When most of us think of expatriating and working abroad we think of heading off to exotic destinations where the sun shines, the local language and culture will be as much of a learning experience as adapting to the new ways of working, and we see it all as something of an adventure. However, what about going to work abroad in America?
For professional and managerial level employees, the reality of an overseas assignment can indeed mean relocating State-side…so is such an adventure as exciting and challenging as a move abroad to somewhere like Dubai or Australia?
According to a new paper published by Human Resources Executive Online, the answer is a resounding ‘yes.’ In fact, according to their research and expert opinion, a relocation to America can be just as cross-culturally challenging as one to a nation where English is not the spoken language!
A relocation abroad for work purposes is often considered to be of mind expanding and career enhancing benefit to an individual, and advantageous in terms of international competitiveness for companies. Therefore it is very important that a relocation abroad actually works – which is why so much research and effort goes into understanding how expats adjust, and what level of HR support an individual and their family requires once they expatriate.
However, less thought is often given to those who expatriate from the UK and Ireland to go and live and work in America. It is assumed that because the language barrier is removed, there will be no other cross-cultural issues of major importance to address. According to Human Resources Executive Online that’s not actually the case. So, for companies thinking of sending staff to the US and for those actively contemplating a move to America, what is there to consider?
The level of social and workplace support required is high – adjustments are needed in everything from understanding and securing accommodation to travel, taxation and even the hours one is expected to work and the level of commitment one is expected to give to a job, a team, a manager and a company. Work-based performance can be measured differently in the US to how it is measured in the UK for example, therefore a company taking on an expatriate has an obligation to make its expectations clear. At the same time, an expat has the right to question and should not make broad assumptions about their new assignment. I.e., communication is key to an effective relocation to America.
Next up, according to the report from Human Resources Executive Online, there are three keys to a successful overseas assignment – whether that be in the US or elsewhere – and these three keys have to be understood and faced by both the prospective expat and their overseas employer. The three keys are work adjustment, social or general adjustment and family adjustment.
The first adjustment is probably the most straightforward, because in its simplest form the expat is just doing the same job in a new location. As mentioned, a certain amount of communication is still required to ensure performance expectations are articulated and regular reviews can usually address any issues that arise. When it comes to social or general adjustments this refers to getting to know and like living in America. Support can be given in the form of helping an expat find accommodation, introducing them to their new community and the facilities it has available, and being on hand to give advice and support for the day-to-day issues that can arise.
The last key to making an expat assignment successful is family adjustment – and in our opinion at Degtev it is actually this adjustment that is the make or break for most expatriates working abroad. It’s a fact that spousal adjustment will have more impact on the work performance of an expatriate employee than cultural adjustment, and therefore the most effort has to go into ensuring the family is integrated and settles well in America if an overseas assignment in the US is going to work.