After three years in Angola plus 2 working directly with an Angolan branch, I have met many expats in Angola. I have noticed two things about them (us)…
1. Most expats in Angola are very well paid;
2. Most expats in Angola are unhappy or even frustrated during their expatriation;
Luanda is the most expensive city in the world, and sometimes is a very difficult place to live in, but it’s also very interesting and as an expat, you will be extremely well paid. We are talking about 4 or 5 times what you would earn back home. And most of the times plus car, house, and even petty cash. Companies are spending too much money with expats to not having them motivated and performing their best. If an employee costs 10 000 to 15 000 USD per month, the employee has to perform, but the company must create conditions for him to perform. Managers don’t seem to understand that paying well isn’t enough to have their expatriates happy and fully committed to the company! It makes absolutely no sense to have such employees and don’t have them motivated, integrated and focused to excel in their jobs. Most companies look at their Human Resources in a very traditional way. Apparently, they think that just because the salary is very good, everyone will be highly motivated! The problem is that this has been proved wrong for a long time.
Common fallacies about expats in Angola
We are paying allowances and premium salaries, that should solve their problems;
- Just because companies are paying huge salaries doesn’t mean that the expat won’t have problems adapting. Most of the times it would be better if they paid less and offered better/more support (helping with bank transfers, house hunting, safety, etc)
They are our best, they will handle it;
- Expats should be chosen very carefully and usually are technically good, with abilities that add value to the company. But because of these abilities, companies expect them to be able to handle any situation with minimum effort, even unexpected or very different things from what they were used to. Companies tend to undervalue the importance of these difficulties or the effort put in to solve them;
We are an international company we give our expats support from the home office;
- Maybe two or three people in the home office know what being an expat means, the others are just clueless, untrained and unaware of what an expat needs a goes through. Without effective and valuable support the expat won’t be performing as expected.
We hired the expat not his/her family;
- Expats have families, spouses, and kids. Companies sometimes ignore this completely, either not facilitating regular trips back or helping expats relocating their families with them. An expat continuously worried about their family isn’t focused as it could!
Angola nowadays is almost the same as back home;
- Angola changed a lot and improved significantly in the last 10 years! There are many foreigners… But it is never the same as being at home, and still very different from Europe or US. Forget or ignore this will only create friction between home office and expats.
These “myths” about expat life an expat work should be pretty obvious to managers of international companies, even small or medium one. Unfortunately, it seems that they are ignored by most of them, creating ridiculous situations harming both expats and companies. These companies need to learn how to manage their expats. Companies are failing to understand that increased job satisfaction protects their investment in the employee. And If they are spending more than 10 000 USD per month per employee, it’s a high investment! The expat needs to be focused on the work, on his mission, on transferring knowledge…
How can companies improve their expat management
Maintain strong, clear and regular communication
- this should be both formal and informal. Companies should require expats to report back regularly. Reports on adaptation to the culture or daily life difficulties to achieve goals and even home visits to headquarters should be required. Losing direct and close contact between the expat is the first step into a divorce between the expat and the company.
Having a career and repatriate plan
- most expats end up parting from the company soon after their repatriation because they feel undervalued by the company. They feel that their effort and experience during expat years isn’t being recognized. Sometimes just weeks before the repatriation it still isn’t clear the expats future, their future position or what is expected of him and what can he expect from the company. Both expatriation and repatriation are life-changing events and companies need to respect it.
Clear and stable rules
- Changing your life and your family life is distressful enough. If the company isn’t clear and stable about how things work and what is expected from him, then the expat won’t be as focused as it could and companies will get expats losing their time with personal problems instead of doing their jobs. In a country like Angola with possible social/safety instability, this is even more relevant.
Keep the promises
- Some companies tend to change the terms of expatriation after it begins. This will be seen as very unethical and it’s the easiest and the most obvious way of making an expat (or any employee) unhappy and looking for another workplace. I have seen this happening many times in Angola. Even if it’s not with yourself, you will wonder: “if the company does this to him, it will do it to me also…”
Don’t be cheap
- Companies tend to start saving on the wrong things, like plane tickets, reducing bonuses or allowances. Expats are really expensive and being worried about more 100 USD per month when the company spends 10 000 to 15 000 USD is just stupid. This 100 USD makes no difference in the companies budget but having its employees unsatisfied or even resentful can slowly destroy the bond between the company and the expat. And will surely make a difference!
A good thing turned bad – a simple example of what not to do…
Many expats have 2 or 3 trips paid per year. Great idea, everyone wants to go back and be with family for a few days. It’s a perk everyone appreciates! The problem? When a company isn’t organized, defines simple rules for everyone and schedule the trips/holidays timely, things get complicated. The ticket isn’t booked at the best time, the price goes up 200 USD and the company now wants to schedule a flight through Dubai or Istanbul… making an 8 hours trip into 24 hours… This is a trip that no one wants to make and will become upset for having to do it. What could be a good thing, is now a possible source of resentment. Is 200 USD worth the risk of having your biggest assets which cost you 10 000 USD per month upset and possibly less motivated to go the extra mile?
Companies in Angola need to look at the Human Capital as their main asset and expats are one their biggest source of value. Expat’s value comes from their ability to perform but also because they can transfer know-how from the head office to the Angolan branch, but they also bring back very specific skills and knowledge from their expatriation. Companies who want to have this knowledge have to retain their expats during and after the repatriation. In order to succeed with these goals, companies need to manage their expats’ needs and not only paid them big wages and expect everything to go well.
The salary is important but it’s only one of the many factors that will determine if an expat is motivated, focused, performing and continues to contribute to the company after the repatriation. Respect, communication, stability, being trustworthy, repatriation and career plan go a long way when we are talking about expats in Angola.
What do you feel companies are doing wrong? What have you seen around you that is just irrational?