The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) estimates that $1.33 trillion was spent on business travel in 2017 alone. And AIRINC’s most recent Mobility Outlook Survey (2018) reports that 54 percent of companies anticipate an increased demand for cross-border mobility this year. In addition to a higher number of business travelers, there is also a greater variety in length and scope of business travel, as well as in type of destinations — high-risk destinations are increasingly common, making the issue of risk mitigation ever more important. So, how do you mitigate the risks linked to international travelers/assignees? What are your responsibilities and liabilities as an employer, and how can you build a comprehensive program that is both manageable and flexible?

Two Concepts You’ve Probably Heard of: Travel Risk Mitigation and Duty of Care

Let’s start by clarifying a couple of the concepts at play: Duty of Care and Travel Risk Management. The two are often interchanged, but they are not the same. Duty of care is the moral and legal obligation a company has to do what it can to ensure the safety of its employees. Travel risk management is the action a company takes to provide the duty of care.

There is no global law for travel risk management. However, many countries have policies in place that regulate corporate international travel. The United Kingdom, for example, passed the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act of 2007. It imposes criminal liability on corporations where there is a gross breach of duty of care that results in the death of a person, such as an employee, person at a worksite, or traveler. 

Many European countries, as well as Australia and the US, have varying degrees of legislation in place. Understanding the local laws may not always give a precise answer to what is expected in order to fulfill your duty of care. However, being aware of what the laws are is a good place to start when considering your course of action.

Evaluating Risk and Deciding Course of Action

When evaluating exposure to risk, there is a tendency to consider the extremes — high-risk destinations, earthquakes, and terrorist attacks, while overlooking everyday risks such as medical emergencies or car accidents. An example given at a recent global travel risk forum highlighted something as simple as having to drive a car on the wrong side of the road from what you are used to after an overnight flight — a common occurrence for business travelers to the UK and Japan. Neither of these two destinations is typically associated with high risk, yet it’s easy to see how a traveler is vulnerable. In this instance, a policy allowing employees to use a car service could serve as a risk minimizer.

No company will be able to fully protect itself from liability, nor be able to completely protect the safety of its employees. However, careful consideration of risks and thoughtful implementation of risk mitigation strategies can minimize exposure for the company and employee alike.

The Most Powerful Risk Mitigation Tool of All — Cultural Adaptation Training

You can’t really talk about risk mitigation without discussing the component of cultural adaptation training as a way to minimize risk. Being aware of the customs, dress code, social habits and political climate of the destination country is one of the most powerful tools available to keep employees safe. Several of the speakers at the global travel risk forum stressed the importance of combining a deeper cultural knowledge of a host country with a common-sense training program for the employee. 

A phrase that came up often was “mistake of assumption” — meaning there is a risk in heading abroad thinking that everything works the way it does back home. International travelers/assignees are often already at a disadvantage with language barriers and unfamiliar surroundings — the “mistake of assumption” becomes yet another liability. 

In addition to having an intercultural support program to reduce the risks associated with assumption, it’s also crucial for the employee, and accompanying family members, to have easy and ongoing access to information such as company safety procedures, and chains of communication in case of emergencies. 

Breaking Down the Steps to Building a Risk Mitigation Program

While different companies have different needs, there is still a process to go through when building and maintaining a risk mitigation program:

  • Determine ownership of the various parts of the program.
  • Identify, evaluate and understand the risks. 
  • Develop appropriate policies for the identified risks. 
  • Determine how to fulfill duty of care based on identified risks. Will you require outside providers for training programs, what kind of insurance do you need to purchase, etc?
  • Implement training programs; educate and communicate. Make sure your organization’s policies and plans of action are known and understood by all affected parties. 
  • Monitor locations actively to stay up to date on what is going on in the country. Knowing where employees are during a crisis, for example, is critical to mitigating risk. There are assistance companies and travel management companies that offer programs allowing companies to compile and track travel itineraries for real-time data of all employees worldwide. 
  • Evaluate effectiveness of program. There is often a gap in information delivery by the company and information absorption by the employee. As is typically the case with support programs, regular evaluation and subsequent adjustments are recommended.

Mitigating risk for international business travelers/assignees is not a one-solution-fits-all proposition. What is universal however is the ultimate goal: minimizing employees’ exposure to risk, while fulfilling your company’s duty of care. 

By: Felicia Shermis


The HR Director


There is a simple reason why the term Executive Coaching is still being used to describe leadership development programs — tradition. It used to be that this type of service was available only to executives in an organization. In today’s business world, executive coaching is applied increasingly to emerging talent and new managers as well. At its core, executive coaching has everything to do with unlocking potential and developing leadership skills — at all levels of an organization.

Why Executive Coaching?

There is a convincing business case to be made for having a strong coaching program — it’s associated with both higher employee satisfaction and better employee performance. An ICF (International Coach Federation) study shows that 60 percent of companies with strong coaching cultures report having revenue above average for their industry. The same study says that 65 percent of employees from companies with a strong coaching culture rated themselves as highly engaged in their company. 

