Stephen
By Stephen on February 20, 2022

3 Reasons International Assignments Fail and How to Prevent Them

It is not a fun subject to discuss, but occasionally it does happen: international assignments can fail. An international assignment is said to fail when the relocation ends earlier than intended, or when the relocating employee is unable to perform effectively in the new location and needs to be repatriated and replaced. This process is not only stressful for all parties involved but can be incredibly expensive.


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The best way for a company to ensure an international assignment will be successful — and to prevent unnecessary replacement, travel, and training costs — is to think ahead and address the root causes behind relocation failure as part of a comprehensive employee relocation program.

So, why would an international assignment fail? According to a 2012 study, top reasons international assignments fail include partner or spouse dissatisfaction or resistance to a relocation, family adjustment concerns, and the job not meeting the employee’s expectations. Let’s unpack each of these reasons for international assignment failure and take a look at how your company can proactively address and prevent them.


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Partner or spouse dissatisfaction can play a key role in an employee’s decision to shorten an international relocation or pass up the opportunity altogether. There are many factors at play here. For short-term relocation, an employee might not be accompanied by a spouse or partner. This can strain a relationship and place the full responsibility of childcare and household management onto the partner who remains at home. For longer term relocation where a partner and family are to accompany the employee, the partner’s income and career trajectory as well as the education of school-aged children will be impacted, sparking important conversations that must be had before committing to an international posting.

Canva Design DAE46nLAcscFamily adjustment is also a significant pressure point when managing employee relocation programs. Uprooting a family for an international assignment is no easy task, especially when children are part of the relocation and when the language and culture of the host country are entirely new to the family. A family must consider the ability and willingness of each of its members to adapt to a new lifestyle and assess the resources made available to them during the transition process.

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There are many ways that an international assignment may not meet employee expectations — a new location, new colleagues, and a new language can all lead to culture shock; and work standards and expectations can differ across a company’s various branches. All of these factors can lead to frustration and can negatively impact the employee’s view of the company and their commitment to a long-term career path within it.

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Anticipating these relocation pain points is critical to ensuring success in international relocation. Ask yourself: Is our company prepared to provide the necessary support for employees and their families on an international assignment? While this will look different for every company, the most effective relocation programs include both language training and intercultural training for relocating employees and accompanying families.

Language training remains the most essential offering companies can provide to employees who are going on an international assignment. Employees selected for a relocation are exceptional at their job function... in their native language. Having to conduct work in a foreign language can pose a significant barrier to successful business and interpersonal communication. Giving employees a structured opportunity to learn the host language helps them to work more effectively and feel more confident and prepared in the workplace. Providing language training for partners and families further illustrates a company’s commitment to supporting a positive relocation experience for everyone involved, which goes a long way in easing a challenging transition.


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Most CORE Languages clients decide to pair language training with an intercultural training program — and it is easy to see why. Intercultural training programs complement language learning by emphasizing the cultural norms, traditions, and etiquette of the host country. While language training supports effective communication, intercultural training promotes a sense of comfort with navigating new surroundings and situations. Thorough training ensures that employees and their families enter a relocation with an understanding of what to expect, and what will be expected of them, in their new home.

Canva Design DAE46gLQX6YAt CORE Languages, we want to see 100% of your international assignments succeed, and we know what works. Contact us today for a custom quote for language and intercultural training for relocating employees and accompanying families.

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Interested in international business? Check out our article on making connections in a foreign country when language is a barrier.

Published by Stephen February 20, 2022
Stephen