Corporate Employee Relocation to India

How to make your expat employees feel at home? – By Preeti Roongta (Founder)

With the advent of globalization, every company now provides a global platform for their employees to grow professionally. Countries around the world are investing in other nations and working towards expanding their business horizons. These employees who migrate to other countries usually feel quite comfortable at their workplaces -the companies make that extra effort and the professional environment is usually not very different from what they are used to in their home country. However, as we have written earlier, a crucial part of making your expat employees feel at home is helping them and their families assimilate culturally. Your employees will only be as happy as their families, and therefore, their happiness, health, well-being, and adjustment should become a priority too. It’s often up to the Human Resource teams to help their expat employees, and their families, get familiarized with the country and its culture.

A country’s culture is a window to its rich history and heritage and it can help one grow and learn. Also, of course, when one shows respect for the culture of the host country, the host country accepts you just as openly! The cultural growth of an employee in their host countries helps them adapt better and be happy in their life outside of work. A key part of that effort could be accelerated if they have the opportunity to join a close-knit community of like-minded people and make new friends. In a country as colorful and as diverse as India, where getting accustomed to the different festivals, geographies and culture can get a little overwhelming for expats, it is always a plus to have a social circle with people from all over the world who are going through the same transition as you. A circle like the Pune Expat Club, an initiative supported by Lexagent.

In India, it is often said, “Atithi devo bhava”, which translates to “A guest is like God”. We have always believed in going the extra mile to help our expat guests get that wholesome colorful Indian experience while they also strive for growth at their workplaces. In 2018 we conducted various engaging events that saw wonderful participation from the members & clients of our Pune Expat Club & Lexagent.

Any culture is defined by its food and India has a particularly rich and varied heritage to boast of. With Indian food finding its rightful place in fine-dining menus around the world, there is abundant curiosity among our expats about the right way to create some of the most iconic Indian dishes. To feed that craving, an Indian Kebabs Masterclass that was held at The Conrad, Pune. Here, the attendees experienced and explored the delectable flavors of Indian cuisine, learned various kebab recipes, and enjoyed a lovely lunch. A hands-on session with the expert chefs made this event even more delightful for our guests. This Masterclass was especially appreciated by the ladies as it helped them understand the whole cooking process, while at the same time letting them adjust the spices and the oils according to their preference.

Expats know of India as a land full of history, but they don’t get to experience much of that first hand in the rough and tumble of their daily lives. For the historically-inclined and the adventure-loving expats, we conducted a trek to the 400-years old Tikona Fort. Starting at 6 in the morning, our expat explorers witnessed a beautiful sunrise as they trekked their way up to the historic marvel of the Tikona pyramid peak. Once there, their view enclosed the breathtakingly beautiful Pawna Lake. The 3-hour trek was an exhilarating experience for all our guests. Monsoon makes the canvas of Pune even more beautiful and greener, making the trek even more exciting for all our members –including kids. Activities like this help make stronger communities for expats. They meet new people, make new friends, and their families come together – helping them build a fulfilling social life.

One must-do for every individual who visits Pune during August-September is to experience Ganeshotsav in its full glory -this may well be the defining Puneri experience. The expats residing in Pune too yearn to get caught up in this fervor they are Puneris too! To help them get the full sensory overload, we organized a Ganesh Festival Walk through the old city of Pune, visiting some of the oldest and best-regarded Ganesh Mandals. Walking from one Mandal to the next, immersed in the sights and sounds of the festival, all while partaking of some of Pune’s must-have street food offerings like Vada Pav transported these expats to a bygone age. If their experience had to be defined in one word, it would be mesmerizing. From the aarti to the different idols and their significance, the morning was incredibly enlightening and enriching. These expats felt a little bit of India and Pune take root in their hearts after this divine “Darshan”.

Here’s a suggestion for the companies out there that employ expats. To enhance performance and overall happiness of your expat employees, make that effort to help them blend in the local culture. Their performance at work directly depends upon how well they take this transition and settle into their new surroundings. Every company must take active steps to support their international employees during, what is, a difficult period for them. After all, that’s what the Indian culture is all about, isn’t it?

