By Julie Granek Cultural Training Consultant, International Consultants Centre As a cultural training consultant, I recently facilitated a pre-departure briefing for a family relocating to France. At this time, they advised to exercise normal safety precautions. Within days, a cargo truck was deliberately driven into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in Nice. This scenario is becoming increasingly common during an era of global instability. It raises the question of how organisations can best support and retain talented and motivated staff on overseas assignments with the prevailing uncertainties of today’s international climate. The growing risk of terror-related issues can naturally be a source of stress for international assignees and has been found to impact on expatriate recruitment, performance on assignment as well as assignment duration. Yet multinationals must still continue to encourage staff to work abroad so as to develop – and train others with – the necessary skill set required to compete in the international market. Understanding terrorism-related stress Bader and Berg (2014) have proposed a two-stage model to explain terrorism-related stress observed in so many international assignees:
- Emergence phase – this occurs when an assignee reacts to particular stressors in their host environment, such as the threat of an attack. During this phase, the level of perceived stress is largely dependent on a personal assessment of that specific stressor. Individuals with different levels of sensitivity may perceive the same threat quite differently so greater sensitivity to a perceived stressor can lead to higher levels of actual stress.
- Potential Outcomes phase – tracks the effects of stress on attitudes towards work tasks, teams and the organisation as well as individual performance.
- Maintaining low levels of accrued stress by lowering the influence of (other) existing stressors of the assignment. This could already begin during candidate selection by screening for suitability factors such as previous experience in high-risk countries.
- A range of protective solutions at pre-departure and post-arrival points could be offered to minimise accrued stress levels. Examples offered by International Consultants Centre include: orientation programs and cultural briefings as well as teaching skills in coping, crises management and self-care through programs such as through the Assignment Support Services for Internationally Successful Transfers (ASSIST) program, which is facilitated by in-house trainers who hold qualifications in counselling and Social Work.
- Organisations should aim to optimise psychological health and wellbeing of assignees through anti-stress initiatives. These may include provision of leave, Employee Assistance Programs or promoting recreational activities that promote stress recovery.
- There is some evidence to suggest that assignees want greater support and access to information from their home offices as they undertake work aboard. Various forms of social media including company chatrooms and messaging applications are becoming increasingly popular methods for keeping in touch. Mentoring programs and social gatherings with other expatriates can also provide a forum to exchange information and reduce social isolation.
- In line with a global duty of care program, emergency management guidelines should be updated and embedded into organisational policies. The necessary resources to deal with various types of emergencies and information on who to contact in the event of an unplanned disaster must be clearly communicated. With increased global instability, this is applicable to assignees in all locations and not just those that have traditionally been earmarked as a “hardship” destination.
- Increased fluidity in defining a “hardship” destination to include risk of natural hazards and physical threat.