There are a range of reasons for not agreeing to take on an expat assignment, but will disagreeing set you back in your career?
Research points to an alarmingly high turnover of expats once they return to their home workplace. One study says that within a year of returning to their employer, 38% will leave and take their experience to a new firm.The reasons for this include decreased job satisfaction and not being able to utilise the skills and experiences they picked up while working overseas.
Expat assignments are renowned for being difficult and include major cultural and professional adjustments – whether or not the expat is taking their family with them.
However, there’s a lot to recommend employers offering their employees a genuine opportunity to decline or accept a potential overseas assignment.
There’s always a fear that in turning down an expat assignment, the employee will suffer with their career, particularly if they are a young executive with no family.
Many international employers look to their ambitious staff to work overseas to understand how global business works and to develop their leadership skills in a different culture.
One reason for this is that many of the leaders in international firms have done precisely that, so to turn down an assignment may be perceived by an employer as highlighting the employee’s lack of drive and ambition.
There’s not much in the way of research data on what happens to an employee who turns down a potential assignment but there’s no doubt that employees will worry that refusing an overseas posting will potentially scupper their career.
However, there has been research that underpins the approach by employers and while it may be pointed out during the recruitment process that a posting overseas will be offered, not every employee wants to do this. Sometimes, however, an employer will perceive that there is a psychological contract that has been breached should the expat turn down the assignment.
The employee’s psychological contract with an employer is an unwritten, implied agreement about what is expected of them. It is a complicated process.
However, the turning down of the expat assignment is generally not taken lightly; there may be important personal reasons why someone does not want to move abroad, which they may not want to discuss with their employer.
For example, a gay employee may be wary of moving to countries that are not welcoming to those from the LGBT community, particularly in the Middle East or Russia, for instance.
There’s also another increasingly important, reason for turning down an overseas assignment and that’s the financial aspect. While many employers will offer a lucrative package of benefits, the expat will need to be aware of currency movements to ensure they are not losing out financially.
For instance, expats who are paid in Euros and have moved to Switzerland in the past year will have seen currency movements that may have wiped up to 30% off their income in some months.
This issue also affects British expats heading overseas with the falling value of the pound. Many of them may have seen their salary decrease by around 15%, depending on where they have moved to.
In research published in one leading business journal, the issue of turning down an expat assignment does come with caveats.
The first issue is the unwillingness of an employer to accept a decision to stay, which may impact the expat’s future career; there are exceptions particularly for those employees who can demonstrate dedication and their ambition in other ways.
For instance, they may have relocated previously overseas for their work or they may have volunteered for challenging assignments in their home country.
There’s also an issue with miscommunication since some employers may not explicitly detail the need for moving overseas when hiring their talent. An employee should consider that taking up a job opportunity with an international employer may mean that the prospect of moving overseas to gain crucial experience of how the business works elsewhere is part and parcel of the employer’s expectations.
There’s also the issue of an employee’s inability to take up the posting because of personal circumstances, whether that’s for family or personal reasons; this makes it more difficult for an employer to ‘punish’ those it believes has broken the psychological contract.
Among the top reasons for an expat to refuse an assignment are family concerns, followed by issues about their partner’s career; for many expats putting one career on hold for the other to exploit overseas opportunities is a big ask. Not all couples will want to do this.
Some employees may have responsibilities for caring for their parents or loved ones, or if they have children who need specialist medical attention they may struggle to find this elsewhere.
Essentially, research reveals that the best way for an employee to avoid being penalised for turning down an expat assignment is to be realistic about their reasons about why relocation is not possible.
The employee should also be open with an employer about their personal and professional restrictions and also look for opportunities that will help demonstrate their commitment to the employer in their home office.
There’s no doubt that this is a difficult position for a potential expat to deal with. While turning down an overseas assignment is fraught with issues, the bottom line is that it is important to be honest and realistic about their reasons.
It is also worth remembering that a reluctant expat is also probably an expat who is going to fail on their expensive overseas undertaking – and no employer wants to waste money on a failed assignment by not appreciating their employee’s concerns and worries.
Have you turned down an overseas assignment? Did you relocate for work and then regret it? Share your experiences in the comments below, or answer the questions here to be featured in an interview.