Helping Generation Y Expats Become Builders

1. Incredibly Competent, But Often Isolated
 
Emotional Skills
 
Young employees selected for jobs abroad are generally very professionally competent, with high-level reasoning skills and an ability to act effectively. These characteristics are an asset for the projects they work on, often leading them to be identified as high-potential employees within their companies.
However, this ability to work on objective information does not necessarily imply an ability to work on subjective, emotional, or personal information which is very different in nature. The apparent strengths of these employees may in fact hide a related weakness.
People use their emotional intelligence to bring meaning to their experiences, providing a context and creating links between the different things they think, feel, and experience. In other words, people base their ability to understand and deal with what happens to them--and therefore their personal balance and well-being--on their emotional intelligence.
The intellectual and operational abilities of a person are therefore not enough to ensure their psychological health when they are sent away on an assignment. Nevertheless, it's tempting to approach the question from that perspective.  
 
Banal and Ideal Expatriation: Focusing on Goals and Moving
 
When a project is planned abroad, a (very legitimate) enthusiasm can build up regarding the things that will be created, and all eyes are fixed on the coming success. Both those being sent abroad for the project and the people making the decisions can get caught up in the emotions stirred up by their orders and made concrete through their goals. Numbers and nominations can quickly lead these young expats to make promises to their employers and themselves to achieve the expected results and to be up to their expectations. Thus, the instructions they receive can transform into personal imperatives.
They see themselves as “perfect” employees who meet all of their superiors’ requirements to a tee, thereby trapping themselves with this ideal self-image. This official, superficial portrait is reflected internally in a psychological form and externally in a physical form displayed to colleagues and bosses. This external representation of the self is so well-behaved and polite that these same colleagues and bosses base their assessments and instructions on it.
And so the ideal employee is sent off, coordinating with the ideal goals of their task, and everyone gets swept up in the shared adventure and dynamism, idealizing expatriation.
This is just a quick sketch of how the process can take shape and how it can spread throughout a team, unbeknownst to the very members of that team. For this reason, it is important to be aware of and pay attention to the issue.
You can already see how this process emphasizes the objective facts of being an expat while at the same time pushing aside the emotions that go along with living that experience, even though it is a fundamental aspect for the people involved.
 

 The Danger of Idealizing Expat Life
 
Treating an assignment abroad as a simple move can be dangerous as the young expat may hurt themselves and miss out on a true journey.
By hurting themselves, I mean shutting down their emotional side so that their constitution and psychological well-being relies on their idealisation, which is to say, on a construction which is fundamentally artificial, even if it is made of the objective results. Doing this requires a great deal of internal energy; in the meantime, the person neglects to manage their personal resources, leaving them in danger. As soon as reality diverges from the ideal (and the hoped-for success), the person’s psychological balance shifts.
This shift manifests itself through psychological and physical exhaustion, or what is more commonly called “burn out”. This term encompasses a number of complex psychological processes, from questioning their identity to experiencing bursts of anger or tears. In the end, these emotions find a way to make themselves known!
 
2. For Traveler-Builders
 
A Multidimensional Base
 
Avoiding these pitfalls in advance requires supporting these young expats by taking into account (or helping them a take into account) their emotional experiences and their psychological and physical resources on the job.
This kind of support can be developed through joint action by the different people in their work environment: colleagues, bosses, human resources managers, external contributors, and more. Each can play their part within the purview of their job and abilities.
Measures need to be devised and implemented with this in mind. We can begin immediately by highlighting the importance of the pace of life. Vacations and time to recover are essential. People need time to rest both during and between assignments, including the preparatory period before each trip abroad, whether or not it is their first time travelling abroad for work. The length of time spent abroad for each assignment and for a series of successive assignments as well as how different the destinations are from one another are other factors that must be considered.
 
Permanent Personal Relationships
 
This kind of scheduling organization with a balance between assignments and recovery periods can only be designed and implemented on an individual basis depending on that person's preferred pace and rhythm.
Therefore, regular monitoring of each expat is necessary, preferably by the same, familiar people who can act as stable fixtures amidst the instability of assignments abroad where the employee is constantly confronted with the unknown.
With this approach, assessments of the employee's psychological state avoid being one-time tests by authority figures and become a regular observation of the employee's development.
 
Measuring Personal and Cultural Changes
 
The purpose of all this is to offer continuity to the employee since it is one of the basic foundations to help them have the best possible experience with the discontinuity of their travelling. In this case, having the best possible experience means benefiting emotionally from lived experiences. This leads to allowing these new situations, including cultural ones, to bring about personal transformations.
When it comes to facing these new cultural situations, people often find themselves questioning their own perspective. Their way of thinking might be shaken. One extreme example is an employee leaving France where they have an established identity and going to China where they have nothing... just the character, in the sense of a powerful reality without identity. Helping employees with this kind of paradigm shift, preventing any painful consequences, and turning it into a source for personal development all require providing information and training about transcultural adventures to young people sent abroad.
In short, assisting these young employees can be managed by a monitoring unit that pays attention and intervenes before, during, and after every assignment.
 
Article written by Monia Latrouite-Ma, a clinical psychologist, intercultural coach, and member of the Eutelmed network.