Supporting a foreign hire

A foreign hire will experience multiple shocks when moving to a new country. As the move is work-based, the employer has a significant role in alleviating these shocks. Over the years many employers have used various tools to make the move easier: Immigration and relocation services, language training, cultural coaching, different lump sums etc. Which of these are the most effective, and what impact do they have to the success of an assignment or employment?

Immigration services, also called permit services, are invaluable for both the employee and the company hiring him. By utilizing them the company frees itself and the employee from the one thing that makes most of us nervous: dealing with bureaucracy. An incoming employee is rarely an expert even in the bureaucracy of his own country, due to emigration not being a common thing for many of us. Support in these matters is often most welcome.

Relocation services cover various support functions aimed at making the settling-in process easier: Finding the right home, local orientation, school and daycare options for children, mapping the possibilities for various hobbies, and for example using the local public transport system. These are things that impact the everyday lives of all of us. Changes to these daily matters causes great stress even when moving between two cities in the same country. How much greater it is then when moving between countries? It is very difficult for an employee to concentrate on work if various big and small issues are weighing on their subconscious.

Language and cultural training often go hand in hand. Usually in positions requiring special expertise, the common language is English and work-related duties can be fulfilled in English. Still, some companies find it helpful to offer their employees classes in the local language. This usually has a positive impact on the settling-in of the employee, provided the employee takes the classes seriously. More beneficial however may be to provide cultural training, since many issues usually chalked up to language are actually based on cultural and communication differences. For example, Finnish bluntness and appreciation of personal space or the American feedback culture where critique is delivered between two pieces of positive news may cause serious misunderstandings, which cause tensions, stress, and avoidable damages.

The last tool to make a foreign hire’s or expats move easier is to pay him a lump sum, which is to cover all the expenses of the move. This option has some attractive qualities to companies: It is easy and it is cheap to implement. The employee will be responsible for everything related to the move, and the lump sum of money warms the heart for a moment. It has significant shortfalls however, which some companies choose to close their eyes of: The lump sum is usually used on nonessential things, such as a new TV or a vacation. This means that the HR will often have to answer questions relating to immigration or everyday living, things that are not part of their main responsibilities. The lump sum doesn’t remove or reduce the work needed for a successful immigration from the employee, not does it offer security or certainty for the employer that all matters have been taken care of properly. Another problem is immeasurableness: The free use of the money makes this option an impossible one to monitor and thus to produce measurable data of. Offering a lump sum instead of services may also impact recruitment. Which one sounds more attractive: “We offer a full relocation and immigration service package, to make sure your move is as positive an experience as possible”, or “We offer the person selected for this position a lump sum to over moving expenses”?

Employers have many tools at their disposal to help with the employee’s settling in and enabling a productive start to their employment. Out of these tools the employer has to build a whole that suits their situation and needs the best, so that both their and the employee’s needs are considered.