A failed assignment abroad is something no one wants.
Not only is it a very expensive exercise for the company, the cost to a family can cause career damage, put undue strain on your relationship, add immense stress to a child’s transition. Nevermind the relationship between the assignee and the corporation.
In this week’s podcast special guest and Global Mobility Expert, Cathy Heyne, offers straight-talk on what every HR professional wishes you knew to help your family have the easiest transition possible for your assignment abroad.
What You’ll Discover in this Episode:
- How to nurture your relationship with your global mobility contact to make the most of it.
- What every Global HR professional wishes assignees understood
- What assignees wish Global HR professionals knew
- What to look out for that many people ignore
While receiving an assignment abroad is exciting, it is also incredibly daunting. This podcast will help you to reflect on how you can better show up in this corporate-assignee relationship so that you can best collaborate and get what you need.
Listen to the Full Episode:
Featured on the Show:
- Cathy Heyne – Global mobility expert and managing director of Living Abroad firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t miss this brand new opportunity to start putting the way in which you are showing up in your family to the forefront: Global Parenting on Purpose.
Full Episode Transcript:
Welcome to the Expat Happy Hour, this is Sundae Bean from www.sundaebean.com. I am a solution-oriented coach and intercultural strategist for individuals and organizations and I am on a mission to help you adapt and succeed when living abroad and get you through any life transition.
According to The Forum For Expatriate Management, direct costs of a failed assignment can range from two hundred and fifty thousand dollars to a million and the annual cost of failures to all U.S. companies is estimated at two billion.
That is just money.
That cost to a family, as you know can range from career damage to strained relationships and undew transition stress for the kids, just to name a few. Needless to say the relationship between the family on assignment and the corporation is of ultimate importance.
And that is why it’s my absolute pleasure to have as a special guest an Expat Happy Hour, Cathy Heyne.
She’s a global mobility expert and the managing director of Living Abroad, an organization that has been around since the 80s serving organizations globally.
Sundae: Cathy, welcome to Expat Happy Hour.
Cathy: Thank you Sundae, the pleasure is all mine.
Sundae: Let me brag about you a little bit.
Cathy is managing director of Living Abroad and she has been involved in the core of international relocation. She’s been around for over 18 years professionally in this industry and works with clients from Fortune 1000 companies and government organizations.
So I can’t think of anybody who has a better Insider view of global mobility.
We talk a lot about those who are sent on assignment, but what happens on the other side.
So we’re really excited to have you Cathy and one thing I don’t know if you remember, but you and I have been in contact I think since 2015 when I was in Ouagadougou, because I wrote an article about expat fatigue that got featured on Living Abroad way back then.
Cathy: Yes, I do remember and I have to say that article, when we go back and look at our Google analytics, is still getting views Sundae.
Sundae: Oh that’s exciting.
Cathy: The issues that people are not talking about back then but even more now they’re addressing that issue because it’s so important and actually another company that does relocations had referenced your article too at the end of last year. So it’s a really important topic.
Sundae: Oh great, well I’m glad, the Expats Fatigue I think was the one reason I wrote it in the beginning was just to give legitimacy to help people who were feeling, especially experienced expats who were feeling, you know, “Why? I should have this down by now?” or “After so many years abroad why does this still feel so hard?” So that’s one of the reasons, because I was seeing it all over with with seasoned expats.
So thank you so much.
So let’s get dive into you and your expertise, I invited you because I feel like we could benefit from an insider perspective on this relationship between corporate, when I say corporate I also mean you know, government organizations any sending organisation, but just for ease I am going to say corporate.
Corporate and family.
I know when I work with a wide variety of clients that their relationship when you’re being sent abroad with your organization can sometimes feel adversarial, like you know, “That they’re not helping me.” or “They don’t want me to adjust.” or “They’re not supporting.” And I’m sure it feels like that on the other side, you know from the corporate side where they’re like, “Wait a minute, we’re trying to support you and we’re not getting participation.”
