Thanks to COVID, over the past two and a half years, expats have experienced vast lifestyle changes and had to face many unprecedented hardships.  From the inability to easily visit family, friends, and colleagues to disrupted flights, major lapses in communication due to sickness, job losses, and ever-changing visa requirements. In addition, employers were faced with the interminable challenges of filling overseas assignments and supporting employees working abroad.

A recent Cigna 360 Global Well-being Survey, Burned Out Overseas – The State of Expat Life 2022, analyzed and broke down the four most significant challenges expats have been facing and continue to face. 

“ Many expats saw their lifestyles completely up-ended by the experience of the pandemic, separated from family, friends and colleagues. The challenge now is to rethink the expat opportunity to reflect the experiences, and the new priorities, of those living overseas.”

Jason Sadler, President, Cigna International Markets

By analyzing the insights garnered from this report, we can identify the key strategies that organizations can and should execute to help prepare expats for assignments abroad.

The 4 challenges expats are facing

1. Expat burnout, isolation, and increased financial concerns.  Although the pandemic seems to be winding down, its impact continues to be felt. Expat stress levels have reached an all-time high, with:

  • 98% of people having experienced symptoms of expat burnout.
  • 87% feeling helpless, trapped, or defeated
  • 86% feeling detached or alone in the world

2. Financial concerns are also contributing to expat burnout with only 38% saying they are confident about the current financial situation and 33% saying they felt they had sufficient savings for retirement. A new younger expat generation.  The results of the survey have illustrated that there is a demographic shift away from mid/senior career movers, in favor of younger expats. 37% of those between 18 and 24, and 34% aged 25-34 said they would be amenable to moving and working abroad while only 13% of those over the age of 50 would do the same. The majority of respondents (54%) said they are undecided about remaining an expat for the next two years. These specific results accentuate the challenge for organizations to bring in and retain new or young expats. 

“With a new generation of young expats, it is critical that they have the support they need to be successful. It is essential that this includes robust mental health support, giving them the tools they need to be resilient in a still uncertain world.” 

Dr. Stella George, Chief Medical Officer, Cigna International Markets

3. Expat life priorities are shifting. As one might think, the pandemic has caused many expats to rethink their priorities. 73% of current expats said they have spent more time reevaluating their life priorities since the pandemic. Lifestyle has now replaced finances as the number one priority for expats. 55% of expats said that they are now planning to retire earlier, even if it means having less money than originally planned and existing expats have conveyed that their desire to be closer to family is now a top three priority, out-ranking job market considerations by more than a quarter of those surveyed. 

4. Destinations are changing. 11% of current expats want to relocate to Canada, making it the top destination. This is followed by the United States and Australia, tied at 9%. Overall, the United States and United Kingdom are most desired (16%) for those planning to relocate overseas while mainland China and Saudi Arabia are now only of interest to 1% of those becoming an expat for the first time. 

“Over the past few years we have seen people choosing to take roles that are closer to home, with a move away from ‘long haul’ expats destinations, towards more localized, regional roles. With memories of restricted travel likely to remain for the foreseeable future, the emphasis on being able to travel and easily visit loved ones will be likely to continue.” 

Michelle Leung, Head of Human Resources, Cigna International Markets

Preparing expats for assignments abroad

It’s clear that the results of the Cigna survey substantiate how pertinent it is for organizations to properly prepare expats prior to assignments abroad in order to help them have a positive and productive experience. It’s also critical for organizations to establish baseline information on current global managerial talent levels in the candidate pool at the organizational level. They can do this by identifying what competencies their current pool can develop and which ones they may need to seek in the market. But to do so, they need accurate, reliable data that can reasonably anticipate future performance. So how can organizations accomplish this? 

Expatriate competencies

Successful organizations realize that without leaders who can operate successfully at an international level, their business may not thrive. They cannot train their leaders to be global leaders unless they first know which areas, or competencies they need to improve. The Kozai Group is at the forefront of research aiming to help business leaders develop the skills that an increasingly globalized world demands of them. 

To assess global and intercultural competencies, The Kozai Group developed the Global Competencies Inventory (GCI) assessment. The validity and reliability of the GCI as a training instrument have been demonstrated in numerous studies.

Using the GCI as part of your expatriate training program

The GCI was developed to target expatriate business leaders immersed in a different culture from their own. They are expected to come into working contact with different beliefs, values, and customs and need to be able to manage the challenges and stress that naturally comes with such an immersion. The GCI works as a checklist against which a candidate’s suitability for intercultural work can be assessed. It doesn’t simply show who is capable and who is not. By showing an individual’s strengths and weaknesses at the time of assessment, the GCI allows managers to identify the areas that need work so they can improve their suitability for candidacy.

The GCI provides an assessment of three main components, comprising sixteen competency dimensions, that have demonstrated reliability and are predictive of future effective global leader behavior both on assignment and following repatriation. The GCI provides the potential for significant return on investment as a tool for guiding firms—and their managers—to create selection, development, coaching, expatriate management, and knowledge transfer processes that are built upon a clear awareness of individuals’ current strengths and areas for improvement.

Contact us today to learn how to incorporate the Global Competencies Inventory into your expat training program to ensure they are properly prepared and successful.

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