Nowadays, many Kenyan firms are venturing into the neighbouring countries of the Great Lakes region, such as Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This expansion is fueled by the region’s untapped potential and emerging markets. Although the business movements bring numerous opportunities for growth, they also pose certain challenges for HR professionals tasked with preparing employees to work outside Kenya. Here are five key challenges HR professionals face during this process and effective strategies to overcome them.
- Cross-cultural Adaptation
When preparing employees for external postings, HR professionals encounter the challenge of cross-cultural adaptation. Each country in the region has its unique cultural norms, values, and customs, which may differ significantly from those in Kenya. Failure to adapt to these differences can lead to misunderstandings, communication barriers, and decreased productivity.
HR professionals need to provide comprehensive cultural training programmes to employees before their departure. These programmes may include information about the host country’s history, language, traditions, social etiquette, and business practices.
To complement cultural training, HR professionals ought to establish a support network within the host country. The network would consist of local employees or mentors who can guide the expatriates through the cultural adaptation process. With this kind of support, employees will feel more comfortable and get integrated into the new environment.
2. Legal and Regulatory Compliance
Each country in the Great Lakes region has its legal and regulatory frameworks governing business operations and employment. Both HR professionals and the employees being posted will find it daunting to navigate through the legal complexities of foreign jurisdictions. In case of failure to comply with local laws, the hosted firm may face legal repercussions and damage its reputation.
HR professionals would rather collaborate with legal experts familiar with the legal intricacies of the host country. Through seeking legal consultation, companies will ensure that its employees adhere to all relevant laws and regulations.
HR professionals will require a system to monitor legal compliance continuously. The system may involve regular audits and updates on changes in the host country’s laws. This will ensure that the company stays up-to-date and avoids any legal issues.
3. Security and Safety Concerns
The Great Lakes region has experienced pockets of instability and security concerns in some areas. Ensuring the safety and security of expatriate employees is a significant responsibility for HR professionals. Addressing these concerns effectively is crucial to retaining employee confidence and productivity.
Prior to posting employees abroad, companies need to conduct thorough security assessments of the host country and specific locations where employees will be based. It is important to partner with government agencies of the host country and reputable security firms to gain valuable insights and recommendations.
It is advisable for Kenyan multinationals to develop comprehensive emergency protocols and contingency plans in the event of security threats. HR professionals would be responsible for training employees on these protocols to equip them with the knowledge and skills needed to respond appropriately during emergencies.
4. Work-Life Balance and Employee Well-being
Employees who work in a foreign country can be mentally and emotionally challenged, particularly when they are away from their families and support systems. HR professionals need to consider the impact of relocation on employees’ work-life balance and overall well-being.
Before leaving, firms are expected to offer support to employees’ families, including assistance with visa and work permit processes, finding suitable housing, and access to education for dependents. A happy and settled family will positively impact an employee’s overall well-being.
HR would be provided with an opportunity to implement Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs). These programmes offer counselling and support services to employees facing personal or work-related challenges. Firms that provide employees access to mental health resources can significantly contribute to their well-being.
5. Communication and Collaboration
Employees working across different countries can face challenges in communication and collaboration. Time zone differences, language barriers, and technological limitations may hinder seamless collaboration between teams.
To facilitate efficient communication among employees across borders, companies are required to invest in collaborative technologies such as video conferencing. Facilities such as instant messaging platforms and project management tools would be handy to concerned employees.
HR professionals may need to establish communication norms. For instance, they can define communication protocols and expectations for teams spread across different locations. They can also encourage regular check-ins and provide training on effective virtual communication techniques.
The writer is HRD Consultant and Author of Transition into Retirement; [email protected]