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

Sources:

https://globalwellbeing.william-russell.com/health-tips/expats-and-mental-health/

https://www.relocatemagazine.com/articles/hr-expat-mental-health-taking-a-preventative-approach

https://www.aetnainternational.com/en/about-us/press-releases/2016/expat-mental-health-report.html

https://www.globalhealthyworkplace.org/documents/NGO-Advancing-Duty-of-Care-Healthy-Workplaces.pdf

https://www.pwc.fi/fi/palvelut/tiedostot/pwc_measuring_the_value.pdf

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

About a year after arriving in Silicon Valley as an accompanying partner I went to my first job interview. I remember feeling thoroughly out of place without quite being able to put my finger on the reason why. I had dressed up for the interview as best as I could and it didn’t dawn on me until later that I was completely off appearance-wise. I was young and inexperienced in the professional world and I hadn’t really considered that there might be a specific dress code for this particular place/industry/time.

Fast-forward some 20 years and I know a little bit better. Most of all I know to find out as much as I can before putting myself in a situation like that. As the wise say – sometimes knowing what you don’t know is the most powerful knowledge of all. I am still in Silicon Valley and these days it seems like casual is the overarching norm for dressing, you see jeans and t-shirts and shorts and sandals everywhere here. In other parts of the world, the rules for how to dress, both in professional and personal life, are more complex.  

I asked a few colleagues who have professional, as well as personal, knowledge of the subject of dress code about their experiences and insights, starting with the question: how do you find out what the dress code of a particular company or place is?

One thing you can do if you have an interview is to call human resources and ask. If you can’t connect with human resources, talk to your contact within the company or your recruiting firm. Once at the interview, observe what employees at the office are wearing and take your cues from that.

If you are getting dressed for a customer meeting it’s better to show up overdressed for a first meeting and then adjust accordingly for additional meetings.

If you are moving to a country where the general dress culture is significantly different from what you are used to, such as more conservative, or where traditional garb is worn, it’s worth spending time researching what is expected of you as a foreigner and how your clothing choices will impact how you are received in society as a whole.

In addition, there are some universal common sense rules, such as don’t wear dirty or torn clothes in a professional setting, or clothes with text that is offensive. It’s important to look professional when interviewing and you are better off erring on the side of being overdressed as opposed to underdressed. In most cultures a professional look also means not wearing too many accessories and keeping them simple.

So, once you know what the dress code is, how important is it that you get it right? The general consensus is that it is important to dress according to code because people do make judgments based on your appearance. Having said that, the consequences of not getting it right vary depending on your industry and location.

In Russia for example, where judgement based on appearance is commonplace, presenting yourself in the wrong way may lead to disregard of your professional capabilities. In a place like Silicon Valley, where dress is relaxed, you are less likely to suffer any real professional consequences.

Trixi, a professional cultural adaptation coach who has lived in India as an expat says, “As a foreigner in India, you are not expected to follow local dress code at work but you will be more approachable if you do. Dress code in India varies quite a bit. In the south, the style is conservative and women will wear saris and salwar kurtas to work, whereas in the north, clothing is more western in style.”

Trixi’s suggestion is that outside of work you tailor your dress to your environment. For example, if you live in the south in a gated community with other expats and internationally experienced people, you can dress like you would at home. However, out on the street, women will have to cover arms and legs and observe the more conservative way of dress.

In a country like Sweden, society as a whole is forgiving when it comes to how you dress, and the business world generally has a casual approach to appearance. You will find however that there are industries where international business attire is still the rule. For men this means a suit, with a tie being dependent on industry, and for women a skirt/trousers with a blouse/sweater.

There is an added twist says Camilla, a professional cultural adaptation coach who has lived in many parts of the world, including Sweden. She says, “You will find that people are very fashion aware and this spills over to the professional world where trendy correct brands can measure up to a formal look if you do it right.”

In the UK, where Camilla is currently living, professional dress code is more specific and in general, more conservative. For example, an employer can demand that a female employee wears high heels at work. A recent attempt to challenge this was struck down in court.

Men mainly wear suits to work. But, says Camilla, “The suit is not always treated with respect. I have seen colleagues pull out wrinkled suits from sweaty gym bags and put them on. People are used to ill-fitting school uniforms that start out a size too big and end up a size too small by the time they are done with. It’s utility wear and that mindset sometimes carries over to professional life.”

However, in some industries you will experience a level of snobbery, where the “right” type of suit or outfit is needed. In general though, says Camilla, “A suit is a suit and it needs to be worn. There is slow change however and a recent study shows that 1 in 10 do not wear a suit to work in the UK today.”  

In France there is a different approach to business attire. Quality, good fit and accessories are important. In business, the prevailing idea is to express good dress sense through detail but to not stand out – you don’t want to be remembered for what you wear.

Dress code in Russia varies greatly depending on where in the country you are and the type of company you are working for. Large cities tend to be very fashionable and your appearance will impact how people treat you.

Women will push the envelope even in the professional world and it’s not unusual to see younger women going for a sexy look, showing skin, wearing high heels and heavy make-up. There is a “if you have it, flaunt it” mentality, although individual companies may have a more conservative dress code in place. In general, men wear traditional business attire and will stick to suits.

