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expat survey

The Evolution of Cross-Cultural Trainings


The Evolution of Cross-Cultural Trainings

Pic Credit: jannoon028

Pic Credit: jannoon028

Since cross-cultural preparation is widely accepted to improve expatriate performance and 83% respondents believe it has good or great value, the lack of a practice that makes the benefit mandatory is disappointing.Brookfield Relocation Report

As you know, I’ve been offering cross-cultural trainings myself, and facilitating programs for global service providers since 2009. I have yet to meet a single expat who thinks it wasn’t worth their time. On the contrary, the feedback is very positive all-round, with both assignee and spouse realizing that investing one or two days in a training has saved them weeks of worry and misunderstandings in settling-in time.

Interestingly, “35% of respondents provided media-based or web-based cross-cultural training – an all-time high. More companies (25%) use it to supplement formal training, and its portability is cited as a chief reason (20%) along with cost (20%).” (Brookfield GRS)

That’s 60 % of respondents using some form of web-based cross-cultural training.

Are you one of the 10 % who exclusively use or have exclusively experienced media-based or web-based training to prepare for your assignment? How effective did you think it was? I can imagine video-conferences and delivering the training in a conversational style. Trainer and expat would see each other, and have some freedom to communicate non-verbally (provided the webcam connection is smooth). I also know that when I’ve facilitated a training where a presentation was given by over the phone, the participants nearly always suggested in-person presenters as an improvement.

When I think about webinars - printed material and narrated slideshows may certainly be appealing to the introvert* assignee, or those who prefer to learn by reading and listening. What about experiential learners or extraverts* though?

Virtual, by definition, is lacking actual human interaction. Can talking to a screen ever be as satisfying as the welcoming handshake, getting up to doodle something on the flipchart, and simple face-to-face communication? The topics we’re dealing can get quite personal in nature, so the relative anonymity when training online might act as a barrier or a lubricant to trusting and sharing, depending on the personality of trainer and assignees.

I wonder what your experience would be comparing online vs. face-to-face. I know that I’ve coached online and it’s worked like magic, but training is not coaching.

The above is assuming there is a live trainer involved in the media- or web-based training delivery. What if they include or allude to self-study courses though? Talking from the extravert perspective now: How, when it’s tough enough to get them into a room with an engaging, personable, experienced professional, are you going to convince your assignees it’s a good investment of their time to go read and do some exercises online? Can you call it a training if it’s tantamount to reading a book?

In summary, using online material to periodically repeat and practice what was learned in a face-to-face training, is something I can get behind. What about you? Looking forward to your comments below!

Thanks and have a good one.

*introverts – one half of the first dichotomy of preferences for energy source as defined by the MBTI®. People with a preference for introversion get their energy from and focus their energy on their inner world of thoughts and experiences. Dealing with the outside world can be draining their energy, they like to think things through.

*extraverts – one half of the first dichotomy of preferences for energy source as defined by the MBTI®. People with a preference for extraversion get their energy from and focus their energy on the world of people and things that surrounds them. Left to their own devices they might get antsy, they prefer talking things over.

(From the archives, first published in April 2010) 



Only 9 % of Expat Spouses are employed during their assignment

Pic credit: stockphoto

Pic credit: stockphoto

Brookfield Global Relocation Trends Survey shows that for relocating couples, 50 % of spouses were employed before the move, and only 9 % also during (2009). In other words, when considering the option to support their partner’s career, four out of five spouses do so at the cost of their own. 

Here are two mitigating circumstances that might make those numbers seem a little less scary:

  1. Some spouses might be unemployed because they cannot find suitable work due to economic challenges. It’s true, the labor market has been difficult to get into, especially in 2009 when this survey was taken. At the risk of sounding spoilt, I know from personal experience that working in another country is especially unappealing when the wages range at about 1/10th of what you’re used to earning.
  2. Other spouses might welcome the break in their working life and use the time abroad to pursue secondary education or start a family. In fact, I would love for Brookfield to add this distinction to their next survey, because I feel it makes a huge difference to the self-esteem of the spouse (and in consequence to the well-being of the family) if they have a choice.

Having said that, it is more likely that the spouse simply did not receive a work permit, because the sad fact is that obtaining such paperwork is costly and - in most countries - a bureaucratic nightmare. Still, 34 % of responding companies reported actually sponsoring spouse work permits.

Given that family issues and spouse career and resistance are the top reasons cited for both “critical family challenges” and “top reasons for assignment refusal,” the report points out:

With such widespread agreement about the nature of these challenges over such a long period of time, the lack of apparent success in addressing them is puzzling and they continue to appear year after year.”

Couldn’t have put it better myself, in fact, I’ve been wondering about this very same thing for some time now.

So, are you one of the four or the one who’s continuing to work? What were your choices? If you are one of the four who do not work anymore, which tips do you have for other readers to make the most of their time? Would you recommend volunteering? Why or why not?

(from the archives, first published in 2010) 



Global Relocation Trends 2012

Brookfield GRS 2012Expat assignments are a costly and complex change process. In 2011, companies spent about $9.3bn on domestic and international relocations in the USA alone. That makes it comparable to the American plastic surgery ($10bn) and the Chinese gaming industry ($9.7bn). An organization will likely spend four to five times the annual salary for every person they send abroad. Support services including pre-departure readiness assessments, cross-cultural training, language classes, home visits, and coaching amount to under 5 % of total relocation cost. I've written about it before and presented at FIGT (

It appears companies are beginning to recognize that these “soft” services have a hard impact on the bottom line.

