In today’s global economy, sending workers on out-of-country assignments is a necessity for many companies. Here are some points to consider when planning these assignments and choosing employees to carry them out.
“How will it benefit the company?” is an important question to ask before making the decision to send an employee abroad. Some companies send their best workers out of the country to take on key roles that can’t otherwise be filled, while others send them to gather information, undergo training or gain experience. Sending employees overseas can also be an effective way to foster connections in a company with operations spread around the globe.
“How will it benefit the employee?” is another key question to consider. Along with fulfilling a need for the company, an assignment abroad will ideally do the same for the worker in question. According to Rich Bellis, a writer for Fast Company, many firms have even started sending employees on international travel for short periods as a way to retain them longer and develop their careers more fully. Regardless of how long the assignment lasts, making it beneficial for both the worker and the company is likely to pay off over the long term.
Sending employees to far-away lands can be expensive. Writing in Harvard Business Review, business professor Andy Molinsky and cultural consultant Melissa Hahn point out that an international assignment can cost companies up to three times a worker’s regular salary. With those costs in mind, Molinsky and Hahn recommend that companies develop plans for making the most of employees’ time abroad. These plans can include careful research on how overseas employment law and benefit requirements may differ from the U.S., in-depth training for employees who will be dealing with a new culture and creative strategies for helping them share what they learn with their fellow employees.
The right person
Selecting the right people is another key element of successful overseas assignments. Of course, companies will want potential workers to have the necessary aptitude to fulfill job requirements and learn new skills. However, according to U.S. News & World Report contributor Marcelle Yeager, employees heading abroad should also be flexible, tolerant and independent. The success of the assignment — for both the employee and the company — could easily hinge on whether or not the employee possesses the ability to navigate changing circumstances and embrace diversity.
The support system
From the beginning of the international assignment to the end, there are many ways a company can provide employees with the support they need to ensure success. Molinsky and Hahn recommend assigning a sponsor or point person to each worker for the long term as a way to help them navigate the continuing demands of a new cultural environment. Yeager lists language instruction, cultural training and help with finding housing as specific ways that companies can help employees abroad. She writes that assistance for workers’ spouses and children is important, too, as many assignments abroad fail because of family problems.
Companies can reap major benefits from sending their employees abroad, but there are also significant costs involved. However, with careful planning and support during every step of the process, companies can maximize the effectiveness of these international assignments.