The examples above are just a few to highlight how dress code is viewed across the world. Navigating these aspects of living and working abroad is part of the bigger picture of how to settle well, and settling well is key to a successful assignment abroad!   

By: Felicia Shermis

As more top managers seek to develop their global skills through going on international assignments, they must be aware that the definition of a strong leader is a matter of culture.

Around the world good leadership is well-defined – but the definition itself differs from country to country. The same holds true for motivational factors as well as the levels of staff retention.

The qualities that make a good leader are different in each country. In Germany, for example, strong managers unafraid to make decisions are considered to be the natural-born leaders. In East Asian countries, on the other hand, only someone with the ability to constantly achieve consensus within the team will reach the top. British managers must gently move their employees in the desired direction through the power of persuasion; Scandinavians, and Swedes in particular, see the role primarily as a supporter and organizer of the team, distributing tasks equitably and promoting a harmonious working atmosphere while remaining a primus inter pares, a member of the team just like anybody else.

In Russia, on the other hand, being too close to the team can harm your reputation as a good leader. As in many cultures with hierarchical company structures and little delegation, asking team members for their opinions is considered a weakness. Strong leaders must make decisions on their own.

Meeting Expectations at the Local Level

The field of occupational psychology describes many different kinds of leadership, from the authoritarian style on the one end to a cooperative or participatory style on the other. Other theories put the scale between an objective and a person-oriented leadership style. But all those scientific approaches are assessed in a completely different manner around the world. What counts is the cultural setting of the local environment. Any leadership style works only if it meets the expectations of the local team.

In Spain, for example, an authoritarian leadership style is an advantage, as employees expect to be told exactly what to do. They need a strong leader with charisma. The French also see their boss as a supervisory authority. In a similar way, Chinese or Russian staff members will not perceive it as negative if their team leader controls every step of their work progress on a daily basis; they interpret it as benevolent support and even appreciation of their work.

Northern European employees, on the other hand, want to work independently with a rather large scope for making their own decisions. Only a participatory leadership style can provide this much freedom. Many Eastern Europeans, however, would not find that kind of responsibility desirable at all; their cultural imprint makes them inclined to focus on the dangers of making mistakes and having to face the consequences.

Personality is Key

In Eastern European and East Asian countries, personal relationships are the most important element in successful leadership; employees see a good relationship with their boss as a very relevant factor in their job satisfaction. In countries with a paternalistic leadership culture it is obligatory that the boss take care of the employees—including including private matters as well as work-related ones. While walking around the office and talking to everyone, managers must show interest in a personal assistant’ struggle to arrange child care or a junior-level manager’s longer
way to work after moving to a new house. Note that it is not a matter of actively helping, by taking over and arranging the childcare for him/her, but it is about showing a genuine interest in what is going on in this person’s life that has a direct or indirect impact on the workplace. Such interest can be expressed by asking the right questions, making suggestions, offering advice – always ascertaining that the helping hand is welcome and not seen as meddling in
private affairs. It is a delicate balance indeed.

Equally important for the profile of a good leader is joining some after-work activities with employees, showing up at their birthday parties and even being the guest of honor at their weddings. What is required is a paternal, caring attitude, not an overly chummy manner, though. This benevolence will be returned by the employees in the form of respect and long-term loyalty.

Preventing Employee Turnover

Talent retention, one of the big criteria of good leadership, is influenced by cultural factors as well. While workers in West European countries generally strongly identify with their employer, those in other regions of the world are more apt to spontaneously change jobs. Employees in many Asian countries never show their dissatisfaction with the management or the workplace at all, even as they look for better job conditions somewhere else. Depending on the financial situation and the local job market, slightly higher pay can be reason enough to change employers.

Good leadership and a high level of motivation are needed to counteract frequent job-hopping and retain a skilled labor force. But again, how this can be achieved differs from culture to culture. Regular pay raises for key talent might be the answer in some countries, while in others it’s more important that the boss show personality, spend more time with her employees, and apply a higher level of personal leadership.

Flexibility Trumps Style

The conclusion for globally mobile managers is that a leadership style that has proven successful in one country cannot necessarily be transferred to another. Every manager assigned to a job abroad or leading a multicultural team should prepare to see his or her individual leadership style suddenly stop working. Equally, the company’s leadership principles and management tools must be adjusted to the cultural context of any country into which the company is expanding.

Only someone who is willing to give up familiar and proven ways of leadership, and to adjust flexibly to what is considered as good leadership elsewhere, will prove to be a successful global leader.

Katrin Koll Prakoonwit

About the author:

Katrin Koll Prakoonwit is a Product Development Lead at Globiana Inc.

Spotting a good story is what Katrin enjoys most when creating web content on intercultural business communication. She started her career at one of the leading newspapers in Germany, where she experienced the buzz of the first launch of the paper’s web portal. Later she developed an award-winning HR portal as part of her work in the consultancy industry and wrote for an Expat Journal. Most recently she conceptualized a book series on business cultures for a publishing house. After launching her own website on intercultural communication, she joined forces with cross culture academy to be part of a much broader online learning platform, now known as Globiana. Katrin holds a Masters degree in International Cultural and Business Studies as well as in Organizational Psychology.