So would you mind sharing your Insider perspective a little bit.
First of all, tell us how do you have this perspective? What is it that you do that gives you the Insider information?
Cathy: That’s a great question.
So our primary audience for living abroad is the global mobility teams for large corporations that move employees around the world. Of course we do have some government contracts that we do work with, for instance U.S. AID moves employees all around the world to help especially in underdeveloped countries. All our clients are corporate, so I talk to them all the time, but then I attend a lot of events. So I run the New York City chapter so I hear a lot of what’s kind of the heartbeat of what’s going on in global mobility.
And then, you know even just yesterday, I heard a presentation where somebody, a corporate, was asked this question: “How are you able to help assignees if you haven’t been on an assignment?”
Which is a really good question.
Sundae: Yeah, you know what, thank you for bringing that up because when you say that, I feel like I’ve been there. Like kind of in a judgy place like “You don’t know what we really need.” You know, like wagging my finger at you right now because you haven’t done this with your kids.
So, you know when I hear what’s going on in my clients lives, that’s how I feel about their sending organisation.
Tell me what was her answer.
Cathy: So that’s a good point.
One of the women had been on this panel headband on a couple assignments, so totally understood it. But the one woman that hadn’t her biggest move was only a hundred mile radius from where she was born to where she works now. She said that to develop empathy she shadows other people that have been on assignment and her company to find out where the sticking points are. And she feels that that has given her some indication on how she can support assignees more fully
Sundae: Oh, you know what that just gave me chills on my arm, I love that.
Cathy: I know, so this woman, I would say she’s younger for being a global mobility, she works for Johnson & Johnson and she’s really trying hard to integrate the programs more fully so that assignees feel more supportive.
Sundae: I love that.
So for example, I had a moment where we were doing kind of the equivalent of fly-in fly-out where my partner would come to be with us for maybe a week or so and then would have to go back. And my children were younger and there was a scene in the driveway where the taxi pulled up and my husband said goodbye to the boys and he got in and he was pulling away and my youngest, you know that cry where their mouth is wide open, but there’s no sound coming out and you just waiting for them to breathe? Yeah that was happening and I was like “I wish every single global mobility professional could see this right now, so they understand what it really means when a family is separated.”
That would be a story I would tell her so they get it, the implications.
So that’s a great thing that they’re doing. Kudos to Johnson & Johnson on having an employee like that who’s willing to show empathy and learn the stories from the Insiders.
I love that.
Cathy: Yeah, that’s the first time I’ve heard that and so I thought that was an excellent response, because we do hear that a lot in the industry that there are quite a few global mobility professionals that do not have this expat experience of living in another destination. So how could they possibly help us?
You know the other flip side to that is that if they’ve been doing it for a long time they’ve had kind of, I don’t know if the word is virtual experience, by talking to these assignees, talking to the manager of these different business units that are sending people internationally. So they have developed this experience through talking to their people that they do support.
Sundae: So what I’m hearing is for corporations to really support, they need to get experienced people in the job who’ve lived the life, or they put the time in to hear about the lives, or their proactive in shadowing individuals so that they get it.
Cathy: Exactly, the really good ones, and there are some really good ones out there.
So yes, and you know the other thing I wanted to say Sundae, just to give your audience a perspective.
So as I mentioned earlier HR really gets squeezed, global mobility gets squeezed, because they have their management and the procurement department saying “You’ve got to cut costs.” And then on the other side there are their assignees saying “We need more support.” And they know that the assignees need more support services and soft tissues, which we can talk about. And so they are in a really hard spot, they are squeezed in the middle, and often I think assignees forget about that because as we mentioned your focus is on yourself. You’re trying to get yourself right acclimated over to that destination, you want to make sure you have a house or a place to live, you want to make sure your kids are in a school where they’re going to be happy, and you know all those things that go with an International move.
Sundae: Right, so I think we are talking about this adversarial relationship.
If you are focused on your burning needs as an assignee and your manager is squeezing let’s say the global mobility professional to cut costs.
That can be that can be tough you are put in the middle.
So what did the best people do? What do they do when they’re getting squeezed? How do they handle it?
Cathy: I would say it’s like any situation, those that are really good at communication do very well because they’re able to discuss the needs and represent the assignees to their managers and the business units. And I say the business units too, because those are the ones that often come to global mobility and say “Hey we’ve picked this person for this job internationally and now you have to help them.”
So it’s also educating the business managers that come to them and also listening to the assignees. What are they hearing a lot? What is our assignee saying is missing from the program? Where they asking for more support?
So I think communication and also being a good listener, I think those two really good skills.
Sundae: So what, if we looked at optimizing this, you know actually it’s in everybody’s best interest that we get what we need, right?
If you made it like a little mini list of do’s and don’ts, what are the things that assignees should do or not do when they’re working with a global mobility professional or their organization to really make sure that they get what they want.
What are some of the things that you’ve seen along the way that work and don’t work?
Cathy: Okay, so one of the biggest things I keep hearing is that companies will pay for services for their assignees and they won’t take advantage of them.
And for instance, the biggest one is cultural training. A lot of people do not see the what, even on both sides on the corporate and the assignee, do not see the benefits, but I can tell you that there are so many nuances in a country and even how you present yourself in a business meeting for the one that’s being you know, the busy assignee can make or break that meeting.
How you interact in your office, how you’re saying as the new manager whatever your position is, and that goes for the family as well. So what are some of the subtle customs that would help you, you know get up to speed more quickly.
And that can be found in either, you know a destination report or like an online cross-cultural tool or even companies still pay for the two-day classroom training.
The employee often says “I don’t have time for it.”
Sundae: I’m smiling right now, I’ve got a smirk on my face, because I know you’re gonna say you’re gonna say “Actually you don’t have time not to take it because if you don’t get savvy you will pay for it tenfold once you’re there.”
That is so interesting, I mean I’m a nerdy Intercultural, so of course I’m on board about it and there’s some organizations that just get it and know that it’s worth the investment and there’s some that really resist it.
Is it about the squeeze? Do you think it’s because it’s like “We have we only have a limited budget, what are we going to invest in?”
Why do you think they don’t invest in intercultural training?
Cathy: Well, that’s a good question.
I was speaking to somebody yesterday at this conference that I went to, and I really believe it’s the culture of the company. Because, and I’ll tell you why, one of our clients is Citigroup. Now at the very top level, I think it’s the president or CEO, when he travels internationally to visit different offices around the world. He goes into a deep dive on that culture. So that cultural, you know readiness, thought pattern that he has gets trickled down. So the global mobile mobility department is very proactive in making sure that their employees learn about the culture before they go.
I think some cultures are are not and I would say some business cultures. For instance you are sent overseas to manage a building project and you’re going to be in this little enclave of expats. They don’t see the value so much in training that particular manager or project manager for cultural nuances and social customs.
So, I believe it’s a culture of a corporation.
Sundae: Great, and there I would recommend that’s where they need to know about sort of the expat side of maintaining relationships, when you’re afar, expect fatigue, all that. You could enter from from a different space. I mean honestly when I think about that, I wish that organizations did more, you know, the pre-departure training is great and ideal, but honestly, I wish they did more once you land and you’re maybe six months in, because that’s when you’re like, “Oh wait a minute that’s different.” Like that’s when you ever have like the real questions. And I feel and this is again, this could be a judgment. I feel like sometimes organizations say “We did our pre-training we’re good, we’re done, we checked the box and now they have to deal with it.”
When from the client side when I’m doing coaching and training and people come to me for support. It’s when they’re living it and this things things that were theoretical are very much real in their face and have high stakes in their performance and satisfaction. That’s actually when I think people need support.
