Engaging is challenging

Although automation, digitalization, and technological advancement reduce jobs in many sectors, the importance of talent in companies continues to increase. The top concerns for CEOs are the attraction and retention of talent, and the identification of the next generation of leaders (Mitchel et al., 2016). When dealing with international talent, these challenges increase by an order of magnitude.

According to Kirsi Kemi, the country leader for the Human Capital Service Area at Deloitte, Finnish companies think that people are satisfied to have a job during economically challenging times. This is however not the case for people with special sets of skills that are in high demand. This demand is present both at home and abroad. The threshold for leaving is particularly low for people initially hired from abroad.

Recruitment from abroad is generally done based on the specific skillset of the employee. Due to his or her skills, the new employee is in many ways a valuable resource for the company, and replacing that resource if necessary is both time consuming and expensive.

In a situation where the most desired talent can change companies even from one country to another, companies should pay more attention to engagement and retention. These activities can be seen as additional expenses however, if at the same time the company management is faced with financial challenges and must adjust the company’s activities. An HR manager wrestling with these conflicting challenges can understandably feel like being trapped between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

Thankfully, there are many ways to engage a foreign employee and increase retention. For an employee with a family the most important of these is to take the specific needs of the family into account. The daycare and school requirements of the children, and the spouse’s settling in and leisure time activities have time and again surfaced as the most important factors for an employee’s commitment and engagement (Brookfield, 2015). Even for an employee moving by his or herself settling-in assistance will generate significant goodwill towards the employee from the beginning of the employment or assignment.

Naturally, internal engagement efforts are also important. For example, a strong and engaging corporate culture where employees feel like they are being heard increases commitment. Part and parcel of a good and engaging corporate culture is also a sense of community. Particularly for employees moving from abroad, making social contacts is of paramount importance. Often the first social environment the employee has a low threshold to join is the workplace community after all.

Companies also have a variety of financial tools at their disposal. Shares in the company, stock options, bonuses or other benefits can increase commitment in the company. Personal assistance during relocations can however be much more cost-effective than increased financial benefits, which according to research soon become “achieved benefits”, and lose their effectiveness. If employees are treated as nothing more than a collection of skills and “softer” values are overlooked, it is unlikely that the employees will see the company as anything more than a paycheck either. In such situations the employee that the company has invested significant effort into acquiring is much more likely to change jobs.

When a foreign professional’s every day practicalities are resolved effortlessly, the company saves time and money and the employee will be able to concentrate on their job in a company with which they are committed. This in turn assists the employer in reinforcing their positive image as a good employer and promotes the achievable synergy.

Brookfield. 2015. 2015 Global Mobility Trends Survey Report. Brookfield.

Mitchell, C, Ray, R, Ark, B. van, 2016. The Conference Board CEO Challenge 2016: CEO Strategic Implications. New York: The Conference Board.