Returning expats settle in India

Welcome Back – Helping returning expats settle in the home country

The US survey on international migrant trends from a couple of years ago reported that India had the largest diaspora in the world with over 16 million Indian’s living and working in other countries. This is only half the story though. Since 2010 or so, there has been a steady flow of these Indian expats returning to the home country to make a mark here. In fact, a few months ago, the Economic Times reported that leading recruitment and search were “inundated with requests from Indian in the US, the UK, the Gulf, even Singapore, and Hong Kong”, who were looking to move back to India.

 

People like Srikumar Misra returned to their native land driven by a sense of purpose and founded start-ups to solve the problems faced by the locals there. Misra quit his job at Tetley Tea in London and returned to his native place in Orissa and founded Milk Mantra – the first Indian venture capital-funded agri-food start-up. The people in this area faced scarcity of this commodity and Srikumar Misra found an opportunity in it. “All I wanted was to make a difference to the people of my state. We now have a networked group of 40,000 farmers from whom we procure milk at 300 centres,” Misra told Business Line.

 

The emergence of India as the world’s fastest growing economy in recent years has seen a corresponding shift in its expat communities across the globe. The opportunities for competent and ambitious Indians once lay outside the country but that’s not the case anymore. There are equal, if we may not say more, opportunities in the home country today. With a large number of MNCs setting base and/or expanding their operations in India, a thriving start-up ecosystem, and a steep growth in opportunities to make an impact in the rural economy, these opportunities are bound to witness an exponential growth.

 

The booming Indian market and an increase in the protectionist environment in the European and American markets have led many Indian expats to return to explore opportunities in their homeland. In many cases, the returning expats are being hired by MNCs and large Indian corporates like you. But life for the returning expat is not without its challenges. So, as the HR group in the companies that employ them, what can you do to help them settle in?

 

Difficulties faced by a returning expat

You probably have a settled process to address the relocation of foreigners to India. Much of what you do for those incoming expats would also apply in case of your returning NRI employee. But there are a variety of specific issues that a returning expat must face in the home country. Resettling is no cakewalk. Especially for those who have spent long years outside the homeland, it takes time to acclimatize to the environment of another country.

Here are 3 specific issues faced by the returning expats:

1) Reverse Cultural Shock

The biggest difficulty of a returning expat is to readjust to the culture of his native land. After spending a significant amount of time in a foreign land, a person gets molded into that environment. The dual challenge for these people is that the environment in India is sure to be unlike what they were used to in their foreign home, but is also sure to be different from what they were used to before left the country. India has changed dramatically in the last few years. Returning expats may find a land that is nothing like the simple, cheap, and innocent land they left behind. We are now a confident, aggressive, and opinionated people who believe that we are ready to lead the world – this change of personality can be hard to adjust to. Returning expats need cultural sensitivity training too – maybe even more than foreigners.

2) Food and Drink

This is a physical as well as a mental issue. Many are the story of expats facing tummy or gut issues because of reduced immunity brought about from years of protected eating in their foreign home. Ill-advised attempts at revisiting the spicy, oily street food of their youth have laid many returning expats low. The process of readjusting the gut to spices can be slow and long, especially for the kids who have been born abroad. The same goes for water consumption. Even filtered water can be hard to stomach (literally). Hence it is advisable to start slowly and gradually making the digestive system to adjust with the introduction of spices in the food. If the worst happens, then you may need to familiarize them with the available healthcare options – availability, suitability, costs etc. may all be mysteries to them.

3) Accommodation & Family Resettlement

You must be helping all your expat employees find suitable accommodation but there is a chance that the demands of your returning expat employee could have their own complexity. Many such expats have no concept of how housing has changed in India in recent years. They are often unfamiliar with the amenity-rich, luxe condos in most Indian cities today. They may be outraged and flabbergasted by the rents in such locations. They may seek accommodation of types or in areas that used to be “posh” back in the day, but where accommodation is near-impossible to get now. The modern age also has its own problems – safety, security, privacy, and controlling access to name a few. Returning expats may not quite appreciate the extent of these problems while seeking a house or while building a life here. Exposing them to these realities – shiny as well as harsh will help them make the right choices in these areas.

Returning expats have made a major commitment to the land where they were born. Their willingness to return is admirable proof of their intent to make a difference to their home country. As their employer organization, it’s up to you to support them as they work through the nuances of their move.

