Although it is widely accepted that remuneration, allowances and financial benefits are an important factor in accepting any expat role a recent industry wide survey carried out by NES Global Talent showed that other more intangible factors are also taken in to consideration, with career opportunities and travel ranking high on the priority list.
Intangible benefits should undoubtedly be given some recognition, as they give expatriates that extra skill on their CV (apart from their technical skills) when they are eyeing their next sought-after job abroad.
Intangible benefits are hard to value in monetary terms, but are irreplaceable from a personal growth perspective.
Knowing the local language for example is not essential in every country, and learning languages like Arabic and Mandarin is not for the fainthearted, but showing a willingness to learn a language may be more important than knowing the language, for instance a greeting in someone else's language, or the ability to say "thank you" or "you are welcome" projects respect and interest. Where expatriates are on long term assignments, they may often learn a new language and perhaps even become fluent in it. Learning the local lingo is the best way to build a better working relationship with colleagues and it shows that the expatriate is willing to converse in host country language and is open to new experiences.
The cultural experience travel brings can also benefit expatriates, making them a valuable employee. Effectively picking up on nonverbal cues is an important part of getting to know how other cultures convey subtle messages. Gestures may mean completely different things in different countries, and blunders by the uninitiated may lead to much embarrassment all around. A simple "thumbs up" hand signal in one country for example may be a vulgar sign elsewhere.
Cross-cultural competence also comes into play in management styles. Expatriates may soon discover that participative management is not always the best method to use in their new setting. This difference is particularly profound in hierarchical societies, where asking for input in front of colleagues may be viewed with suspicion, and as a possible ploy to either catch people who don't know the right answer or setting them up to "lose face”. The expatriates who are able to navigate these cross-cultural minefields are the ones who can use their previous years of management experience and knowledge to understand the context they are working in. The ability to work with others from different cultures is a key skill.
By living and working in global territories, expatriates gain a deeper understanding of local market conditions, their diversity and business practices, which puts them in a better position than employees who try to conduct overseas business from their company’s headquarters. They also develop the leadership and interpersonal skills to manage or collaborate with multicultural teams.
Expatriates are continuously applying their intangible skills – they are an international community unified by the decision to experience life in a country other than the one they consider home.
As an employer, you have a very valuable, sought-after employee, who is multilingual and multicultural. An employee who is adaptable can align with ease to various cultures and can hit the road running in his/her new role. Such an expatriate will compare previous cultures in which they've worked with the new host culture and begin applying past experiences to future success.
Such expatriates are highly sought-after and other companies are always looking for employees with intangible skills who will strategically facilitate the continued growth of their global presence.
NES Advantage Solutions’ Global Mobility team supports organisations in managing their globally mobile workforce and can pro-actively control the risks and opportunities created by cross-border operations. Whether you are considering expansion or relocation to a new location, an acquisition or simply seek more streamlined processes, our team can support you.
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Author: Georgia Frangou - Senior Manager, Global Tax and Mobility