“It felt as if the entire city was on the roads, it was definitely an incredible sight but my family and I were stuck in traffic for almost 2 hours and it wasn’t particularly pleasant for the kids”. This is what an expat friend told me during one of our conversations about recent festival. India, of course, is a gorgeous country with its colorful culture, numerous festivals, and of course, the traffic woes, noise, and pollution that comes as a part of the package.
With the growing economy and employment opportunities, India is well on the way to becoming a global technology hub. The seventh largest country in the world and the second largest by population, India is known for its various ethnic groups, culture, customs and mannerisms which is overwhelming for most of my expat friends. As most of them say, India is not an easy country for them to settle down in for various reasons:
Life is, well, different! – With constant intrusion from people around, their never-ending curiosity about foreigners and their culture; it can get a little unsettling at times. We, as Indians, have always been inquisitive but many of us do not know just where to draw the line.
Population – Clearly, this is not just a challenge for the expats, but even for us Indians. With the growing population, traffic on roads has increased, cities and localities are more populated, most places are crowded. This may not be something your expat employees are used to.
Pollution – As it happens, most countries in the kind of economic bracket that India is in are doing fairly well when it comes to their environment. Unfortunately, in India, we struggle with the quality of air almost every day. From Delhi to Bangalore to Hyderabad to even Pune, every city is struggling with the growing pollution and it seems to only be getting worse.
High Cost of Private Education – Unlike most developed and developing countries, quality education in India is expensive. For most expat employees who move to India with their families, this is a major issue. They are bound to pick international schools and their cost of living increases exponentially owing to the school/tuition fee.
Healthcare in India – India is home to a buffet of ailments, illnesses, and diseases. Put it down to our weather or any other factor. From Ebola to Nipah virus to swine flu – it seems that every year we find a new scary name to fear. Especially for expats without the kind of built-in immunity that locals enjoy -this is a worry. And should you catch the bug, like with schools, high-quality health care is expensive and restricted.
Religion and Festivals – While we love our festivals, and so do most expats and their families but these festivals also create some curious questions for the professional expat. I once had a long conversation with an expat in a senior position in a manufacturing company. He was equal parts intrigued and apprehensive at all the Puja’s the plant seemed to have. Apart from the festivals, each new machine was regularly garlanded and submitted to divine attention. Religion is a sensitive issue (and becoming more so by the day). Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and preferences. In that scenario, we cannot expect expat employees to understand these festivals and be a part of them all.
So, it’s clear that there are challenges. But as the HR department of the company employing these expats, is there something you can do? Well, yes.
While their life in India is entirely different from their native countries, your expat employees could be made to feel at home with a number of initiatives and processes, and of course, a helping hand.
Every HR manager, in my eyes, is responsible to make expat employees feel comfortable, not only in their workplace but in their lives. It is not easy to adapt to this adventure called India, but it can become one of the most beautiful experiences of your expat employees’ lives. HR managers can take up a number of initiatives for these expat employees and their families:
- Introducing them to the culture – It is critical for any expat who has moved to India to understand the culture and the various cultures. And not just that, what will make it even better and more enjoyable for them is when they become a part of it. For eg. at Lexagent, we have helped drive many such initiatives in collaboration with the Pune Expat Club to make sure Pune’s expat residents don’t feel out of place.
- Healthcare and Education facilities – Most companies, these days, provide health insurance to their employees and their families. You could even introduce them to various healthcare facilities available in the city and help them find a doctor they can consult in times of need. Similarly, for schools, as a part of the company’s induction program, you could help your employees find good institutions for their children’s education.
- Help them be a part of a community – It is always better to have a close-knit community and your own people to network with. While, of course, they will make Indian friends who will help them settle in the country, and they will form bonds with their professional colleagues, it is only helpful to be a part of an expat community that is similarly placed.
- Prepare them for life in India – In a country as unpredictable as India, there can be bandhs, peaceful protests, and political rallies on any given day. Prepare your employees for these situations. In case of a bandh, help them with the do’s and don’ts. Provide them with an emergency contact number for any emergencies.
- In closing, let me suggest that you could make the effort to create a memorable stay for your expat. Let this not be just another country they work in, let India be an experience for your employees – one they remember and cherish always.
Many companies are making the effort to make their expat employees feel comfortable in their workplace, but what makes the key difference is how their families are settling in the country. Going that extra mile works for both – the company and the expat employees. We, as a country, have often received mixed reviews from guests from other countries. But I believe, it is in our hands to make sure they have a lovely time in India and they remember us – the way we want them to remember us. A loving and warm country that welcomes everyone with open arms and makes sure they feel at home -even as they shine in their careers.