A Gallup report on the state of the American workplace has the range of engagement between 25 and 38 percent, depending on occupation. The report goes on to say that lack of development and career growth is the number one reason employees leave a job — it states: “Employees need help navigating their career, whether that is through coaching, exposure, and visibility, or challenging work assignments.” 

When asked about the return on investment value of executive coaching for emerging talent, Trixi Menhardt, a lead coach from Globiana, points out that this stage of someone’s career is a good time to take advantage of coaching. There are a few reasons why this is true. Trixi says: “The older you get, the more responsibilities you have, both at work and at home, which means that it’s harder to make changes. In addition, new managers typically get promoted because they are high performing individual contributors (ICs). As managers, they need a very different skillset from their IC skills.”

Executive coaching can be particularly impactful in the global business world. Managing a multicultural team presents challenges beyond the ordinary. Coach Menhardt points out that whether you have a multicultural onsite team, or people spread out all over the world on a virtual team, you need the communication skills, and the cultural awareness, to bridge both the national culture, and the work culture of all the employees, in order to be successful. 

What is Coaching and how do you Build a Strong Coaching Culture?

Coaching programs vary depending on goals and resources. Some organizations use descriptive and guided development programs, where there is mandated reading material and milestones to reach, for example. Other executive coaching is based on the individual as the driving force and the one who sets the agenda. The coach is the facilitator in each instance, making sure conversations move forward, and that goals are kept in sight.

A strong coaching culture starts with the corporate leadership recognizing that coaching is a strategic business driver and a critical management tool. In addition, there needs to be clear ownership of the program. ICF’s survey reports that 82 percent of companies have HR as the originator of executive coaching programs.

The Coach

Most corporations only hire executive coaches who are ICF certified. In addition, some coaches have specialty skills, such as training in assessment tools like Myers-Briggs. Also notable — a coach hired as a benefit to the employee is effectively in the position of having two equally important clients: the buyer (the employer), and the coachee (the employee), making confidentiality an important issue.

The ethics guidelines from ICF clearly state that information shared between a coach and a coachee is confidential. Confidentiality is important because it ensures the employee can bring all aspects impacting their professional life to the table, whether those are personal issues or work-related, without fear of judgment, or career implications. 

Evaluating Success

To some employers, the issue of confidentiality may seem like a hurdle in evaluating the success of an executive coaching program — if you can’t get information about what’s going on, then how can you determine its progress? Traditionally, ROI is measured and presented in neat numbers. In executive coaching, there are additional aspects to consider.

Although surveys measuring the success of coaching programs indicate highly engaged employees, and higher than average revenue, the real measure of a successful coaching program will be the day-to-day effects it has on the organization as a whole — leaders that are better equipped to lead, workgroups that are more creative and functional, higher employee satisfaction and retention, as well as positive business outcomes.

Any organization interested in retention and long-term development of employees should be interested in executive coaching as a tool, not just for executives, but for emerging talent as well. 

By: Felicia Shermis


TED Talk, Atul Gawande



The Psychologist

The Balance Careers

The biggest factor impacting global mobility is perhaps the most obvious: globalization—of society and business alike. But, there are other factors at play as well, such as research showing multicultural teams being more creative and productive compared to monocultural teams, and, younger professional generations increasingly expecting to get opportunities to work abroad at earlier stages of their careers. Looking forward, it’s clear that global mobility will have a continued impact on a company’s business growth and talent retention. These are some of the issues creating a buzz in the world of global mobility in 2019:

World Affairs Have an Impact

Reading about global mobility, and trying to learn what lies ahead for the globally mobile community, one thing is clear—world affairs can’t be ignored. Most professional publications and polls have Brexit as the leading cause of uncertainty. So, while no one knows exactly what’s going to happen, there is a consensus that the ramifications of Brexit stretch way beyond the UK borders. Whole industries might have to shift the way they do business, how and where they move people, and where they are located. 

Brexit isn’t the only world affair impacting global mobility, there are other big shifts happening that have the potential to reshape and disrupt how people move and work in the coming years. Tightening immigration policies in many countries, including the US, is a big issue, as are power shifts in countries like Germany. 

The currents of nationalism and the tightening of borders around the world make moving a global workforce more difficult. So, while travel across the globe has gotten easier and cheaper over the years, the process of relocating for work hasn’t necessarily followed suit. That’s why immigration and immigration policy continue to be important issues that have a significant impact on a company’s approach to global mobility. 

Cross-Border Mobility Redefined

Even though current world affairs come with a measure of uncertainty, it still appears that many companies are expecting the demand for cross-border mobility to increase. AIRINC’s most recent Mobility Outlook Survey (2018) reports that 54 percent of companies anticipate an increased demand for cross-border mobility this year. However, the types of mobility are not all the same, as companies, and assignees, continue to expand the way cross-border mobility is defined. Short-term assignments, developmental assignments, and commuter assignments are all on the rise. 

