Safety for the international assignee

Moving abroad for work typically comes with a bit of a learning curve – there is a new language to learn, a different culture to understand and an array of practical matters to figure out. From a safety standpoint, having a deeper knowledge and understanding of the country in which you are working is particularly critical 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 cyber security standpoint.

However, keeping employees and company data safe can be a complex undertaking that requires a deliberate and multi-pronged effort by the employer. Several speakers at a recent 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 to form a comprehensive duty of care program.

A phrase that came up often at the global travel risk forum was “the mistake of assumption” – meaning there is a risk in heading abroad thinking that everything works the way it does back home. As an international assignee you are often already at a disadvantage with language barriers and unfamiliar surroundings – the “mistake of assumption” becomes an additional liability. However, this is a liability that is fairly easily countered by training and support.   

For example, China limits many types of internet communication services – this could have a serious impact on an unaware assignee who is expecting to be able to carry on as usual with email communication, or various Google tools.

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. Being aware of your rights as a foreigner abroad is important, as is being familiar with your home country’s presence and services abroad.

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.

As an employee relocating abroad it is crucial to have easy and ongoing access to such information as company safety procedures abroad, chains of communication in case of emergencies and country specific details to serve as a risk minimizer in combination with a comprehensive intercultural support program for the employee and any accompanying family members.

By: Felicia Shermis

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