their firm within the first year of returning home.

For an employee returning to her home area, it can feel as though everything has changed. In reality, her home hasn’t necessarily changed – sheID-10047009 herself has changed. Employees who live and work in unfamiliar or new cultural environments are changed in key ways; in fact, many go on to build new identities for themselves that often contain new meaning, goals, life and career perspectives, and so on.

“Those who take international assignments often feel fundamentally different after returning, yet they may not see their development reflected in their treatment by their firms,” explains Maria Kraimer of the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business.

As you can see, the topic of cultural adjustment to a new environment (whether that’s in the individual’s home country or abroad) is multifaceted. If there is one single takeaway, it’s that this adjustment is something that anyone who relocates to a new or unfamiliar environment will go through. And in the next and final post in this series, I’m going to talk about just that – and what you can do to boost your chances of a smooth transition.

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