There is no clear-cut definition of what a commuter assignment is. EU law defines cross-border commuters as those who live in one EU country but work in another and return at least once a week. Others define a commuter assignment as living in the work location Monday through Friday, or some variant in between, but permanently residing elsewhere. 

Short-term assignments can be as brief as four to six weeks and are a way to attract younger talent who have grown up seeing themselves as citizens of the world, and for whom the traditional international expat assignment of two to three years is not an attractive option. 

Developmental assignments are also largely a response to attract younger generations wanting to work abroad as part of a greater desire to learn and network in an international setting—not just because it’s good for the career, but because it’s good on a personal level. Matthew Maclachlan writes in a Learnlight Insights article: “The Modern Assignee is keen to exploit the opportunity of travel to learn about other cultures and to develop skills that give an immediate return on the international stage.” 

Employee Experience (Ex)

As recruiters are struggling to find flexible talent to meet the challenges of modern businesses, as well as attracting and retaining talent, Employee Experience (Ex) is becoming a catchphrase. According to AIRINC’s study, 89 percent of companies are looking to improve the employee experience. What constitutes a “good experience” varies, spanning everything from offering flexible benefit options, to providing a sense of autonomy, to streamlining the employee’s point of contact, and offering more flexibility in type of assignment. 

Online Accessibility, Please!

Younger generations are used to accessing information whenever and wherever, which means that most everything needs to be available online: assignment descriptions, policies, travel arrangements, destination information, as well as personal and social interactions. Digital and virtual channels are becoming increasingly important in attracting a global workforce.  

Analytics to Report on Success of International Assignments

Gathering information to measure how assignments are working out—for the business and the employee alike—is an important goal for many companies. While the AIRINC study shows that many companies collect data to measure employee satisfaction and performance during an assignment, very few continue to gather data after repatriation. Using metrics gathered post-assignment can provide vital information needed to make adjustments for future assignments. Currently, only 12 percent of companies in AIRINC’s study say they regularly use analytics to report on assignment success. However, 48 percent report that they intend to add analytics to track success rates in the future. 

To Conclude

The demographics of the global workforce is changing, as are the circumstances for how we access and relay information, what we define as an international assignment, as well as what an assignment is expected to provide. What hasn’t changed in the world of global mobility is the need for communication and awareness—from an organizational level down to the personal level, regardless of origin and destination, duration and scope. 

By: Felicia Shermis




Worldwide ERC:

Insights Learnlight:


It’s well established by now that multicultural teams, and collaboration across borders is a boon to innovation and productivity. However, the boon can just as easily be a bust on a multicultural team that lacks clear leadership and understanding of the individuals that make up the group. While common sense good management practices apply to multicultural teams in much the same way as they do to a “regular” team, it’s also the case that a multicultural team tends to require more attention to the individual, as well as a greater awareness of the composition of the team. Leading a multicultural team means being more deliberate and active, and it all starts with good communication. 

Since the beginning of the year tends to be a good time to look over what it is that has worked/not worked in the past, here are some ideas for areas to reflect on:

  • Who are the individuals on my team?
  • What do work/life balance needs look like on my team?
  • How can we improve team building?
  • How can I communicate more effectively — with individuals, team as a whole?

Individuals make up the group

Because cultural background impacts everything — from how you see your role in a group, to how you make decisions, to your understanding of hierarchy, and how you give and receive feedback, it’s important to listen to the individuals and then forge a plan for the group as a whole. For a multicultural team to function well, there must be clear expectations and rules, the goal being that there is a shared understanding of how the group functions. For the manager setting the course, this means staying away from cultural stereotypes while acknowledging the fact that there are cultural differences.

As a matter of fact, in multicultural team management, it’s not uncommon to hear the need for spelling out what the ground rules are — as in writing them down for the whole group to see, and agree to. This can include everything from hierarchical structures to communication flow, to rules for bathroom cleanliness. 

What about work/life balance?

Another big-ticket item on the multicultural team is work/life balance. Living and working in a foreign country means being away from your regular support system at home, all the while trying to adapt to a new society and way of life — that’s not always easy. Add language barriers and practical matters, such as setting up house in a place where you don’t know how things work, and the stress is real. If there is an accompanying partner/family, there are even more considerations in this area. 

As with so much else in the world of multicultural collaboration, the topic of work/life balance also comes down to communication. Do you know what the needs of your team members are? What kind of support does the company offer its global talent in order to facilitate both the process of settling in a new location and then living in that place? What flexibility can you as a manager offer? Perhaps the most important question of all here: are your team members aware of resources and support available to them? 