HR’s Worry List For Expat Relocation to India

71% of expats in India report high confidence in the Indian economy -more than anywhere else in South and Central Asia. 63% of expats recommend India for the career advancements. HSBC’s Expat Explorer Survey of 2017 has plenty of interesting numbers but if we were to summarize the results in 8 words it would be “More expats love India than ever before.” This is, of course, a very good thing -top international talent coming to India in greater numbers is good for business, good for the economy, and good for the expats too. The only people who are not completely thrilled with the whole deal may well be the HR folks in the organizations that employ these expats. Not that they don’t care for business growth -just that some peculiar challenges arise when it comes to expat relocation.

Hiring and relocating expats is no mean task. There are many things to nail down before, during, and after such a move gets made. So much rides on a successful transition and there is so much more that can go wrong. Some of the major issues faced both by HR folks and the expats, concern family relocation, cultural acceptance, acclimatization to a new work culture, housing, government regulations etc. Lexagent has helped many expats relocate to India and it’s fair to say that, at this point, we have, more or less, heard it all when it comes to areas of concern. Based on that experience, here’s an “HR worry list” with the Top 6 HR concerns for expat relocation and how to address them:

  1. Government regulations

The most important task (and the biggest worry) for any organization is to be completely aware of the laws of the land before carrying out the expat hiring and relocation process. The HR groups responsible for making the move happen should prepare an extensive checklist covering every possible legal process to be fulfilled before hiring the expats. It includes work permits, visas, registration requirements, financial documentation, and other important documentation required for relocating to India. This will ensure that the expat employee faces no regulatory hurdles on landing here.

  1. Fitment into Indian work culture

Every country has a distinct professional and work culture. Even in India, the work culture differs across major centers like Mumbai, Delhi, and Bengaluru etc. It is a valid concern if expat employees will be able to fit in or perform in an alien environment. Things that they take for granted in their home environment may be unavailable here and that should not throw them off their stride. It is imperative for the HR groups to introduce the incoming expats to the prevalent work culture early in the move. This helps in faster acclimatization to the work environment and avoiding any work culture shocks.

  1. Home and Family Settlement

The biggest concern of the incoming expat, and hence of the HR group that would be caring for them, is the happiness and well-being of the expat family. This covers a gamut of areas – home, schooling, house help and staff, transport, social life, entertainment, and even community. All these are important areas. Discomfort or poor options in any one of these will distract the expat employee and ultimately frustrate and demotivate them. The HR group will have to take the onus of providing the expat with all the right information they need to make the right choices that will make their Indian life a happy experience. 

  1. Salary and Payment Schedule

Many reports now show that some Indian centers (like Mumbai) may be among the highest paying locations worldwide for expats. Clearly, money is a huge factor -and a huge worry for HR too. An extremely important aspect of consideration for expats while moving overseas is the salary and the terms of the salary. The terms of employment should be clearly stated. The salary should be transparently clear. The inclusions, and most importantly, the exclusions should be listed. The applicable tax laws should be identified, and all agreements should be in writing. This helps prevent any misunderstanding or debate later. 

  1. Cultural Assimilation

Starting a new life in a foreign land has its own challenges. We have written in the past how HR should help the expats settle into their new culture. Without this, the newly arrived expat could become lost, confused, and alienated. This support may include identifying Expat clubs and communities in the city. The case point is Pune Expat Club.These groups let expats socialize with other expat families to build a fulfilling social circle.  This may involve introducing them to the local festivals like Holi and Diwali. This inculcates a sense of belonging and oneness amongst the expats and their families. The sooner the expat feels at home, the better it will be for HR.

  1. Long-term v/s short-term

The tenure of the expat decides what kind of assistance the expats might need. The worries for HR are different in each case. If it is a short-term relocation then the chances are high that the expat might not be willing to get his family along. The focus is more on the expat himself and getting him (or her) up to speed on the job, settled into the new role, and providing them the specific support they need to hit the ground running. The worry here is often how to keep the expat employee motivated and engaged with the temporary assignment. If it is a long-term proposition then the family relocation becomes a major priority.

The expat’s performance depends upon how happy and welcoming they feel in your organization and country. The onus is on the HR group to make the expat employee feel welcome, settled in, and ready to take on the work challenges. As we have seen, that task is not a trivial one -but it’s something that organizations everywhere are taking on more than ever before. And, in many cases, they are doing so with help from Lexagent!