Cathy: Yeah, that’s a good point, that’s when the happiness curve dips after about six months. Where they are facing more emotional things I would say at that point that they would need support.
Sundae: So what I’m hearing you say is that if you want to really create a better alliance between the assignee and the corporation, the corporation could invest in intercultural training to sort of tool people up to be ready for the challenges that are there.
Cathy: I think, and I mentioned this earlier, communication. So I think it’s so important, and it’s not only the communication at the beginning. I believe that the communication should be continuous throughout the assignment whether it’s a dedicated time quarterly that they would speak to somebody in the global mobility department or if the company has hired a destination service provider to work with them.
And that’s to your point where you say about six months in is when you have all those questions, so this kind of communication check-in called would be a good time to find out what other support they need. Because you know, like you said earlier an assignment is so expensive and as a company you really want to protect your investment and as a company you want your assignees to succeed. It’s not us against them, it’s a whole, and how can we support them?
Sundae: And I really think that needs to come from the organization, because if you’re the assignee, you don’t want to put your hand up and look like, you know, the problematic family or the, you know, low resilience family or the red flag family. You don’t want to raise any attention that you’re not thriving right?
This is honestly, I worked with multiple organizations including government and corporate and they have resources at their organization may be a psychologist, but they are not going to use it because they don’t want to get flagged. And by the time you need a psychologist, It might be too far the damage might be done.
So that I think is really interesting about how it goes back to the culture of the organization. What kind of culture do you have to invite the communication that’s proactive.
So let’s get a little bit deeper. What are some of the things that assignees do that people in global mobility wish they would just stop? You just get so frustrated about?
Cathy: You know,what I’ve heard over the years is that assignee that keeps calling about complaints. Because I think there’s a way to present that back to the corporation that’s more professional. Sometimes that comes from an unhappy spouse or partner. And so if they can think about being a little more professional in their requests, kind of give a little bit of background, if they send an email and say this is not right or this isn’t working, that would go a long way.
The other thing that I hear a lot from global mobility is that they’ll send an assignee, and this is goes back to the beginning of an assignment, they’ll send the assignee a whole packet of stuff in email and the assignee won’t read it.
Sundae: No, no, no, he’s like “17 attachments, no, we don’t even have a sofa, I’m not going to read 17 attachments.”
Cathy: That is one of the things that they say, the employee will say “Well what happened here?” and well “It was in your package, you forgot to take it out, or you forgot to do this.”
And yes, they understand how much energy it takes to relocate, yet there’s certain things that have to be done. And unfortunately those things are really boring things like, you know, getting set up for their taxes. Immigration of course happens at the beginning but you know, they might get those, and they’re really concerned about where they’re going to live, where the kids going to go to school and things like that.
So that’s another thing I’ve heard over the years that the assignees just don’t read what they what they need to and then things come up and it’s causes little kinks in the wheel.
Sundae: So I mean when I even imagined that email and I know how many attachments or how long the PDF is, my eyes like glaze over kind of like a deer in the headlights. So what I’m what I’m hearing, my instinct would be like “Ignore, denial is amazing.” But what I’m hearing you say is honestly to embrace this partnership or optimize this partnership, we have to recognize the work that went in, the thought and input that went in from the global mobility professional that is of service to the assignee and the intention is to save time and stress
So instead of seeing this emails like, “Oh I have another thing to read” and we’ve been there, I mean it is it is exhausting points in the relocation what can happen. But what I’m hearing is a tip for all assignees is when you get that packet, you get that email, you have to bribe yourself, this is the coaching part of me, I would say bribe yourself to print it out and read it over glass of wine or tea or at a place with nice music or whatever it is. So you can at least get through it, to serve, long-term.
Cathy: Exactly, it would benefit the assignee and the family in the long term.
And that’s one thing you can kind of check off your box, you know like “Okay, I got my paperwork in order.”
Sundae: Yeah, it’s tough. I see both sides, I really do.
