You’ve come to a new country and often a new job with a new network of friends to build and a new house to kit out. Often you can land on your feet but for anyone who chooses to work away from their home country, there’ll be some teething problems.
Naturally, the first months – even years – of expat life are clouded by background anxiety about getting your life back into somewhere near the more comfortable and ordered space you left at home. What you don’t need is to be miserable at work. But from our experience, this happens a lot.
Sometimes the job isn’t quite what was expected. Surviving in the organisation itself can be hard work, let alone culture shock and mountains of admin to fill out.
We’ve been there and we get it (i.e. we’ve made all the mistakes you could make!)
There is plenty of great advice around about surviving and flourishing in expat-dom. What we’re presenting below is a cheat sheet on our 5 best tips for surviving at work as an expat.
Now a warning: we don’t refer to cultural differences, where and how to find friends, how often to call home etc. There is stuff out there and to be honest, it’s fairly obvious after you have some experience living away from home, don’t you think?
This is advice for finding some more enjoyment at work if you find that things there are going off track.
1. What are you really here for?
Is it for the money? The experience? Because your partner got a job here? To progress your career?
This is number one because you need to get a handle on this. If work is frustrating, there is a need not being fulfilled somewhere. Part of the frustration may actually be from not knowing why we’re doing things.
If you can answer the question above, your tactics to achieve your career purpose become easier to frame and, ultimately, achieve.
2. Understand your own potential
Are you aiming to progress to the next level of authority in your organisation?
If you are, think carefully about what that would actually entail in terms of your personal life (will you have one left if you do??!!) as well as the impact on your stress levels. We are all different and some of us will enjoy leadership roles more than others.
Be prepared to confront reality head-on – having a clear understanding of your current leadership potential helps you make sense of your career to date and where you should be heading.
3. Work on your network across the organisation you work for – not just in your department
Most organisations you would work for as an expat are hierarchical. And the vast majority are pyramid shaped. If you are interested in moving into a role that has more authority, there will be competition. But don’t limit yourself to just your department. Many skills you learn in an organisation can be applied in a different part of that organisation. If you are getting stale working in legal affairs or compliance, a communications role might match your skill set. Think about how what you do could add value to another area of your organisation – there is no doubt it would!
4. Get to know your direct supervisor or manager
Your direct manager or supervisor can probably be a bigger help than you think. Don’t forget, if they are an expat too, they could be dealing with similar challenges to you. A useful model to use is this one from Systems Leadership, the 3 questions about work. These are questions that all of us – no matter what work we’re doing – need an answer to be engaged at work:
- What am I expected to do and why?
- How am I going?
- What’s my future?
It’s the last question that can be the toughest to answer but can kick-start a very useful conversation with your manager that leads to opportunities that you didn’t think were there.
5. Laugh. A lot.
Have fun. There will be a time when you’ll look back on your years working overseas and wish you were still there. Even in the toughest roles, there will be positives – take care of yourself and if you can’t see many positives, talk to someone who knows your situation and can re-frame things for you.
Floreat Consulting Australia can offer individual career development services for expats in most countries. Get in touch today to arrange a Skype call where we can discuss your options.