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survey

Do you feel well rested?

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Do you feel well rested?

According to the Gallup World Poll, 72 % of male and 65 % of female respondents feel well rested, the remaining 28 and 35 % respectively do not. How's your work-play-rest balance shaping up lately?

During my recent trip to Chicago I was reminded that one of the contributing factors to our perceived stress and relaxation levels might be our preference for and attitude to managing time. How we view time and the way we tend to manage it has actually been identified as one of the seven cultural indicators Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner have explored during their extensive cross-cultural research, documented in their oeuvre, "Riding the Waves of Culture." They highlight the differences between more primitive and more educated societies, that view time "by simple notions of "before" and "after" moons, seasons, sunrises and sunsets" vs. more complex schedules. (Daily planners, email alerts and PDA's, anyone?)

Accordingly, some view time as a scarce resource, some see it as plentiful; some are more oriented towards the past, others towards the present or future. You know which is which by the people in those cultures who tend to be punctual or more flexible, and those who have a rich history and value tradition compared to more modern, goal-oriented cultures. Let me stress at this point that there's no one best way, I'm simply describing / citing differences in attitudes and preferences.

The point that I think plays into the whole stressed - rested notion is that of sequential vs. synchronic organization of activities, or in other words, do you prefer to do one task at a time or juggle various things at once? Again, we're all juggling to some extent, and we all have certain limits to our attention-span. When left to your own devices, do you prefer starting one thing and finishing it before beginning another? Personal psychology like the MBTI's Judging vs. Perceiving preference also play a role here. It is fair to say, though, that if you have a preference for sequential one-at-a-time organization but live in an environment or work in an office or in a job that requires you to do multiple tasks simultaneously, you will feel  more stressed and as a consequence need more time to wind down before you feel relaxed and your batteries are charged up again.

Would it be nice if we could have things happen one at a time? Alas, life doesn't work that way. Sometimes, your house will be struck by lightning at the same time you're busy planning and studying and training for other things, and then you have to re-plan, reschedule and be flexible. Appointments might be missed, emails not returned as promptly as usual, laundry not laundered - and even though that seems disgraceful and impossible, beating yourself up on top of it all and holding yourself to standards so high you cannot reach them won't help matters much. On the contrary.

So what do you do to recharge? How do you relax, and when do you feel rested? Have any secret remedies you'd like to share? Let 'em rip in the comments section!

Image by pinguino, flickr, 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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Expat Survey Findings

As some of you know, I prepared a short survey for expats that was meant to help me find out more about the gap between expectations and actual experience concerning their international relocation. The most important point for me, and the most interesting, was to find out if the respondents felt that the support of an expat coach like myself would add significant value during the international relocation.

The questions were open-ended and gave respondents the opportunity to be as honest and detailed as they wished. A big THANK YOU! to all those who participated. In the following I will paraphrase some of the responses:

Question 1: Relocation process - What went well? What were your expectations, what surprised you?

  • The company's support for the actual physical move / hiring a professional moving company was an excellent idea that relieved a lot of possible stress.
  • The lower cost of living turned out to be financially quite profitable.
  • I was surprised by little differences and how much I actually missed my home country.

Question 2: Relocation process - What went badly? What were your expectations, what surprised you?

  • Some furniture was damaged and belongings had suspiciously changed boxes during transit.
  • Connection to HQ office got interrupted and I was out-of-the-loop regarding opportunities back home.
  • No language training made the first months abroad impossible.
  • The company was oblivious to tax and social security implications of long-term stays abroad.
  • No credit-history in the US made it really hard to buy a car and a house.
  • I suggest to plan time to deal with "separation anxiety" when it comes to figuring out which things to pack and which to leave behind.
  • I was surprised by the overall cost of the move and the cost to stock a new household.

Question 3: Emotions - How was it for you? What were your expectations, what surprised you? Were you offered psychological support?

  • Saying good-bye to elderly friends/family is especially hard. What if this is the last time I see them?
  • Psychological support may be offered but I don't trust its confidentiality.
  • I didn't need psychological support, but it would have been helpful for my wife.
  • I didn't plan to integrate into the host culture for the planned number of months I was supposed to be there - but then the assignment time frame tripled.
  • I am a "trailing spouse". Nothing changed for my husband, but I had to give up my career, my life, and my family and start all over again.
  • You might miss certain friends or dates. Tip: stay involved with the people back home, read the local paper online, and travel back regularly.