Part of me wants to say “Hey, you guys give a smaller bites or deliver it to us in a way that is more manageable based on where we’re at.” But on the other hand, it’s like some things you just have to bite the bullet and and do it.
Cathy: Exactly, and one of the things that you brought up a little earlier is about the mental health and that is a topic that people are discussing a lot. And we had as a guest speaker somebody from International SOS who has amazing statistics about how many people are actually suffering from either anxiety or depression over this and through their programs an assignee can actually go in, and I don’t think the company would get notified, so there’s more of a privacy issue.
Like you said, sometimes it’s too late and even global business travellers, there’s a like a tipping point when they’re away for more than fourteen days. They start to suffer anxiety and things like that. So I think that’s really important to be aware of. That might not be something that your global mobility group is talking about because their whole thing is making sure you get there. That you’re safe, you’re happy, things are going as planned and help support you that. But like you said, there’s that point, maybe it’s six months, where a lot of people really suffer that kind of downward, you know it was all beautiful and wonderful, and then all of a sudden reality sets in and they might need some support.
Sundae: And the curve we call it confronting deeper issues.
And you know what triggers me, and what I’m realizing is when I look at global mobility. You know, I’ve lived abroad for 20 years, i’ve been at like a relocation migrant where I relocated permanently and I’ve also been a rotational expat.
I see it really the long-term, same with all my clients. But what I’m hearing a little bit from you is that the global mobility professional focuses on getting them there successfully, right? And for me, I look at it like What about assignment success? Like to the two years of the four years, so you hit the ground running and you can maintain high performance, you know connect across cultures, keep your family intact, so that the big picture, that’s where we see the return on the investment, when the when the assignment is successful, not just getting there but the entire deal.
Cathy: Exactly, and there’s two things that companies are starting to do proactively now. One is setting up a mentoring program for international moves, so you may have a mentor in your home country and a mentor in your host country. Also at providing coaching as a core benefit, and you can speak to coaching because you see the success for that, it just shortcuts so many things.
Sundae: Yeah, and you know to be honest coaching is an investment and one-to-one coaching is, you know, I see organizations and some really great examples. I know I hesitate whether I should start naming names like they’re doing a great job, they’re not doing good job. There are some organizations out there that really go for it when it comes to supporting coaching, there’s others that are making choices with their budget not to. And that’s one of the reasons why I created a package where I could deliver most of them the themes I’m seeing in all my coaching in sort of a digital bite-sized pack and then we save the time when we meet face-to-face in a one-to-one or a group so we can really dive deep instead delivering some of that content in the coaching.
There’s a lot of ways that organizations can support their people that are within scope and I think that’s what, this is just my outside observation, you can tell me if I’m wrong, some organizations already discount that kind of on-the-ground support because they say it’s too expensive without looking at some of the mediated, you know, like blended learning approaches. Or you know, blend between live and digital interaction. And I know that living abroad does some of that, I know I do some of that, there’s a lot of organizations out there that are really working towards that.
Cathy: Exactly and I think that’s one of the tips for assignees, is just make sure that when you’re offered the information on that particular destination, that host country, that you do take the time to learn a little bit about it before you go, because that makes some of the fear away. You’re learning a little bit about what you can expect and most companies if they use a third-party relocation, the third parties offer that information. That’s also what we do, we offer the destination information kind of soup to nuts for somebody relocating. It’s an online service where they can get it, you know 24/7. I think that’s really important.
Sundae: Right that’s called uncertainty reduction.
Like that’s the nerdy and communication part of me, like certainty and reduction theory, if you’re uncertain you get information and it reduces your uncertainty. It really helps with anxiety and also helps pragmatically.
