I don’t watch an awful lot of TV but recently I have been gripped by the BBC drama, Our Girl which follows the story of a female medic in the British Army deployed on a six-week humanitarian mission to Kenya. The inevitable happens and, Georgie is kidnapped by terrorists and faces execution by sundown. It sails close to many stories in the press of others who have made the ultimate sacrifice, their life for helping others in these lawless and terrorist run states. So just what is HR’s role in protecting its employees that go abroad and what can they do to safeguard those that take on work on behalf of their firm in places that are classified as risky?
Many of the big players use global mobility as a two-pronged strategy to both filter out expertise to newly opened global offices and as part of a development strategy for talent that would benefit from wider experiences and country-specific expertise. Whatever the reason, global migration within the workforce is here to stay and many businesses still prefer to deploy their own staff rather than appoint new recruits.
1. Outline the risks: The first action is to conduct a risk assessment in order to warn employees of any potential risks, something perhaps you go into with eyes wide open when you are in the military as Georgie Lane did in, ‘Our Girl’ but often gets glossed over by businesses that tend to skim over the ‘could happen’ and ‘might occur’ in favour of the hard sell; the favourable ex-pat salary, chance to travel and opportunity to live in the sun. Yet many don’t really know the hidden dangers, particularly if it is a country that has problems including trouble spots of civil unrest that is contained and therefore doesn’t receive headline news for it. It is always better for HR to paint the worst case scenario to make sure that the candidate really knows what they are getting into.
2. Provide in-country support: The second job is to provide support when the candidate reaches their destination. Often firms focus on the colleague that is deployed but most professionals come with a family too and it is often that side of things that are neglected. Making introductions and connections is crucial to a successful deployment and, those that are more successful tend to be the ones where there is a liaison officer in situ rather than those that have to call the head office back home, with many not having any real experience of the location that they have just sent their member of staff off to.
3. Execute a development plan: Of course there is also the importance of looking after the employee with eyes on their career path and desire to return home at some point. Most people will take on an assignment with the view to having a great experience, ramping up their CV and enjoying the chance to travel, but very few go into it with the intention of never coming home. Too many companies tend to fail to communicate to their offshore staff what is going on at HQ and also neglect to keep them abreast of development opportunities in the UK, changes in the business and new members of staff. Things can become tricky too when on repatriation candidates are not offered a big enough role on their return and the company has failed to take into account the new skills they have gained on their assignment abroad and their new level of expertise. This can lead to disputes and it is important to leave a paper trail of correspondence in the event that things escalate.
Global mobility is set to rise and the benefits in terms of cross-cultural insights and international contacts are plain to see but HR needs to get it right and ensure that any deployment overseas has a strategy attached to it to ensure it is safe, appropriate and a good fit for personal development and eventual repatriation.
By Annie Hayes, HR freelance writer and expert.
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