Why International Assignments Fail

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International assignments are the hub of international HR

which makes the fact that they often fail a great concern to many corporations who make big investments in overseas assignments. As more U.S. companies expand their business overseas, the need to send employees on international assignments will increase, making the process of discovering the reasons for these failures increasingly important. Expatriate employees, meaning employees that are non-citizens of the country in which they are working, often find that unfamiliar surroundings and a new job can be particularly challenging, while family pressures also increase as everyone makes cultural adjustments. Another reason for these failures include lack of preparation from the employer. In a 2003 study of more than 700 expatriate workers around the world, nearly forty percent felt their employers did not do an adequate job preparing them for their international assignment.

One of the major steps an employer can take to reduce the uneasiness of going abroad is in selecting the right candidate for the assignment. Just having technical expertise or management skills does not make an employee right for international assignments. More important to this particular kind of job is an individual's inherent cultural sensitivity, flexibility, adaptability, and interpersonal communication skills. Regardless of the method, the candidate selection process is the first critical step in an employers pre-departure counseling and in ensuring the success of a foreign assignment.

While many people, particularly those who want to go overseas, adapt well to the change, others experience culture shock and even depression. Responses to culture shock can show themselves as depression, hostility toward native customs and people, and lack of interest in learning about new things. Often employees and their families hold unrealistic stereotypical views of foreign countries based on vacation brochures or television. For...
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