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Chronicles from a Caribbean Cubicle


HR Trend #3 -- Bringing in Expats

CEO: "We need to hire someone from the outside into this position, as there is no expertise in this area in the region. Do we have a programme in place to help them to assimilate once they get here?"
VP-HR: "Huh?"
CEO: "How about their family?"
VP-HR: "Hmmm...."
CEO: "Does it make a difference if they are coming from another Caribbean island?"
VP-HR: "To be honest, I have no idea...."
It's a good idea for human resource professionals across the region to ensure that when the above conversation takes place they are ready. What are some of the things that they should be ready to tell the CEO? How can they prepare themselves to address what is quickly becoming the norm for most progressive companies? What are the essentials they need to address?
Here are some facts that the VP-HR needs to know at the onset:
  • They will probably underestimate the difficulty of the expat's adjustment (especially if they have not lived abroad recently).
  • The emotional issues are intense, and come in all flavours.
  • The main success factor will surround the experience of the "trailing spouse" (usually a woman). 67% of failures can be traced to the trailing spouse.
  • The non-working spouse will probably be a professional who has had to give up their own career.
  • A simple set of policies created from the beginning will make things much easier.
  • The move will cost up to US$1million for an executive and family.
  • Of all age groups, teenage children have the most difficult time adjusting.
  • The pre-transfer trip and negotiations will be critical to the success of the transfer, and must include the non-working spouse.
  • Preparing the company for the arrival of the expat will be important (especially in terms of understanding, and expectations).
  • There will be varying degrees of culture shock experienced as the family makes the transition.
  • Few companies offer assistance to either spouse in making the cultural adjustment (and end up paying for it in the long term) .
  • At times a professional mentor, a trained counsellor or a psychologist are needed.
  • Expats who build their network of friends around other expats, rather than locals, will not be as successful.
  • The couple needs a way to escalate their issues and concerns outside the regular company hierarchy.
  • A transition from one Caribbean island to another is no easier than any other transition, IMHO.
  • Some expats have mastered the art of adapting to local conditions, and of working in developing countries
These are just some of the issues that a VP-HR can prepare the company to deal with. The better prepared they are, the greater the chance of success from everyone's point of view.
In the worst cases, when there is a failure and early termination, the couple and the company end up at loggerheads, blaming each other for things going badly.

The job of HR is to make sure that the company's investment is not wasted, and sometimes it may require them to say no to someone who they think will just not make it. Saying "No" is not easy to do, but it could be the very best thing for the working spouse and their family.



  • Like with any other hire the recuritment phase is critical. HR has to ensure that the entire family is open to changes and is acepting of new environments and cultures. (Language transitions are not always easy for children). Having to adapt from living and working in a developed country to a developing country is no easy task. The psychological fit is very improtant - Many HR practitioners do not value the psychometric test - but sure enough this is a great help. The challenge is always to help find someone who can do 'culture coaching' into the new environment. Some time a test drive is required, but when all is said and done - more than skill, it takes an Emotionally Intelligent individual to make this kind of transition. HR plays a key fcacilitating role in this senario - many of us are getting lots of practice in this regard -- from culture, to language, to work permits!

    By Anonymous Brigitt, at 10/04/2007  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger fwade, at 10/05/2007  

  • Agreed -- I am actually working on a project to create this kind of infrastructure.

    I think that executives would only use psychometric testing to break a tie between 2 identical individuals. unless the company is quite large, the number of candidates is probably small.

    By Blogger fwade, at 10/05/2007  

  • Whilst not completely connected with the blog in question, a lot of pain, tears and frustration have gone into creating what is now a successful little entity full of hope and promise.... I thought it pertinent to share with anyone else who has or is travelling the same road.

    From a voice of experience... I spent the first 9 months of our relocation here, going slowly downhill with frustration and desperation to reclaim some of the structure that I suddenly felt without. The adaptation to such a different culture of behaviour and understanding created a huge void of communication which further served to create a reclusive, angry and introverted being who spent most of her days, planning an exit strategy.

    Not being fortunate enough to be part of an expat package, our move here was without fanfare or assistance and only served to create a level of segregation from (what felt like) all tiers of the community. Even now, two years on, I still recall those memories with utter dread. It was a terribly lonely time.

    Now the success story..? Our children were the one stabilising factor, throughout all of this, they seemed to blend seamlessly into the new setting. It was their ability to grasp something new without the hang-ups of adulthood, that made it possible for me to see a clearer and brighter vision of the possibilities that this new future might hold.

    Now the owner of a successful business, I can say that my regret is no longer the relocation here, but the manner in which I fought the adaptation for so long....albeit subconsciously.

    Expat or not, it would serve a huge beneficial purpose if there was a structure in place to provide a temporary 'nursing cuckold' for those of us who really do experience such difficulties. Someone to go to the bank with, someone to navigate the best places to do the weekly grocery shopping, someone to help open up the beauty of this country, someone to help bridge the gap of understanding and mis-understanding...

    I now retire my soapbox - feel free to delete/not post this thread...


    By Anonymous Still Adjusting...positively so!, at 10/17/2007  

  • Bless,

    Talk about the voice of first-hand experience... thanks for sharing with us.

    If you haven't visited my other blog on Moving Back to Jamaica, you may want to -- there is a link on this blog. I also tackle the topic there in some posts, for either expats or returnees.

    By Blogger fwade, at 10/17/2007  

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