Team building

Yet another area to consider is team building. Team building can be tricky, especially if part of the team is working remotely, or if there are cultural barriers to how colleagues view one another and the workplace. In some cultures, eating several of the day’s meals together with your coworkers is commonplace, whereas in other cultures sharing meals is limited to an occasional social event or celebration. In some places, getting together with colleagues after work is par for the course, elsewhere this is hardly ever done. What’s your office like? More importantly, how can team bonding be improved based on the composition of your specific group? 

Communication and feedback

Being an effective manager also means giving feedback and making sure your talent is living up to their potential. In order to give feedback effectively in a multicultural environment you might need to spend a little more time learning about the cultural background of your employees, and how where they come from informs their style of communication and their work habits.

The way feedback is given and interpreted varies widely in different cultures. Erin Meyer gives a classic example in her book The Culture Map where she tells the story of a French manager working in the US at an American company. When receiving feedback from her American boss during a performance review, the French manager hears only positives and is under the impression that everything is going great. The American boss has several areas of concern that he feels he communicated clearly during the review. How come they have completely different views on what was said in the performance review? Erin explains that there is a cultural disconnect between how the French and Americans give feedback. She says: “In a French setting, positive feedback is often given implicitly, while negative feedback is given more directly. In the United States, it’s just the opposite. American managers typically give positive feedback directly while trying to couch negative messages in positive, encouraging language.”

To someone accustomed to the French way of giving feedback the impression would be that everything was going great and that there is no need to make any changes. The American boss, on the other hand, thought he had outlined several areas that needed improvement. In this example, not knowing the cultural background and communication style has a direct effect on the performance of the individual, which in turn has consequences for the team she is leading. 

How a team is managed can have a great impact on the success and health of the individuals on the team, as well as the productivity and output of the team — in the end, how a team is led is what sets the course — to success, just plodding along or even failure. The starting point in multicultural team management is always communication. As Erin Meyer says: “When interacting with someone from another culture, try to watch more, listen more, and speak less. Listen before you speak and learn before you act.” 

By: Felicia Shermis

Managing a multicultural team presents its fair share of challenges and hurdles in the best of circumstances. What makes the holidays extra tricky is the fact that there are so many personal feelings, expectations, and traditions involved. It’s easy to forget that not everyone feels the same way. Depending on personal and cultural background, what is quaint and festive to one person can be highly offensive to another, making the pitfalls many. The basic idea in the multicultural office is to not mix religion with business celebrations and to be sensitive to diverse cultures and traditions.

It’s probably not surprising to anyone that most issues in the workplace, whether holiday related or not, come down to communication (or lack thereof) and assumption. Being an effective manager means taking the time to understand everyone on your team — knowing what makes them tick and figuring out how they can best contribute. It also means knowing something about their cultural background and traditions, and how that translates during holiday season.

Ignoring the differences that exist in a diverse group is always a mistake. Relying on stereotypes is equally treacherous when trying to figure out how to best mark the holidays around the office. So, what to do?

A good place to start is to simply get input from as many groups as possible. And agreeing to stick to a few basic rules can help ensure an inclusive holiday season. However, knowing how to set the ground rules to help everyone understand what to expect in the office is not always easy, and during the holiday season this may require some extra consideration — making sure the ground rules are relevant and truly act as an equalizer — that they are not based on false assumptions or stereotypes. This is where insights into your team members’ cultural backgrounds become important.

Another aspect to keep in mind when trying to create an inclusive office is time off during the holidays, and what that means to different people. For example, if you are from the US, you wouldn’t typically expect to have to work on Thanksgiving or New Year’s Day. As a manager, you should know which holidays around the world affect your team. This is true whether or not they’re based in the same physical office as you.

Don’t expect remote employees to be available on important holidays like Ramadan, Yom Kippur, Chinese New Year, etc. Likewise, if you are all located in the same office, be willing to give time off so that employees can be with their families or fulfill religious obligations. A good rule of thumb is to not make people work on what would be the equivalent of an important holiday for you.

What about the holiday party, how do you appeal to the different groups and traditions of a multicultural office? Diversity consultant Sondra Thiederman, PhD, and author of Making Diversity Work says “Put the emphasis on celebrating. Focus more on what we share and less on where we differ.” Trying to plan a holiday party that recognizes every culture and religion is not a winning strategy, Thiederman says “Go for neutrality, not specificity.”

Consider the following when planning an office holiday party:

  • Having non-specific decor. This does not mean it can’t be festive, it just means staying away from symbols of a specific tradition such as having Christmas trees or Menorahs.
  • Accommodating diverse palates. Again, don’t make the food specific to one tradition, but rather think in terms of having options for vegetarians and non-vegetarians, for example. If alcohol is offered, make sure to serve festive non-alcoholic alternatives as well.
  • Avoiding Secret Santa or other anonymous gift exchanges.
  • Including the family. This is a good strategy because family is an important component in most every tradition when celebrating the holidays.

By: Felicia Shermis



If your business success hinges on how you work with people from around the world, then learning about the cultures of your global business partners is crucial. The reason is simple: it makes good business sense. As a matter of fact, failing to understand the culture of your international counterparts can have consequences far beyond simple miscommunications and mild frustrations — there can be long-term damaged relationships, botched projects, and real lost business opportunities.

