The First Foreign Employee

The hiring of the first foreign employee into any organization is often a cause for some confusion. This is perfectly understandable, for the company will find itself in a situation that the majority of its staff has never necessarily faced before. There’s no cause for panic however, as long as the fundamentals are under control. Never the less, these fundamentals must be managed with care, so unpleasant surprises can be avoided.

Below is a list of things a company hiring its first foreign professional must take into account:

1. Language

It is a forlorn hope for any Finnish company to think that their new employee will learn even conversational Finnish in any sort of a reasonable timeframe. Therefore it is much more productive to change the corporate language into English, doubly so for an SME, as that is something of a lingua franca for everyone. This naturally leads to the all internal communication to be in English as well. Larger companies are in a slightly easier situation, particularly if they only have scattered individual incoming cases. In such a situation it is good to think, which part of the company’s internal communication is relevant for its foreign employees, and how to produce this in English.

2. Culture

“A Finnish company has a Finnish corporate culture!” is something I hear from time to time, though fortunately increasingly seldom. Adaptability is of course something that is expected of the employee as well and one can’t expect an entire company to adapt to one person. However, cultural interaction is a two-way street, and a company would be wise to take this into account in their own actions as well.

3. Permit matters

A foreign employee’s residence permit and right of work matters are of paramount importance to an employer, but can cause headache to those not familiar with them. In addition, the constantly changing requirements and directives give their own twist on keeping a handle on the situation. Particularly when the first foreign employee comes into an organization, the pressure and demands on HR and management increase to entirely new levels, and they certainly won’t be coming down anytime soon. This increases stress and demands on time, which can easily reflect on other aspects of performance as well.

4. Employee retention

Retention is an important part of a successful company’s strategy, and usually when a company has only had employees of one nationality, this is more or less well in hand. The first foreign employee in a team however throws the old methods for a spin. Even though the new foreign employee is motivated (after all, he has moved to Finland!), he has also shown to be a mobile sort. If retention is not given its due attention, particularly if the move to Finland and the all-important first weeks aren’t problem free, the new “super star” can move back home.

5. Benefits

The first foreign employee gives his employer a lot: A new and motivated employee, access to new networks, reputation as an international company, and more become available to a company once that first step has been taken. The experience gained from the first foreign employee is also invaluable and makes it easier for the company to hire talent from abroad in the future. Thus filling open positions with outstanding candidates becomes faster and easier.

If properly executed, hiring talent from abroad will energize the workplace and challenge it in a positive manner to reach new achievements. The hiring of the first foreigner often carries preconceptions of difficulties, but if thoughtfully planned and if necessary supported by a professional, the potential benefits far outweigh the necessary investments.