Archive for March 10th, 2009
Tuesday, March 10th, 2009
The New York Times reported last week on the predicament facing expatriates who have been laid off overseas, and in most cases given only weeks to find a new job or leave the country. “Add to that urgent disruption the calamity of a collapsing industry and you have the life more or less of thousands of American expatriates in banking and finance,” The Times noted.
Smeal’s David Harrison studies how expatriates and repatriates adjust to their work assignments and new surroundings. Below, he explains some of the other challenges facing expats who suddenly find themselves unemployed:
The initial wave of expatriates, especially in finance and banking, are younger and more likely to be single, with fewer foregone opportunities in their home countries. Their adjustment to expatriate life—although by no means easy—is still quite different than someone with a spouse and children in tow, both of who are going through the same rocky process. As the next wave of layoffs hits, these married, somewhat older expatriates will be even more hard-hit. They will likely have made the trip overseas as a sacrifice they deemed necessary to move upward or stay on at their firms. Doing so also meant loosening or even cutting ties with colleagues and many friends. Returning, especially with a long tenure abroad and no parachute back home, will be extremely difficult.
One of the reasons is that most repatriates feel truly homeless, even in good economic times. If they owned property, many would have sold it before shipping out. The culture they’re returning to is going to be different than the one they left, and they see it through substantially different eyes. At a time when their interpersonal network is absolutely vital to getting another job, many of their social connections will have moved on. This is a crucial difference from other white collar or managerial employees laid off domestically; many of those folks at least retain a good portion of their support systems.
Beyond getting a new job and securing income for their families, the repatriates’ biggest challenge is going to be wrestling with their new/old identity. Many will expect that their international experience puts them head-and-shoulders above others competing for jobs, but they’ll find that many firms merely give lip service to that positive feature—especially during a recession. That generates an extra level of frustration and resentment. On the plus side, for those firms with the foresight to see past the recession, now is absolutely the best time to land tested, internationally seasoned managers and executives.