It’s not news to anyone with international experience that leadership styles vary depending on where you are from, that decisions are made differently in Korea compared to Scandinavia, or that business relationships are forged based on different grounds in countries like the United States and China. However, simply recognizing that there are differences is not the same as understanding what they are, and how they will impact your cross-cultural teams and the results they deliver.

This article is not about international business etiquette (which is important in its own right) but focuses on the importance of understanding how your international counterpart approaches and addresses business decisions and collaborations. The goal is to foster better cross-cultural relationships, and to ensure the best possible business outcome.

In her book “The Culture Map” Erin Meyer outlines eight scales that map the world’s cultures on such traits as communication: is it a high- or low-context country, decision making: is it consensual or top-down, and time: is it a linear-time or flexible-time society. The scales place countries in relation to each other from one extreme to the other — they function as a visual clue to where you are in relation to each other.

One of the most basic examples of how the cultural environment will impact a business collaboration is when a company from a consensus based decision making culture is working with a company from a top-down tradition of decision making.

In simplified terms, something like this is likely to transpire: The company that works by consensus will launch a collaborative effort, where everyone is heard and where different avenues are explored. A decision will come, but not until all information has been gathered and everyone has had a say. Once the decision has been made, it’s pretty fixed and the team moves on to implementation, which is usually swift, as the whole team is already on the same page.

For the top-down company, the process is different. Here, the decision will be made pretty quickly by the person in charge and then as the project continues and more information becomes available, the decision can be revisited or altered — the decision is flexible, which means that implementation can take quite a long time accomplish.

Both of these styles can get the job done. However, were the two groups to collaborate without first addressing their differences, they would be out of sync most of the time over the course of the project. In addition to being out of sync, because they go about arriving at decisions in such contrasting ways, they are also likely to question each other’s capacity for making the right decisions. Also, because they view the roles of teammates differently, their respective communication flows are conflicting, which can cause confusion, uncertainty and hurt feelings.

This is just a simple example. The reality is that these kinds of scenarios play out to varying degrees in international business all the time. They can be disruptive, costly, and damaging to future relationships.

As with most things cross-cultural, awareness and open communication go a long way toward deterring conflict and ensuring a successful collaboration. But, without underlying knowledge it’s hard to know where there is room “to meet”. There are no shortcuts when it comes to cross-cultural knowledge. Doing the groundwork and educating your teams really is the only way to come out ahead, the stakes are simply too high not to. And in a world where cross-border assignments and cross-cultural teams are becoming more and more common, it’s not a matter of if you should invest in this kind of education, but how.

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources: “The Culture Map” by Erin Meyer

Investing in employee safety and cybersecurity is not optional for a business with an international footprint — it’s a must. In the global business world, this is about risk mitigation and as such the question becomes: how to do it and to what degree? Keeping employees and company data safe is a complex undertaking that requires a deliberate effort to combine deeper cultural knowledge of a host country/business counterpart with a comprehensive duty of care program, as well as common sense training for any employee representing your company abroad. 

High-risk travel/relocation increasing

As international travel and longer-term assignments become more and more common, it is also the case that business travel/relocation to high-risk destinations is increasing. Some numbers shared at a recent global travel risk forum in San Francisco were a 20 percent rise in trips to medium/high-risk destinations, a 70 percent rise in trips to extreme risk destinations and a 50 percent rise in modified itineraries due to high-risk incidents. Considering these numbers, it is clear that employee safety and support are of utmost importance, as is a comprehensive cybersecurity program that is up to date, flexible and thorough.

A key component in creating effective programs is having a deeper knowledge and understanding of the country in which you are doing business. This is particularly true for countries that are considered high risk and where the cultural differences are greater compared to your home country. In these instances knowing customs and how people and society function is not a must just in order to make the most of an international assignment, it’s a must in order to stay as safe as possible, both physically and from a cybersecurity standpoint. 

The mistake of assumption

Several speakers at the San Francisco global travel risk forum spoke of the “mistake of assumption” — meaning there is a risk in heading abroad thinking that everything works the way it does back home. As international travelers/assignees are often already at a disadvantage with language barriers and unfamiliar surroundings, the “mistake of assumption” becomes another liability.  

China, for example, limits many types of internet communication services — this could have a serious impact on an unaware traveler/assignee who is expecting to be able to carry on as usual with email communication, or various Google tools for example. Also important to know as a foreign citizen abroad — you typically don’t have the same privacy rights as you do in your home country. 

Preparing and supporting employees in international travel and relocation means having a program in which matters such as cultural awareness, company safety procedures abroad, chains of communication, and support package details are relayed. Many bigger companies have a system in place for automatically triggering a digital information flow once an employee has been issued a ticket for international travel. This flow may include information such as safety procedures, emergency information while abroad, and perhaps even some country-specific support. However, there is often a gap in information delivery by the company and information absorption by the employee. Access to support resources on an ongoing basis is an important but often overlooked, component. 

