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Expats Average 13.4 More Work Hours per Week over Home Location

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Expats Average 13.4 More Work Hours per Week over Home Location

By J.J. Smith, October 2007

Employees on international assignments report working an average of 13.4 more hours per week compared to the number of hours they work at the home location. The additional hours, combined with other overseas pressures, are affecting workers’ lives, says an expat work/life balance study.

During late 2006 and early 2007, Industrial Relations Counselors Inc. (IRC), a nonprofit organization designed to improve employer-employee relations, and the consulting firm ORC surveyed expats about their work/life balance experiences and found that expats work longer hours abroad than at home. The study— 2007 Expatriate Work-Life Balance Survey—collected information on participants’ job levels, the number of years on foreign assignment, civil/marital status, company policy on work/life balance and the effect of expatriation on family.

The survey found that expats’ extra work hours disrupt their family life, “ making spouses and children dissatisfied” with the overseas assignment. In addition, the study finds most companies’ expat work/life balance policies to be weak. Other findings include:

    • Expats face additional stress from cultural and language differences.

    • Female expatriates have higher levels of work-related stress than their male counterparts.

    • Expatriates and HR staff have contradicting views regarding work/life balance policies and practices.

Expat workers say they not only work an average of 13.4 more hours per week at their foreign assignment when compared to working at the home location, but 67 percent say their companies expect them to work beyond their normal working hours, according to the report. Additional findings include that 51 percent of expats say they feel overworked, 45 percent say they have feelings of being overwhelmed by their foreign assignment and 48 percent say work is intruding on their home lives.

While 62.8 percent of expat workers say they are experiencing stress because of “the challenge of a new job,” nearly half cite the causes of stress being linked more to the assignment’s location rather than directly to the job, according to the report. At least 44.6 percent cite an “inability to take part in activities that were available in the home country” as the reason for their stress, while 42.8 percent report a loss of their support networks for increased stress, 40.7 percent say “language and culture difficulties” are responsible for their stress, and 37.9 percent say their spouses’ inability to find work is the reason for their stress.

Despite the stress created by a foreign assignment, 79 percent of expats say their companies do not have work/life balance policies to respond to the pressures.

The survey shows that assignees are not taking advantage of language and cultural training when it is offered, ORC says. Alth ough employers typically offer language and cultural training that might help relieve some of the pressures created by a foreign assignment, “the proportion [of expats] taking this up and completing it was relatively low,” ORC says. Therefore, the consultant recommends that companies implement communication initiatives “to persuade and encourage employees and their families to undertake and complete training programs when these are available.”

J.J. Smith is manager of SHRM Online’s Global HR Focus Area.

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