Life after a failed expat assignment

Published:  26 May at 6 PM
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Being offered an international assignment is an exciting challenge for career-oriented professionals, and can be very rewarding both for the expat and the employer.

Taking on a new position in an unfamiliar location is a welcome challenge for many expat professionals, with the financial rewards just one of the career benefits on offer. However, not all assignments are heaven-sent, with around 50 per cent ending in failure. Figures show employee assignments in first-world, developed countries have a risk of failure somewhere between 25 and 50 per cent, and assignments in under-developed location are 70 per cent likely to fail.

Although there are many reasons for failure, the most important is the struggle to adjust to new cultural norms and working practices, according to 40 per cent of expats who’ve been through the process. To be fair, some failures are due to the employer and others are down to the individual. Whatever the problem, it’s the expat who has to deal with the inevitable disappointment and loss of confidence.

Of course, the best way for an employer to avoid a failed assignment is to hire the right person at the beginning, stressing adaptability and sensitivity to new surroundings. The ideal would be for the new employee to have access to a support system as well as receiving enthusiasm from his boss. The support system could also include the new employee’s family, thus preventing domestically-related problems from taking over.

Most expats feel assignment failure is a crushing blow, but the employer should be open to learning lessons as well, thus ensuring the same doesn’t happen again. An early return is difficult for the professional concerned, with companies reluctant to get involved in the reasons behind the failure.

Coping with the sense of failure can affect ongoing work in the former expat’s ongoing position. One in every four failed expats leave for a new position after a year or so back in the old job, as do those whose assignments were successful, suggesting that looking for new challenges is important for both categories of expat.
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