Data safety

Many companies provide VPN logins, clean loaner laptops and cell phones for their international business travelers as a data security measure but will neglect to educate employees on simple safety precautions regarding use of devices on an airplane or in public settings, or how to make (or not make) business calls in public places. How many of us haven’t been in the row behind someone on an airplane and had a clear view of their laptop screen, or have heard most of someone else’s private business conversation simply by being in the same lounge area?

One estimate for intellectual property lost is $600 billion on average/year in America alone. Cybersecurity requires a comprehensive strategic effort and educating employees on common sense data safety practices is a small, but important, piece of the puzzle. As business travelers are considered soft targets for intellectual property theft, corporate counterintelligence strategies should include a plan that spans pre- to post-departure of an employee on an assignment/business trip.

In conclusion

Keeping employees and data safe is no small task. Cultural awareness and understanding of the conditions under which an international counterpart/host country operates are basic starting points for determining risk. A comprehensive duty of care package in combination with employee training and well-established company procedures for cybersecurity, emergency response and employee support serve as risk mitigators.

By: Felicia Shermis


New York Times:

Innovation is a must to be successful and stay relevant in any business and there is plenty of research supporting the claim that having a multicultural team boosts both creativity and promotes problem-solving. And it makes sense, a diverse team naturally has more points of view and experiences. However, a diverse team can only function well if the team members have an understanding of how to communicate with each other — false assumptions and conflicting norms can derail a multicultural team and become a barrier to team effectiveness. Simply having a multicultural team does not automatically mean having a creative, or creatively successful, team.

Sujin Jang (Assistant professor of organizational psychology at INSEAD) has studied the subject of multicultural teams and she asks the following question: “How do multicultural teams leverage diverse knowledge, ideas, and resources to generate creative outcomes while avoiding the pitfalls of cultural diversity?” The short answer is “cultural brokerage”.

Understanding the concept of cultural brokerage can be an important tool in evaluating and fine-tuning how multicultural teams within a given organization function. Jang defines cultural brokerage as “the act of facilitating interactions between actors across cultural boundaries”. In practical terms, this means taking stock of who is facilitating information exchange in a group and how that information flows within the group, as well as within the organization.

Jang conducted two studies, one using archival data and the other experimental data. The basic findings were that having multicultural team members can significantly enhance team creative performance, but that a multicultural team is not inherently more creative.

One of the challenges when working across cultural boundaries is identifying relevant information and communicating it between different groups. This is where facilitators are needed, and according to Jang, there are two types of facilitators: cultural insiders and cultural outsiders. Both play an important role — by improving team processes and by their ability to enhance team dynamics.

Jang introduces the concept of cultural overlap to explain how cultural insiders and cultural outsiders go about facilitating communication within a group. Cultural insiders have direct insights into the cultures they are bridging, whereas the cultural outsider has multicultural experience, but it’s not directly represented on the team. The two types of brokers work differently in bridging gaps on the team. The insider brokers by integrating his or her own knowledge from the different cultures, whereas the cultural outsider brokers by eliciting knowledge from the other team members by asking questions. In both cases, the communication flow is opened, making collaboration easier and innovation more likely.

In her study, Jang points out that she suspects that the idea of cultural brokerage extends beyond national culture dynamics to include gender, race and even diversity in work roles. And, as mentioned before, there are a variety of studies that point to the benefits of having diverse teams, such as a 2015 McKinsey study which reports that companies in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have returns above their industry medians. The same study concluded that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have higher financial returns than their industry medians. All the while, companies in the bottom quartile are less likely to achieve above-average financial returns.

Most organizations have work to do if they want to take full advantage of the benefits that multicultural teams can bring and in an increasingly global business world, the importance of multicultural team dynamics should not be underestimated.

By: Felicia Shermis



Any company doing business internationally knows the importance of being able to communicate effectively with its foreign counterparts. Likewise, a business with a multinational workforce needs to ensure that communication within the organization is as clear as can be. Miscommunication on any level can have a direct impact on the end product or result. From team efficiency and effectiveness, to a failed conversation with a customer or partner – there are financial and strategic implications at stake. With this in mind, it’s easy to see that paying attention to, and overcoming language barriers has to be part of a multinational company’s overall strategic plan.

At its core language learning in the multinational workplace is about effective communication. It’s about the ability of coworkers to understand each other and being able to express ideas and solutions effectively and confidently. It’s about companies making sure employees are working at their highest capacity and that messages to customers and business counterparts are clear and precise.

English is most often the common language used in the international business world, and while many of those who seek opportunities abroad or in a multinational environment have some English skills, the level of proficiency varies widely.

