Five Ways HR Can Help Support Expatriate Employees

As more companies expand globally, it’s important to understand not only the customs and culture of other countries, but also employment laws and practices for expatriate employees.

An expatriate is an employee who is not locally employed, but who is transferred by the global organization and covered by a company relocation policy. For example, an employee of a company headquartered in one country but has physically relocated to another country or area of operation, from home headquarters to a host country.

International people management can be challenging. International assignment management is one of the hardest areas for HR professionals to master—and one of the most costly

SHRM statistic on cost of international assignments

In order for internationally assigned employees to make a smooth transition to their new host country, HR must be able to help these employees prepare for and manage an international transfer. 


How HR Teams Can Support Expat Employees


Accepting an expatriate assignment can be overwhelming, so the most important thing that HR can do to support these employees is communicating information. In order for expats to feel comfortable working far away from home but still feel engaged, they should be included in all employee communications, invited to virtual all hands meetings, and have a good understanding of any changes the company makes and how the changes may impact them. 

1. Provide information. Online knowledge portals can offer readily accessible and personalized content to employees, including information about their potential new country, places to live, their new role, and travel logistics, such as visa information. Additionally, HR can send employees a task to view specific information about the host country and new location that they may not think of to search for on their own.

2, Offer pre-departure training. Once the international assignment has been finalized, you’ll want to ensure your expatriate-to-be gets training on culture, language, safety and security (at a minimum). Depending on the employee, training may also include information for their family, such as schools for children, medical services and how to use health benefits outside of the home country, and other unique factors that may change based on employee status.

3. Local support. Depending on the location of the assignment, it is often helpful to provide expats with local support in their host country rather than contacting headquarters with questions or concerns. Many companies outsource this support role to a local specialist that can help new expatriate employees settle into their new location. 

4. Proactive ongoing support. Once expatriate employees are settled into their new home and working productively, it’s a good idea for HR to be proactive about touching base with expats regularly. Schedule recurring calls or video conferences with your expatriate employees so you can respond to questions or concerns, or simply maintain a running dialogue so your employees outside of your home country location feel connected to the organization.

5. Train your managers. Managers in your home country or headquarters who have expat direct reports should be trained on the same processes your expatriate employees have been as well as best practices for remote communication, expectations, time management (and time zones) and expectations for asynchronous work if your expatriate employees are working outside of your home country’s work week schedule.

Bonus Tip. Ask for feedback. Talk and communicate with your expats, their families and their managers to find ways to provide support, resources, and help make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone. 


Set Expectations and Communications for Your Expats


If you and your team are working on improving support services for expatriate employees, start by asking current or former expats what they wish they had known before they moved, while they were living in the host country, and ask their advice about how to improve international assignments for future expats. This may be as simple as offering international insurance plans, having a local in the host country not just for relocation help, but also for social support, or setting clear expectations with home country company leaders on assignment and work expectations.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.


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