Expatriate training must include preparation for psychological and socio-cultural changes

When training employees to work abroad, organizations must prepare individuals for psychological and socio-cultural changes, which ultimately impact how well someone adapts to and is successful on an international assignment, according to a new book chapter from a Rice University psychologist.

Eduardo Salas

Eduardo Salas

“Training for Expatriates” appears in “The International Encyclopedia of Intercultural Communication” (Wiley-Blackwell, 2,160 pages, $437.12). Eduardo Salas, the Allyn R. and Gladys M. Cline Chair and Professor of Psychology, is an expert on cross-cultural training and co-authored the chapter with Jennifer Feitosa, an assistant professor of psychology at the City University of New York.

The chapter outlines key steps for employers seeking to train expatriates to have a successful overseas work assignment. Historically, employer expatriate training has often been given only prior to the expatriate’s departure, if it was given at all, Salas said.

He said the most critical step for employers seeking to implement expatriate training is to prepare workers for the psychological and socio-cultural differences they will face in another country.

“One of the advantages to this type of training is that it can provide the expatriate with accurate information on avoiding any major stereotype formation and/or any misunderstandings that could otherwise arise if the expatriate arrives in the host country unprepared,” he said.

Salas said the most effective training for expatriates implements all of the basic elements – providing information, demonstration, practice and feedback.

“Proper training does each of these four things and offers learning in each context,” he said. “However, most training programs are information displays that provide little opportunity for practice or feedback. The most successful programs linked to skill acquisition must include these four elements.”

Other training suggestions identified by Salas include making sure there is ample time for training implementation; demonstrating the connection between the expatriation and the development of the employee’s career path so the employee will understand the worth and relevance of the new role; training of family members, who provide critical support for the employee while abroad; and providing support and direction when the employee returns from the assignment, with regard to assimilation and future employment.

Salas hopes the book will help organizations provide better training for their employees embarking on international assignments.

“In a global economy, it’s essential for organizations to think and be informed about the science of training and how that can help their employees in navigating their assignments overseas,” Salas said.

For more information on Salas, visit https://psychology.rice.edu/eduardo-salas.

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.