If the local language is different from the working language there is another dimension to contend with. Having a basic command of the local language can make a big difference in gaining a greater cultural knowledge and feeling more settled – both important factors when considering someone’s ability to perform and engage in the professional sphere.

When asking expats what they most worry about before a move abroad, learning the language is one of the main concerns. Questions such as “how hard is it going to be?” and “to what degree do I need to learn the language” are common, along with “how long will it take?” and “how will I go about learning?”

The biggest obstacles to learning a new language are motivation and time. If you couple an individual’s worry of how to learn, with a company’s need for clear communication, then it’s easy to see that implementing a plan for language learning is an important strategic task.

Research shows that employees who can stay motivated and achieve their target level of proficiency see real changes in the workplace, such as improved customer feedback, more confidence, and higher engagement at work. In addition, those who make significant progress or achieve their language learning targets gain better career opportunities and work assignments.

According to a survey by Forbes Insights and Rosetta Stone, 44% of employees who have participated in language training report being more engaged at work, 51% say they are more confident and 46% see increased performance.

These numbers support the idea that implementing a company culture, as well as having proficiency goals in regards to language learning is crucial, and it highlights the importance of aligning training with overall strategic goals.

British author John le Carré says this about language learning: “The decision to learn a foreign language is to me an act of friendship. It is indeed a holding out of the hand. It’s not just a route to negotiation. It’s also to get to know you better, to draw closer to you and your culture, your social manners and your way of thinking. And the decision to teach a foreign language is an act of commitment, generosity and mediation.”

By: Felicia Shermis


Forbes Insights:

Experts for Expats:



As international interactions become ever more vital in the increasingly competitive global workplace, relocation trends are encouraging regarding the current and future growth of expatriate populations. Many of these expats have a family in tow; therefore, companies who invest in providing superior relocation support for entire families will not only have a competitive edge, but will also reap benefits on their bottom line while impacting the industry (and society!) in positive ways.

The Cost of not Doing it Well

In a recent report from EY & NetExpat, “Children Issues” was among the top 5 most common reasons for failed assignment (in addition to “Partner Not Happy,” “Job Satisfaction,” and “Employee Performance”), and 65% of the people polled cited “Other Family Issues” as being among the most common reasons for not accepting an international assignment.

Expatriation failure (or early repatriation), can represent up to 2.5 times the cost of the employee’s yearly salary. Employees often do not seek support when their families are struggling to adapt as they do not want to be seen as not up to the task of their assignment. Studies have found the presence of children during an expat assignment is “more likely to place additional demands on resources and subsequently increase workplace strain, and expatriate failure” (Rawls, 2016). Companies can invest in supporting the children of expatriates employees in order to ensure the entire family has a successful relocation and as a result save – and prevent – excessive costs.

Good Return on Investment

Aside from a company’s financial gain, there’s an even bigger return on investment: Because expat kids are exposed to vast experiences and cultures, they develop broad perspectives (the so-called “global mindset”), adaptability, language and leadership skills that allow them to work well with others and have increased potential (when compared with their non-expat peers) to grow into positions of influence and power, applying their experiential knowledge and insight.

Companies who support these expat kids by welcoming them and seizing the opportunity to interact with, and help them overcome the challenges they face with relocation, are at the gateway for intercultural excellence and progress, improving the chances that our future leaders are well adjusted and making positive contributions to society that, in the end, will benefit us all.

Want to learn more about how your company can do a better job at supporting your relocating families? Contact us for your free copy of our Child Relocation Checklist in which we’ve identified the top 5 areas for companies to consider when developing effective relocation support for expatriate children.

Original content written by: Kate Berger

Kate Berger, MSc, is a child and adolescent psychologist, consultant, speaker and the founder of The Expat Kids Club which provides counsel to youngsters and their families via individual and corporate consultation. For more information about Kate and the services she offers, please see:


NetExpat & EY Relocating Partner Survey Report 2018


Rawls, K. A Phenomenological Examination of Expatriate Families During Their Transitions to

Living in a Foreign Country (2016). Seton Hall University Dissertations and Theses (ETDs).


While the globally mobile workforce tends to report higher rates of satisfaction with their work situation compared to the general population, they also report being less happy when it comes to personal health and wellbeing. In the long-term, employee concerns regarding health, mental health, and general wellbeing can have a significant impact on creativity, productivity and longevity in the workplace. Globally mobile employee success requires a holistic view of what an expat assignment entails.

The Bigger Picture

Looking at the bigger picture means considering where the employee is coming from: how great are the cultural differences — inside the office and outside? Is he or she bringing a family? Are there language barriers, religious restrictions? In short, what is the larger impact for the employee and his or her family? Recognizing that, as an employer, the best way to ensure success is to have a well-established support framework.

In simple terms this framework is based on the idea of Duty of Care. For international placements in particular, this includes not only the work environment itself but rather everything from pre-departure learning, to living arrangements and health benefits, to long-term career and financial planning as well as repatriation issues. Creating a truly productive work environment, where employees thrive means considering a wide array of social factors.

