Expats Unprepared for Assignments

May 15, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Nearly 40% of expatriates in a recent survey felt their workplace did not do a good job preparing them for their international assignment - and more than a third expected to leave their current employer within five years.

More than half of expatriates in a recent survey said they suffered from a lack of information about their health and safety while overseas and that the information gap dragged down their peace of mind and job performance.

Language ‘Barrier’

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Over half (56%) were critical of the HR support and coordination between home office officials and those in country.  Forty percent of expatriates said they were never given language training relevant to their new assignment (nor did 58% of the families).

According to the study, only 20% of expats praised their companies for maintaining a “best-practice communications process that keeps expatriates up-to-date and fully informed” with security bulletins, contingency plans, and emergency guidelines.  Those who had a favorable impression of the preparation were three times as likely to have had cross-cultural training (63%).

That level of nervousness has apparently not cooled most expats’ interest in working overseas, however. Some 77% of the survey respondents said recent events did not diminish the likelihood of completing their assignments and 74% saw no change in their willingness to accept a future expatriate position.

While half felt their total compensation and benefits package compared favorably to domestic assignments, 40% rated their sick leave, health, life and disability insurance and pension benefits less than favorable.

Room for Improvements

Survey respondents said employers should do a better job of:

  • providing cross-cultural and language training
  • maintaining ongoing communications regarding health and safety issues for most host countries
  • ensuring expatriate benefits packages are generous and tailored to the unique needs of employees on assignment
  • providing cultural adjustment assistance for families of business executives on international assignment
  • helping executives balance both personal and professional needs while on assignment.

A total of 709 expatriates, who were on active assignments outside their home countries, participated in this year’s study via an in-depth survey posted on the Internet in five languages.

The survey, conducted from January through March 2002, was sponsored by CIGNA International Expatriate Benefits, the National Foreign Trade Council, and WorldatWork, a benefits and compensation trade group.