A few weeks ago I wrote about the way that many new employees are greeted in U.S. workplaces, with a friendly "welcome," a brief tour of their new workspace, and a request from their boss or colleague to "let me know if you need anything else."
I asked for stories from people who had transferred to a U.S. office of their company from a different country, about the welcome and orientation they received upon arrival in the United States. I requested feedback about what was helpful to them, and what they wished that someone had done or said to make their transition to the U.S. workplace easier.
I compared these responses to my own ongoing research and personal observations, as well as the suggestions outlined in Cornelius Grove and Willa Hallowell's article, Expats from Abroad in the U.S.A.: Six Steps for Effective Integration, and a few tips stood out as worthy of extra attention. If you're already hosting, or preparing to welcome international transferees into your organization in the U.S., you may find these helpful:
- Mentors: When I ask transferees what was most helpful to them, especially during their first weeks in the U.S., their mentor (if one was assigned to them) is typically at the top of the list! Ideally, a mentor should be assigned to each new transferee and this role should be included in their job description and/or performance review criteria. Mentors should be selected because they are already very familiar with the work culture in the U.S. office, interested in learning more about the transferee's culture, and willing to answer questions, provide introductions to colleagues, and offer advice and social support as needed.
- Local area information: Transferees are often at a loss for things to do outside of work, and a little intimidated by the idea of exploring an unfamiliar city on their own. Think about ways to provide easy access to information about the local area, including public transportation, weekend and evening activities, and places to shop for familiar foods. A "welcome binder" with maps and brochures from the local Visitors' Information center, along with a list of books or websites and suggestions from previous transferees, can be a much-appreciated resource.
- A busy schedule: Especially during the first weeks in a new country and office, a busy schedule that has been arranged in advance can really help transferees to settle in and adjust to their new life in the U.S. One person put it this way: "find ways to get new team members involved and busy -- almost overloaded - -- in the first few days. This could be through simple projects they participate in or own - it could be through scheduling meetings with team members they need to get to know - or research projects -- anything that has people feeling like they are contributing and busy from the start."
- Insights into U.S. culture: Wherever your transferees are moving from, it's likely that the way they are used to working and spending their free time at home is different from the way that we work and live in the United States. Whether it's through formal cultural orientation/training programs, helpful books and articles, or simply access to an excellent mentor, transferees need easy ways to get their questions about U.S. culture answered.
- English lessons: Even transferees who come to the U.S. with strong English-language skills sometimes request additional lessons, to hone their skills and learn to keep up with the pace and style of communication in the U.S. workplace. Consider offering language lessons as an option for anyone who is working in the U.S. for the first time.
These are just a few of the things that you might consider as you welcome new transferees into your U.S. organization. If you have other suggestions for helping people settle in and get up to speed quickly, I would love to hear them.