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Heather Darby

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International recruitment: how to help new employees adjust


We recently undertook a survey of HRs in the international recruitment sector. The study found that nearly half of HR managers included in the research struggled to onboard candidates.

Surprisingly, the biggest problems HRs faced wasn’t in talent acquisition itself, but the adjustment phase that follows. The most commonly cited problems were with settling in (46%), culture shock (24%), and communication issues (14%).

To facilitate successful onboarding of international talent, HR has to look beyond the initial process of acquiring talent overseas and invest resources in the transition period experienced by foreign workers. But how can we achieve this?

1. Provide pre-move guidance

To minimise the potentially disastrous effects of adjustment issues, such as culture shock, your prospects must have a clear understanding of what to expect upon arrival — both in the workplace and the country.

Start the adjustment process immediately after confirming the job placement. Provide educational resources on culture, language and daily life. Encourage your prospect to travel as a visitor before making the permanent move, allowing them to experience life without the pressures of a new job.

2. Set clear, definable and reasonable goals

Anxiety and stress can be a major issue for recruits. Not only are they dealing with a life-changing move, but they are also being onboarded into a potentially alien working environment. To reduce anxiety, and help a foreign employee adapt to their working environment smoothly, it is important to set clear, yet reasonably achieved goals.

By setting goals, your newly acquired international talent will understand what is expected of them. There will be no confusion about their place within the company, reducing their anxiety levels when starting the position — fear of the unknown can be a crippling issue.

Talk to your international employee about their goals. Help them understand what you expect, and get a sense of what they feel they can achieve. The key is not only keeping them clear about their responsibilities, but demonstrating your dedication to keeping them happy in their position.

3. Get personal and focus on successful settlement

Problems settling in is the greatest danger faced by HRs when trying to onboard international talent.

If recruits cannot acclimatise to their new home and become comfortable in their living environment, they are far more likely to not only perform poorly, but also resign and repatriate. As the employer, you may be their only link to their new country, which means it is up to you to offer support and help prospects settle in.

As the employer, you may be their only link to their new country

The key to successful adoption of a new life and culture is to remove confusion and stressors. To help employees enjoy their move and become happy in their surroundings, it is important to get them set up quickly. If you assist your employee in dealing with the following, you can greatly increase their chances of a smooth and happy settlement:

  • Arranging a visa and other immigration documents
  • Finding accommodation
  • Relocating belongings and pets
  • Locating schools
  • Sorting insurance, utilities, healthcare and domestic banking
  • Purchasing or leasing a vehicle
  • Managing tenancies or mortgages
  • Local area orientation and cultural adoption

4. Make communication a top priority

You cannot perform a job well if you cannot communicate efficiently with those you work with. Issues with communication lead to errors, slow-downs and confusion.

International employees are more likely to experience communication problems as they transition not only to a new language, but to a new way of operating. If they cannot communicate with your team, morale can be crushed, failures can occur and the employee may feel unable to function in their new role.

Preemptive language and workplace training is a start. However, becoming the perfect communicator in a new country can be a long-term process. In the meantime, something else has to be done to ensure strong communication and an efficient working environment.

There are two steps you can take to manage and improve communication in the transitionary period:

  • Focus on key communication goals: Parts of the recruit’s new job will be more important to convey than others. Focus on ensuring good communication for vital information before perfecting the art completely.
  • Make a two-way effort: Communication involves two entities. Putting 100% of the pressure for effective communication on your new recruit’s shoulders could prove overwhelming. Demonstrate your qualities as an employer and ensure they don’t buckle under the pressure by learning to communicate with them, too. This might include basic language lessons, one-to-one sessions or increased time allowance for conveying information. 

5. Ease recruits into workplace culture

Every recruit, whether they were born 10 miles away or 10,000, will need to be eased into the working environment of your company. Over time, they are trained in the processes of getting work done.

It’s easy to assume that an international employee will need more time to adjust in this phase but, when you think about it, the reason they’ve been hired is because they are exceptionally talented. Often, extra time on general processes is not needed - where that time is needed is in the actions you rarely think about.

There is a fine line between being helpful and being condescending when supporting an international employee.

Interpersonal interaction could be a lot tougher for a foreign employee. Even if their communication is up to scratch, general customs, attitudes, etiquette and cultural differences could put them at odds with others or lead to anxious situations. Your new employee is facing a foreign set of cultural expectations that may be completely different to what they are used to - it can be tough to know how to act and engage.

Encourage them to get involved with company culture and learn while observing. Meanwhile, offer guidance through one-on-one or group sessions to help them understand how to interact and behave in the workplace.

Keep in mind...

There is a fine line between being helpful and being condescending when supporting an international employee. To avoid making your new recruit uncomfortable, be sure to involve them in the decision-making process and find out what their specific issues might be.

It is recommended you get feedback from colleagues working closely with your new employee. While your recruit might not feel they have problems — or are too embarrassed to mention them — your other employees may be facing challenges as a result of their transition.

Keeping everyone happy is the best solution to successfully incorporating international talent into your business.

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