We all have this image of an expatriate (expat): a professional sent to work abroad, usually rewarded with a significant compensation package by their company. Well, things have changed. International mobility programs are far more flexible these days, and can be much shorter. As a result, expats tend to receive fewer benefits. So we now view them more as ‘international workers’ sent on an international assignment.
Firstly, why should you choose to take on an international assignment?
More and more employees are starting to recognize the benefits of global mobility, both on a personal and professional level. We know how tempting it is to work in a familiar environment surrounded by familiar people, protected from the outside world. But that won’t help you keep up with an increasingly globalized work environment. We need to remain relevant professionally, and working abroad could provide us with the exact skills we need. It will push you to engage with employees that may not speak your language, expand your professional network and ultimately broaden your knowledge about the international working world. You’ll take on new and exciting business challenges, pushing you to grow and develop unique skills to prepare you for further digital disruption. No one benefits from sticking to the status quo. So look into projects abroad today and hop on a plane tomorrow.
Surely an assignment abroad can’t be as smooth sailing as it seems?
Working abroad can certainly raise concerns among employees. What if you don’t fit in? What if you can’t speak their language? We cannot deny the issues that could arise when you move abroad and enter an unfamiliar environment. And whilst the experience may well boost your career prospects, it may not turn out quite how you imagined. Some employees simply aren’t ready to get up and leave their lives at home. They may feel isolated when arriving in a new country, unable to engage with locals or settle into the new culture. Or they may feel unsupported by their company, as though they’ve been thrown into a foreign office and expected to find their own way. And what about when the international assignment is over? Things will have inevitably changed back home and we cannot expect to simply slot back in without some transitional phase.
So how can we avoid these potential issues?
By thoroughly PREPARING IN ADVANCE. A failed assignment abroad can cost a company up to 4 times your actual salary, so it’s in their interest as well as yours to make sure you’re prepared to move abroad. Truth be told, an assignment abroad isn’t for everyone and it’s best to work that out BEFORE going abroad rather than realizing once you’re already there. Guides and testimonials of employees in your company who have already completed an international assignment will provide you with useful first-hand experience. Take in all the available information and work out if being abroad is right for you. You must also consider that a project abroad often only lasts a short period of time – it’s not as if you’re leaving everything behind and never coming back. Think positively about your upcoming experience. And remember, your company aims to make you feel as comfortable as possible when you move. So don’t hesitate to ask them for advice and support throughout the process. Like I said, a failed assignment for you is a significant loss for them.
Will international assignments continue to change in the future?
As international assignments become more and more feasible due to transport improvements, employees of all levels will start to consider working abroad as a priority to ensure future professional success. And, as travelling becomes more accessible, the number of short-term assignments will increase. Employees may well be sent on several short-term assignments during their career as opposed to one long-term project. Contrary to the current mobile workforce, predominantly made up of older, more experienced male employees, a shorter project will no doubt attract young, single employees, who don’t need to think twice about an exciting and career-boosting experience abroad. Changing the dynamic of workers sent abroad should also moderate the male-dominated environment, and raise the number of women embarking on this experience. All employees, not just experienced male professionals, are the driving force of the future, so to invest in their skills and development is in fact an investment into the future success of the company.
In today’s professional world, innovation is key. We can either sit back, relax and risk losing our jobs, or we can get out there and develop the skills we need to succeed. Embark on an international assignment today and boost your career in the future.