 

Culture In India, Cultural Assimilation, Expats Club in India,

The Why & How of Cultural Assimilation for Your Expat Employees

Business is going global rapidly. Companies are leaving no stone unturned to be the best in their industry. And, to be the best, companies need to employ the best talent, local as well as international. Sure enough, international talent has become an important part of the strategy of the modern business enterprise.

International talent, is by definition, likely to be more senior, potentially more valuable, and almost certainly more expensive for the company. It follows that these valued international employees need to settle well into their new surroundings for them to feel happy and to perform their duties up to their maximum potential. This is where cultural assimilation can play a vital role in helping these expats adapt to their new circumstances and role.

Living and working in a new country and surroundings presents employees with significant challenges even outside their new workplace. It is important for the international employees to understand the foreign culture and ways of the host country. The better they assimilate the foreign culture the sooner they will ease into their new life. Initially, many expats go through the so-called ‘Honeymoon’ phase where they are excited about coming to a new country and experiencing the new culture. Others go through a “Culture Shock” phase where the sheer newness of everything threatens to overwhelm them. The crucial part comes after this initial phase, where many of the expats start feeling homesick and missing their earlier lives. This period is the make or break period, as it determines whether or not the international employee be wanting to give up and move back to the home country or stick through.

The company and its Human Resource management group must take necessary steps to support the expat employees during this phase. There are various things that can be done to support expats with culture assimilation:

  1. Initial training:

Companies should sensitise their expat employees with training as they get started with their new job. They should be given an introduction to the new culture that they are going to be a part of. Communication is key here. Clear, detailed, and strictly relevant, information will allow the expat to understand the scenario in the host country and will allow him/her to prepare mentally accordingly. Climate, language, traditions, lifestyle, and security are some of the important factors that affect expats while settling in. The company should make sure that relevant information is communicated to the freshly-minted expat.

It is also very important for an expat to understand the prevailing social norms regarding public behaviour, etiquette, and even acceptable dress-codes. Understanding and following such traditions and values are important on the road to adjusting to the new culture. The expats should share that information with their family members, with whom they have moved to this new country.

  1. Festivals:

Whether it be Diwali and Holi in India, Christmas in most countries, or St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, festivals have always formed an integral part of any nation’s culture. This offers an opportunity for HR Depts to take the initiative and help their expats understand and participate in the host country’s festivals to blend in with the culture. Fun group activities aligned with the theme of the concerned festival where the expats can dip into the festivities along with their local colleagues will help them feel a part of the celebrations.

  1. Expat clubs and communities:

Even if it is outside the workplace, it is very important that expats meet other expats so that they can share their experiences and support each other through the cultural assimilation phase in the new country. Companies can seek out appropriate forums like the Pune Expat Club. They could introduce their international employees to these communities in and around the city. These are the platforms where not only the expats, but also their families can get together with other expat families and build a fulfilling social life.

  1. Company outings:

Employees look forward to a break from the routine, so that they can sit back, relax and rejuvenate, even as they get work done. Company outings can be used as a platform to help expats and their families understand the lifestyle of the people in the host country. Company could plan off-sites and occasions in such a way that their international employees along with their respective families bond with the other local employees. The more the time the expats spend with the locals and their families, the better they’ll understand the lifestyle that the locals lead and the easier it will be for them to blend in.

  1. Expat’s family:

It is often true that more than the expat, their family suffers the most due to culture differences. The expat has the preoccupation of work but the other members of the family especially children have to start their life from scratch. The company should make an effort to ensure that the needs of these children are taken care off. This includes providing advice and help in finding and securing admission for them in an appropriate educational. This is the most critical element in ensuring the children settle comfortably into their new surroundings. The right choice of educational institution will go a long way in organizing not only the schooling, but also the hobbies and playtime of these young expats.

Thus, in conclusion, cultural assimilation plays a vital part in the happiness and performance of an expat. It’s fair to say that the performance of your international employee directly depends on how well they settle into their new surroundings. That being so, the company must take active steps to help these international employees understand and blend in with the new culture. You must support the international employees during the adjustment period and welcome them with utmost warmth -they could well be your most valuable employees after all.

 

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