Question 4: Review - in your opinion, would talking to a Coach who specializes in Expat relocations add significant value?

  • There are programs in place that you have to ask for. They are good ideas but poorly implemented; too little too late, impersonal, and lacking warmth. A Coach could offer great human support.
  • Yes, plus language and culture training.
  • Yes, especially if a move isn't supported by an organization.
  • Definitely - to overcome fears, aid communication, keep up the good spirit, help set up new social network, deal with cultural differences, help understand mentalities and manage expectations, recognize the opportunity to adjust own set of values and support the career progress in the new country.
  • Yes, especially if the coach knows about the location or if the location has special culture-shock potential. Most helpful would be session(s) on expectations/motivations for the move, then a check-list of "to do's".

Question 5: In case you've already repatriated or are about to, what are some of the hopes and fears you are experiencing? For which areas would you like to get support?

  • I would like support in my home country.
  • I fear having lost my social network, feeling strange after having been away, and would like support.
  • I have lots of experience and know that social contacts matter the most.
  • I fear to be forgotten by my old friends and that I'm not up-to-date with the political and economic situation.

What did I take away from this? Companies are doing a good job helping their expats with the physical move and, in some cases, offer attractive financial incentives. Most expats are prepared for, positive and excited about the move. There is still plenty of room for improvement when it comes to excellent all-round relocation, and the responsibility to make the experience an enjoyable and successful one lie with both expat and organization. Check back in the following weeks for more information on what you can do to make the best of your opportunities.

I will keep the survey open until the end of the year, please do feel free to add your opinions and feedback by clicking on the provided link. If you are interested in further information about expat surveys, here are some more to browse through:

Nina Cole: Managing Global Talent: Solving the Spousal Adjustment Problem (content of this link has been moved, please google!)

HSBC Bank: International Expat Explorer Survey 08

The Interchange Institute: various research reports

Yvonne McNulty: The Trailing Spouse

Robin Pascoe: Family Matters (click on the link on the bottom-right of the homepage)

Thank you John Vernon for the free image.

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Conflicts

If you're alive, you've had 'em. Starting with you screaming as a baby and your mother not feeding you fast enough (conflict of interest - she was more interested in sleeping, perhaps), then the toys your sandbox buddy wouldn't share (conflict of power - whoever has the toy is boss, and she likes being boss), the list goes on and on.

The interesting thing in my opinion is how dealing with conflicts shapes us as a person. We're so focused on our needs as a child that we rarely make compromises willingly - we simply have to because we just don't get our way all the time. So, we learn to cope with setbacks and how to lose some of our battles more or less gracefully. When you think back to your own childhood, what do you remember about conflicts and how you dealt with them? Which strategies did you employ in order to get your way, and are some of them still working for you today?

What about conflicts and fights in school, were you often cited into the headmaster's office? Have you ever been afraid of standing up for what you believe in because it went against the common assumption, and you didn't want to face the disapproving stare of your classmates? Are you experiencing the same situations in your worklife today?

Personally, I find conflicts and fighting within couples, in relationships, among life-partners most interesting at the moment. Of course there are other fascinating aspects to conflict, such as the intrapersonal ones, the group phenomenon, and of course conflicts on an international scale, and I might get back to those at a later date. But for now I'm going to keep this post short and sweet, because I'd like to ask you for a favour and help me with this survey. It's called "Happily ever after?" and I am interested in finding out how couples fight, about which topics, how they deal, and how they feel about it all.*

From these findings I hope to be able to extrapolate the strategies that most effectively aid in making any personal conflict situation the least painful and as productive as possible. This survey consists of 20 questions, on the first page there's six about you; on the second page you find nine about the actual fighting process; on the third page I've included five questions about feelings and strategies, and then there's one final page with a request for feedback about the survey itself.

How are you and your partner doing it? Where's the line between compromising and giving up? I look forward to your input and will share the findings with you after I get a representative sample of completed questionnaires.

*This survey is now closed. Please find the results in this post, Happily Ever After.

Thank you for your help, and til next time!

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