UK firms counting cost of expatriate ‘culture clash’

UK companies could be losing millions of pounds when expatriate assignments fail through lack of cultural research.

A report has claimed 63 of 100 organisations surveyed reported failed expatriate assignments – and the main reason was the placement of candidates unsuited to the culture of the chosen country.

On average, it costs a company up to £900,000 to send a manager earning £100,000 on a three-year international assignment.

The research, conducted in European and UK companies by Cendant International Assignment Services, found candidates selected for the assignments were not screened properly. As a result they experienced cultural, family or personal problems. Organisations do not place enough importance on assessing the cultural and family suitability of a potential expatriate,the report claims.

Only 49 per cent of the companies assessed cultural suitability and only 41 per cent assessed family suitability – even though 89 per cent formally assessed candidates’ job skills.

The expatriate market is growing, with 59 per cent saying their numbers of expatriate assignments will rise in the next five years.

Speaking to Personnel Today, Dr Aysen Broadfield, Mattel’s HR Director for Northern Europe called for a global approach to HR based on first-hand experience of the countries involved.

She said, “They should send people out there first. If you look into the expatriate policies of multinationals, you will easily see from which country they originate. To me the best policy is the one which reflects the world – not the country.”

Dr Broadfield has previously worked in HR in the UK and noticed the complacency of UK companies when she began working in Amsterdam last year.

She warned businesses could face the situation of a major dotcom which relocated 200 employees to the Hague – only to find many of them returned because they could not afford the rent.

Statistics had suggested it was cheap to live in the Netherlands – but had not indicated the price of accommodation.

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