Don’t let a bout of homesickness lead to a failed assignment

Homesickness is no fun. If you’re a parent, you know it well between sleepovers, camp and college. If you’re an HR manager

Toy car on a map

Homesickness is no fun. If you’re a parent, you know it well between sleepovers, camp and college. If you’re an HR manager that oversees your company’s relocations, especially those abroad, you’ve also likely seen a case or two. But while the consequences for parents may be a long drive in the middle of the night, HR managers face the possibility of a failed international assignment, which carries a price tag of approximately $76,000.

Most HR managers can attest that being a counselor is part of the job. Here are some tips to keep your international employees off the ledge and excited about their international assignment.

  • Learn the language: For some transferees, this is a given, but certain positions don’t necessarily mandate that the employee learn the language. While they may be able to get the job done, the language gap is a tremendous obstacle in how they connect with the local culture. It may seem like a costly expense, but providing language training for them (and any family members) could go a long way toward the success of the assignment.
  • Help them connect: One of the biggest causes of homesickness is longing for their old community. Especially if you have multiple assignments in the same location, develop a city guide with different annual events, groups and organizations for a variety of interests. The whole “You can lead a horse to water” adage holds true here. Forced participation is never fun, but you can make sure they have the information.
  • Be wary of (too much) video chatting: Yes, new technologies like FaceTime and Skype help those abroad stay connected with everyone back home. (That’s a good thing.) But part of getting acclimated to a new country involves exploration and making it your own. It’s difficult for anyone to do this if they are blocking off 1-2 hours each evening to talk to friends and family. If you get the sense this is part of their daily ritual, maybe suggest they space out the video chats to every couple of days.

Change is hard, and it’s all the more pronounced when you’re in a foreign country for the indefinite future. Even the most adventurous travelers long for home every once in a while, so don’t hit the panic button if an employee’s morale is wavering. Hear how they are feeling, and hopefully some of these tips can get them back on their feet!