Culture shock: why we fail expats

The Age of the global business means that, with increasing frequency, managers can expect to be moved around the world. Yet, according to a leading consultancy, organisations are not going to get the most out of such assignments until they reach a better understanding of the implications involved.

Elisabeth Marx, director of executive recruitment consultants NB Selection, says her organisation's research findings show that international work needs to be reviewed in three areas. "First, there should be a focus on the personal problems executives are likely to face, the adaptation they will go through, and how they will adapt psychologically to this change," she says. "Second, international assignments often represent a big promotion for executives. Sopreparation should focus on general management development so that managers succeed at the next level of seniority. Third, there should be a focus on the international - through cross-cultural training."

These conclusions stem from a survey of 45 executives who have worked abroad. While most reported that they adapted well, 33 per cent experienced significant difficulties in adjusting to a position overseas. The respondents mentioned stress-related conditions such as as irritability, mood swings and generally feeling unwell. Some had had short spells of culture shock or even depression.

So far, much of the concern about international assignments has focused on foreign languages - traditionally a problem for British and US managers - and the difficulty of moving to a place, like Africa or the Far East, that is culturally different.

But, increasingly, consultants are realising that managers can often experience the biggest problems moving to somewhere that seems similar to their home country - for instance, moving between Britain and the US.

According to Chris Crosby, director of Transnational Management Associates, there is a tendency to think that geographical distance - at least involving regions other than the US - means cultural distance. While a lot of people think they know Europe very well, they are more cautious, for example, about Asia. The outcome is they prepare much more thoroughly for such "exotic" locations.

For people crossing the Atlantic "the concept of the same language lulls them into a false sense of security", says Crosby.

But even language need not be the barrier it is perceived to be. Mr Crosby says there is a lot of preoccupation with language training. "But really what is required is learning how to communicate, and language is only a part of that. There's not enough emphasis on learning to speak English in a way that's understood by different cultures."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Digital Optimisation Executive - Marketing

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's fastest growing, multi...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Reporting Manager

£70000 - £90000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Financial Reporting Manager i...

Recruitment Genius: Payments Operations Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They win lots of awards for the...

Recruitment Genius: Telephone Debt Negotiator

£13500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This nationwide enforcement com...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back