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Does Your International Relocation Policy Address Culture Shock?

Greetings from France! I am currently traveling through Europe on my honeymoon (don’t worry, this post was pre-scheduled) and so in honor of my international adventure, I thought I’d revisit an oldie but goodie post from my library. With the growth of global mobility, it’s going to be key to make sure that you address and mitigate potential issues before they arise. One of those issues being … culture shock.

One of the greatest challenges that transferees face during an international relocation or assignment is the culture shock. A change in culture has a major impact on nearly every aspect of a person’s life including both professional and personal. It’s important that your international relocation policy provides proper training to help assignees adjust to local customs and ensure success in both the position and the relocation as a whole.

According to a study by Atlas Van Lines (2015), only 49 percent of corporations offer transferring employees language and cultural training, but 90 percent of employees that were offered training in these areas found it valuable and beneficial to their expatriate experience. At the time of the study, 22 percent of assignees involved in failed relocations named a lack of language and cultural training as a reason for the assignment’s failure. Twenty-two percent may not seem like an incredibly high number right off the bat, but when you start adding up the costs, you may change your mind.

The problem: Assignees who are not provided proper language and cultural training often share feelings of harsh culture shock, trouble forming a social circle, and a lack of connectivity to their surroundings.

The impact: Many international transferees have a hard time going from the culture shock phase to the recovery and assimilation phase (in a cycle that moves from “honeymoon” to shock to recovery and finally assimilation) which can ultimately lead to a failed relocation.

The solution: Corporations that aren’t currently offering a formal language and cultural training program should consider spending the money to make it happen. The costs to implement a program are nothing compared to the loss from a failed relocation, especially if the program is also lacking a payback agreement, a conversation for another day. Successful language and cultural training programs usually offer some combination of:

  • Introduction to the new country
  • Transition management
  • Education on values, attitudes, and behaviors in the new country
  • How to ask for things that you need, when you need them
  • How to make friends and develop professional relationships
  • Workplace principles and traditions
  • Understanding culture shock and how to deal with it
  • Special training for children and spouses
  • Language lessons – with customized schedules and content

A note for companies that do offer language and cultural training: It’s one thing to offer programs and training to your transferees, it’s another to ensure they are being used. Traditionally, these training opportunities are offered in a classroom setting and tend to be scheduled in advance and text book based. Makes sense, right? Well with the changing demographics of transferees; i.e. Millennials; the format needs some adjusting.

Successful programs are shifting to a more mobile based “on demand” format. The younger generation in the workforce prefers access to resources on an as-needed basis as well as on the go. For example, Mango Languages of offers a mobile application that provides language lessons in over 60 different languages, in the native tongue of the user. Each lesson focuses on key conversational components that are vital for successful communication.

The benefits offered to your transferees can and do have a major impact on the success of their relocation and their job performance. When compared to the cost of a failed international assignment, the cost of proper language and intercultural training is minimal and absolutely worth it.

Do you currently offer language and cultural training for international assignees? If so, have you noticed a need to shift to a more mobile strategy?

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VP, Client Services

VP of Business Development Northeast Region


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