According to the Brookfield 2012 Global Relocation Trends Survey, “Respondents indicated that 6 % of assignments fail. (Author’s note: Continuing from our numbers above, that’s a $558m loss every year in the US alone.) Top causes for failure are the employee leaves to work for another company; spouse/partner dissatisfaction; other family concerns; and the job does not meet expectations.”

The top reason for early returns are family concerns: one in three expats (33 %) does not complete their assignment due to, for example, family members not adjusting to the new culture. Companies are trying to improve ROI though “better candidate selection/assessment; career-path planning to utilize cross-border skills upon return; more effective communication of assignment objectives; better assignment preparation; and mandatory cross-cultural preparation”. (

These and similar surveys have been showing the same trends over the last 20+ years: to help ensure you don't lose money on international assignments, take care of the whole family. Making cross-cultural preparation mandatory is a step in the right direction.

What would it take to add personality type-aware coaching to the mix?



Survey: Expat spouses and employment

clipboards_Yet another couple of expat survey findings have been published that caught my attention. As you know from this post, I love each and every one of them. Surveys are necessary, helpful, informative; they shed light into detailed international corners where our individual flashlights don't reach, and they remind us that expats and their families are people, not commodities. Still, I can't help but wonder: how much more evidence does the world need that a happy expat spouse can make or break the assignment?

I don't have a brilliant and witty argument in reply to that question, instead I could go on about the perils of disregarding the spouse's needs. Employment opportunity is one aspect of the bigger picture, and no doubt an important one. The lack of it can lead to identity crises, boredom, resentment, strained communication, stress, marital breakdown, and depression.

"[The Permit Foundation's latest survey Expatriate spouses and partners employment, work permits and international mobility] provides evidence that a lack of spouse or partner employment opportunities adversely affects global mobility of highly skilled international employees." Well, what is it that is stopping the movers and shakers from providing excellent service to the entire expat family? Money? Time? Really? Could it be that simple?  'Cos that's what I'm here for! Contact me for a chat about how I can support your people! I can't give out work permits (wouldn't that be the day...), but I can make sure your guys at least have a more rounded understanding of the emotional roller coaster they're getting themselves into; and if they're stuck, we can figure out alternative courses of action that may just make the difference between early termination and finishing the assignment. And that, surely, is worth looking at, right?

If you have other ideas, let me repeat the question: what is it that is stopping the movers and shakers from providing excellent service to the entire expat family? Let's see if we can get a discussion going in the comments-section. I'll also be sure to bring it up at the FIGT Conference in March and report back. FIGT, of course, stands for Families in Global Transition, and yours truly is looking forward to giving a presentation as well as soaking in the general atmosphere of "expat families deserve all the support they can get". Can't wait. Why don't you drop by and we can share a cuppa? Early bird registration is still available until January 31st!

Expatica has awarded the ORC's survey on expat's work-life balance first place in their "Top 5 Industry Survey Awards". You can read about its main findings in this article. And another shameless plug while we're at it: find me on their expert's panel for personal coaching questions on Expatica Germany.

Wishing all of us in the US a happy Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. / National Service Day  (hear and read about it here and here) and happy (and glorious) inauguration. Til next week, have a good one!

Thanks to flickr's hownowdesign for the photo under Creative Commons License.

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Interpreting Expat Surveys

HSBC has published new survey findings, called "Offshore Offspring", where they looked at the experience expat parents have with raising their children internationally. Parents were surveyed to rate their country on time their children spent outdoors and studying, the cost of raising them, how many languages the children spoke, and whether they would remain in the country.

General findings include that expat children seem to be more active outdoors abroad than they would be at home, that study-time remained the same for half the respondents (increased for a third, and only decreased for about 10 %), and that children spoke more languages. You can download the study and read all the findings here.

What appeared to have caused controversy is the interpretation of the percentage of parents who stated that raising their children in the host country is more expensive than raising them in their home country. This is the case for 85 % of expats in the United Kingdom and 79 % of parents in the United Arab Emirates. These findings follow another survey in which the UK compared unfavorably in terms of overall expat lifestyle, and at least one publication presented the survey results in a way of extrapolating them to apply to the whole nation in question under the headline "UK a poor place to bring up kids". Thankfully, the article also mentions that there are expats who are quite happy in the UK, and personally, I count my years in Scotland as some of the happiest of my life.

Since money is one of the most sensitive issues to talk about at any given moment, I'm not all that surprised at the responses the survey received. Why do you think parents responded that bringing up their children in the UK costs more than it would in their home country? Maybe because the Pound is so strong? I'm no financial expert, but even I know you do not want to go comparing the Dollar to other currencies just now. I certainly never wanted to compare the Pound to the Deutschmark and later the Euro while I was living in the UK, shopping brought tears to my eyes and I remember becoming an economic vegetarian for a long time, simply because I could afford to buy meat.

I wonder if the expat parents surveyed in the UK were under local contracts, i.e. earning Pounds, or their home-nation currency. Maybe this is a great opportunity for expats and employers to look at actual cost-of-living and adjust expenses and salary calculations? But the point I really wanted to make was this: even though I assume the methodology HSBC's surveys use is sound and representative, and actually, when looking at any statistic, before you read the results and jump to negative conclusions, keep in mind what that survey is; a collection of opinions. The interpretation lies in the editing, and taking a snippit of information at face value may lead to more harm than foster understanding. In case you were wondering, in my opinion that news-headline was not the best way to engage in a dialogue about the issue, but I'm sure it got a lot of readers; hey, it even got me to write about it.

Have a good one, til next time!

Thank you to MadArtists for the free image.

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