15/04/2014

By Rafael dos Santos, Founder of Room in the Moon,

Companies spend millions of pounds a year relocating staff. From junior to senior management, moving from one country to another is a huge task that involves not just packing clothes and booking a flight.

Moving to another country is more than a physical journey, it’s an emotional one. The physical and practical things of moving are easy to organise: booking a removal company to move furniture, find school for the kids, find an area to live, and the list goes on.

What companies don’t prepare their staff for (and their kids and wives), are the emotions they are going to be faced with. Those who are lucky enough to have companies paying for their move, helping them to find school, a good area to live and a house, only have half of the problem solved.

No matter your age, your position, or your salary, you will go there and there will be challenges you are going to face that HR cannot help with and these challenges, are the deciding ones for a successful move abroad.

Friends

The older you are the more difficult it is to make friends. Over 30s already have their network of friends for at least 5-10 years (add more years the older you get) and it’s really hard to ‘break’ into a circle of friends. High fly executives’ wives are the ones that suffer most. Their husbands work during the day (long hours), their kids go to school (and make new friends) and if they are not allowed to work in the new country, they start feeling lonely.

It takes time to make new friends and loneliness (a lot of the times), is a factor why the relocation really didn’t work. The wives want to go back to their ‘normal’ lives, have their friends around and people they can count on when something goes wrong.

Culture shock

If you are not married and don’t have kids, you are not going to face the problem above, but you will encounter culture shock. HR managers are not trained to deal with culture shock and sometimes people don’t even know they are facing that.

Commonly used terms for people facing culture shock are: ‘they are so strange, they do this…’, ‘I don’t like the way they do that…’, ‘in my country people normally do this…’ and the comments go on.

The comparison with their home country grows and the odds are, this person will probably decide to go back ‘home’.
HR managers don’t introduce friends. They don’t organise meet ups, especially for people who are from abroad.

The costs of moving staff are very high, so if they decide to move back to their country after a few months, it’s not only money that is wasted but a lot of time. The hiring process starts again and once a selected candidate starts, training and adaptation in the new workplace takes place. In a sales role a company loses several thousand (if not millions) in revenue, until the new employee is totally apt to deliver the desired results.

I moved from Brazil to London in 2002 and went through the phases of ‘disliking England’ to ‘accepting England’ to then ‘loving England’, but it was a long process. No one prepares you for the wave of emotions you are going to face.

HR departments can only help to a certain extent, which normally involves 9-5 tasks, but after 5pm is what really affects people when they move abroad. If you are at work and busy doing stuff it is ok, but when you leave work, go home and have no one to talk to or ‘can’t find people that understand you’, is when things get tough, and if you moved abroad because of work, soon you realise ‘you made a mistake’ and want to move back to your home country.

That’s why I created Room in the Moon, it’s a community for people moving, or living abroad where members can make friends even before they move to another country.

There are two main worries when people move abroad and social life comes top 3, after accommodation and money/work. Human beings are social creatures, therefore, they need to have people to talk to and share their thoughts. If they don’t have that, they feel sad.

Room in the Moon is developing a programme for companies that move staff abroad to minimise culture shock, by improving their social life so there is a much higher staff retention rate.

Social life and culture awareness are crucial factors when staff move abroad for work and we understand the process inside out.

Room in the Moon, an online community that connects people living or moving abroad. Please see click here for a competition they are currently running.