The Numbers

A recent Cigna survey shows that the globally mobile workforce is generally satisfied with the experience of working overseas, they report having higher salaries and better lifestyles. Satisfaction rates when it comes to how they feel about their relationships with co-workers (82 percent) as well as with supervisors (73 percent) are better compared to the general population where the numbers are 71 percent and 65 percent, respectively. Many also feel that they have good working hours, and 56 percent believe that they have an opportunity to learn and grow in their careers, compared to 46 percent in the general population.

So, if the globally mobile workforce feels this good about the work experience, what is there to worry about? Looking at the numbers in the Cigna study, you’ll find that the scores for family health and wellbeing is significantly lower than that of the general population at 56.7 compared to 65.8 percent.

The reasons include a lack of time spent with family and worries about their children’s education. In addition, many are particularly worried about the medical care available and the financial consequences of falling ill. The combination of these factors and not having a family support network add to the stress and insecurity.

An area of additional concern for the globally mobile workforce is mental health. A 2016 study by Aetna International shows that only 6 percent of expats worried about mental health issues before leaving on assignment. As a result, most are ill prepared for the psychological effects of living abroad.

Contrast that with research showing that 50 percent of US expats studied were at high risk of problems such as anxiety and depression. This figure is two-and-a-half times higher compared to their US-based counterparts. The same study revealed that three times as many expats as US-based workers expressed feelings of being trapped or depressed. Again, compounding the problem of mental health is the lack of a regular support system of friends and family.

The Solution

There are inherent challenges facing the globally mobile population. The good news is that most of them are known, and most of them can be addressed by implementing a support system that spans pre-departure all the way through to repatriation, and that takes into account not just the work environment, but life circumstances as well.

Achieving broader employee wellness means being proactive by addressing issues before they arise through pre-departure training, as well as ongoing training. It means:

  • ensuring access to education in areas such as health, mental health, social and cultural adaptation and language learning.
  • providing access to quality health care.
  • offering resources such as financial planning and long-term career planning.
  • extending support to cover accompanying partner and/or family.
  • implementing repatriation support.

By: Felicia Shermis


With an increasingly integrated global economy and more people than ever moving abroad for work, gaining a greater understanding of what it is that makes a multicultural workplace function well is an important task. What are the best practices for creating an environment where cultural diversity becomes a catalyst for innovation and growth, and how can you address potential pitfalls before they become a liability?

Studies have shown that there are many benefits to having a multicultural workplace. A study by Forbes identifies diversity and inclusion in the workplace as a key driver of internal innovation and business growth. However, making a multicultural workplace function efficiently takes a concerted effort and requires well thought-out strategies for support.

One of the most important and challenging aspects of a multicultural workplace is perhaps also the most straightforward – creating a truly inclusive culture. You don’t want the exchange of ideas and collaboration to be hampered by known difficulties such as the inability to adapt to a new work culture where different hierarchies and communication styles rule. You want to avoid communication breakdowns that lead to stereotyping and discrimination.

As an example of how a simple matter can escalate and negatively impact the work environment, take this story relayed to me from an acquaintance (I’ll call him John). John’s company had recently hired a number of new employees from a different country. He quickly grew frustrated because, in his view, since the arrival of this new group, the bathrooms had gotten noticeably dirtier, to the point where he didn’t want to use them.

To the outside observer it seems like this kind of problem could be easily handled through open lines of communication. Instead, the situation escalated and before long, John was making other judgments about his new coworkers. His personal assessment was that the issue stemmed from a combination of cultural heritage and a lack of respect for coworkers. He began to think of the newcomers as “others” and he felt like he couldn’t collaborate with them. What had been a simple and practical issue became a problem of “us-and-them”, causing negative ripple effects throughout the office environment.

I asked John why he didn’t bring up his concerns with management. He insisted it was not an option because he felt the current work environment was not conducive to raising these types of matters. He didn’t know whom to talk to, or how to raise the subject without being labeled culturally insensitive or a troublemaker.

How can you avoid situations like this from developing? There are some proven strategies for creating a truly inclusive workplace. They include:

  • Establishing mentoring opportunities across cultural borders. This is a way to not only ensure direct lines of communication, but to also offer insight into the thought process of the other party.
  • Promoting diversity and sensitivity training. This may not sound exciting, but trainings like these fill an important function on all levels of a company. If done right, they can facilitate easier communication across cultural borders, and can help avoid pitfalls.
  • Offering cultural adaptation training to all levels of employees working on multicultural teams. Consider personalized coaching where appropriate.
  • Creating cross-functional teams in order to build strong relationships and to facilitate individuals from different backgrounds working together.

Lastly, building a well functioning multicultural workplace is not a one-time effort. Implementation needs to take place on the operational level and it has to be an ongoing process. A successful outcome hinges on commitment and desire, as well as a willingness to make the necessary adjustments.  

By: Felicia Shermis