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
Life and Style
love + sex
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
people
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Reach Volunteering: External Finance Trustee Needed!

Voluntary post, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Would you ...

Christine McCleave: FP&A Analyst

£36,000 - £40,000: Christine McCleave: Are you looking for a new opportunity a...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn