Case One: Kevin and Linda were thrilled to get an assignment in London. They were lucky because it was a joint transfer, so Linda didn’t have to give up her job, and it had been a dream of theirs for a long time to move from Johannesburg to Europe. They arrived in their temporary home, but COVID-19 reached the UK and put the country on lockdown a month later. Suddenly both parents were working from home, their young children were also at home, and they had no support network. Then, Linda found out her job in London would be eliminated.
Case Two: John and Cindy had always wanted to live in Asia, so they were thrilled when John was chosen to take on a management role in the new Singapore office. Cindy was ready to give up her job, and their teenage twins would go to the international school…until COVID-19 reached Singapore and the borders closed to all foreigners. Would John and Cindy still leave? Could their kids even start school?
Case Three: Amanda was sent to India for her dream job, and although it would be a challenge, Amanda knew that if the assignment were a success she would be on the shortlist for management positions in the future. The plan was that her partner Alex would stay behind to let the kids finish their school year, but then COVID-19 struck. Now, Amanda is stuck in India managing her teams remotely and she cannot be reunited with her family.
An international relocation is all about dealing with uncertainty and change, but COVID-19 adds another layer of ambiguity. How can assignees cope with these ever-changing uncertainties?
My Reflections and Tips on How to Manage the “New Normal”
- Resilience: According to Wikipedia, “psychological resilience is the ability to mentally or emotionally cope with a crisis”, and I find it’s the number one competency or attitude of successful assignees. Great things never come from comfort zones. Assignments offer enriching experiences with tremendous development, but it’s no secret that they can be stressful – the ability to bounce back quickly is essential for assignees, now more than ever
- Neuroplasticity: Remember that the brain can modify its connections or re-wire itself. In other words, humans can adjust to the most challenging circumstances despite the fear, stress, and hopelessness that one may feel at times
- Adjust Expectations: Your new reality is a new culture with a different set of values and perspectives. It takes a shift in one’s mind to view the world from a different cultural framework
- Let Go of Control: Humans have a desire for certainty and control. Some cultures are more focused on controlling their lives and destiny, and many think we can shape outcomes and events to our liking. But life is uncertain, so giving up the illusion of control is important to remain adaptable
- Self-Awareness: Know your triggers and know what gives you energy and happiness
- Seek Others: Get social support from your friends and family and take care of yourself
- Patience: The excitement for your assignment is still valid. It may be ‘on hold’ now but even under a “new normal” there will be a new culture and assignment to experience
- Gratitude: List the things you are grateful for in your life to remind yourself of what you have when feeling down
- It’s Temporary: This is just another obstacle for humankind to overcome. History and our personal life stories are proof that optimism, hope, and determination prevail. We can move on from this and we will!
- Shift Your Focus: Should you focus on the problem or on the solution? The latter is a future-oriented approach that opens the door for possibilities, exceptions, and dreams without minimizing the challenges. Practice this attitude so that problems will not drag you down
Written by Nicole Fabry
Nicole Fabry is an IOR consultant and intercultural coach based in Johannesburg, South Africa. She shares her insight with IOR on intercultural training for today’s environment.