How to Prepare for a HR Assignment in Another Country

 

I recently spoke with a colleague in Canada who will be moving to the U.S. next year. We were talking about the differences between federal and state laws. So I thought I would share with you some resources on where to go if you’re planning for a human resources assignment in another country.

In my career, I’ve worked with several professionals who’ve had global assignments. And, I’ve had some international responsibilities myself, although I’ve never lived outside the U.S. There are two main considerations when you think about international roles and responsibilities:

  1. The labor laws, etc. of the place you’re going to. And,
  2. The customs, traditions, etc. of the place you’re going to.

They are both equally important. In my colleague’s case, it might be tempting to say that there’s very little difference between Canada and the United States, but that’s not true. There are many differences. I’m reminded of a time several years ago when I moved from Orlando, Florida to Cincinnati, Ohio. There were definite differences (and I stayed in the same country!) Not that there’s anything wrong with either location…but let’s face it, they are different.

To find out about U.S. labor laws, state laws, etc. the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) can be a great resource. The SHRM website has a Legal Issues and Public Policy tab that can share federal, state, and local resources. Members can “Ask an HR Advisor” questions or use the express requests feature.

To learn about traditions and customs, consider reading local publications to get some sense of the events that happen in the city and the local issues residents are passionate about. Connect with the local Chamber of Commerce or other professional associations to find networking events that will allow you to meet people and visit different local establishments.

The same applies if you’re making a move from the U.S. to another country. Ron Thomas is the chief executive officer of Great Place to Work – GCC Region (including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Dubai). He serves on the Harvard Business Review advisory council and is a regular contributor to TLNT.com. I asked Ron to share with us what he did to prepare for his transition to Saudi Arabia.

Culture: To get an understanding of culture and local issues, I started reading the English language ARAB News and expat blogs. They give you an open eye view of living within the region. However, no research will give you the real sense of what it is to live there. No movie theaters, no alcohol, and severe restrictions on women, etc.

Coming from the U.S. there is severe culture shock. If you are an expat, you will be living in a compound of like-minded people. This is the important network since you can live within this subdivision free of outside laws.

Business traditions: We have a saying that the logic you have learned in business does not equate here. For example, when someone promises to deliver by a certain date, do not take that as fact. You will receive, but sometimes there does not seem to be a sense of urgency.

Saudi’s do not suffer work-life balance, because they come to work at their start time and leave at end of day. They are not tethered to their cell phone for work related issues. The vacation norm here is 30 days, unlike in the U.S. where we tend to take 1 week here and there.

Labor Laws: Saudi Labor law is approximately a 40-page Word document. The various laws are written skewed towards the employee. It is a must read. The newspapers covers labor law violations extensively so that is why it is paramount to read as often as you can.

The other issue here is Saudization, which is the national policy of Saudi Arabia to encourage employment of Saudi nationals in the private sector. As of 2006, the workforce was largely dominated by expatriate workers.

The Saudi government has enacted policies to promote Saudization, including warnings that ‘companies which fail to comply with Saudization regulations will not be awarded government contracts’. This type law is prevalent throughout the Middle East since all countries depend on expat population and this program is designed to become less reliant on the outside worker.

Even if you’re not planning to move to Saudi Arabia, I think Ron’s experience can give someone a real sense of what it’s like to work in another country and the actions you must take to be effective working as an expat. My thanks to Ron for sharing his expertise.

For those of you who have worked in another country, how did you prepare? Share your tips and expertise in the comments.

 

 

 

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