Some people who are listening who are more experienced expats are going “Of course, you look up the destination information.” And you might be judging when you hear that, but I would have to say you know in my client experience, there are times where people are asked to leave and relocate in lightning speed. So you don’t always have time to do the research yourself because you’ve been focusing on like, you know, getting your kids out of school and to a new school and sort of you know, mentally adjusting to what you’re doing and you haven’t had everything at your fingertips. So I do think that happens even if with the most savvy of expats.
All right, I’ve have a hunch you and I could talk for for ages about this.
You’ve shared some of the insider secrets around how corporations can up level how they’re supporting assignees, and how assignees can up level how they work with the corporation so that they create more of a collaboration rather than an adversarial relationship.
Is there something that are missing?
Is there something else that you wish people knew?
Cathy: You know, I think that HR could do a little bit better job on some of the softer issues and because that’s what makes or breaks the assignments from what I see and what I hear. So as I mentioned earlier supporting the reaching out that communication I think it’s really important to develop that and even with the spouse or partner to find somebody within the organization that they can use as an advocate that would help them if they had questions. And I’m sure there’s all kinds of resources that companies have if they are a large company, if they’re not that’s going to be a little trickier. But you know for HR, and I think they do this, they support joining local clubs and organizations and getting to know your neighbors and all that.
I think again the most important thing is that is that communication piece, I really do and I think it works both ways.
Sundae: Yep, I would add the empathy of really trying to see people’s perspective and the Intercultural side.
I always get really defensive when we talk about hard skills and soft skills because hard feels like it means difficult and soft makes it feel like it’s easy, which is actually not the case.
I do a lot of work with top talent and I work with engineers and finance and we talk about empathy and Intercultural communication communication and believe me some of the smartest people in the world struggle with those, you know, air quotes, soft skills. So I’m totally in alignment with that.
Oh, thank you so much for your time., I know you’re really busy, I love hearing this from your perspective.
So it’s validating for those who are on assignment to hear that from you and it’s also I’m sure validating for those who are in global mobility to say “Yes, I’m squeezed,” right?
So my encouragement is to anybody who is listening to this whether you’re in global mobility or you are the assignee, to reflect on how you can up level how you show up to this relationship so that you get what you need, but not in a sort of bull in a china shop way but in a collaborative way and you’ve given some great tips there.
Cathy: Well, thank you for the opportunity Sundae, I really appreciate it.
Sundae: Where can we find you if you want to know more about you or living abroad where should we go next?
Cathy: You can very easily find us at www.livingabroad.com and all the information and services that we provide are on that site.
And if anybody has any questions, you can reach out to me very simply it’s just email@example.com
Cathy: Okay, thank you Cathy, I will put that in the show notes so people have the link directly again.
Thank you for your time.
How much fun was that to have Cathy on Expat Happy Hour today?
I think what I’m taking away is this relationship between organization and the assignee. We need to take a deep breath, step outside of our immediate stress level and say “How can I look at the other person’s perspective to optimize this collaboration?” and I know from both sides that’s hard to do, but that’s kind of the main thing I’m taking away from Cathy today.
So what we’ve been talking about in this episode is how we can really optimize how we show up to this collaboration between the organization and the international assignee to make the most of it.
What I haven’t shared yet is a special surprise that Cathy is coming back next week and we’re going to talk about this special role that women can take to advocate for their international assignment.
As we know the amount of women who are taking international assignments is growing. We’re hitting 20%, of course it’s not enough yet, but we’re on our way and what can we do as women to step into the international assignment in an empowered way? What can organizations do to remove any outdated barriers that are there in the organization?
That and more in the next episode of Expat Happy Hour.
Thank you all who are listening to Expat Happy Hour, today.
This is Sundae Schneider Bean, thank you for listening.
I’ll leave you with a quote from William Arthur Ward and that is “Happiness is an inside job.”
So whether your job is in global mobility or the assignee or a company or partner being sent abroad – your happiness will work if you focus on showing up in these collaborations, naming what you need and then finding a way to make it fit for both sides.
So thank you everybody for listening and looking forward to hearing you in the next episode.