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Relocating in times of global uncertainty


International Consultants Centre addresses the challenge of relocating during periods of unrest

By Julie Granek BA, BSW (Hons), MMgt (HR) Melb
Specialist Member, The Employee Mobility Institute
Member, Australian Human Resource Institute (MAHRI)
Cultural Training Consultant, International Consultants Centre

The growing risk of terror-related issues can naturally be a source of stress for international assignees and has been found to impact on workplace attitudes, performance and assignment duration (Reiche 2014b). It can also render the recruitment of future expatriate employees much more difficult (Scullion, Collings and Gunnigle 2007). Yet multinationals must still continue to encourage staff to work abroad so as to develop – and train others with – the necessary skill set required to compete in the international market.

Understanding terrorism-related stress

Bader and Berg (2015) have proposed a two-stage model to explain terrorism-related stress observed in so many international assignees:

1. Emergence phase

– this occurs when an assignee reacts to particular stressors in their host environment, such as the threat of an attack. During this phase, the level of perceived stress is largely dependent on a personal assessment of that specific stressor. Individuals with different levels of sensitivity may perceive the same threat quite differently so greater sensitivity to a perceived stressor can lead to higher levels of actual stress.

2. Outcomes phase

– tracks the effects of stress and strain on assignees work attitudes, often culminating in an early exit point for many assignees.

How should organisations manage the stress of terror-related issues?

HR practitioners must develop innovative ways to encourage staff to accept – and complete – international assignments by reducing the impact of terror-related stress. Strategies for stress reduction could include:

  • Maintaining low levels of accrued stress by lowering the influence of (other) existing stressors of the assignment. This may already begin during the candidate selection phase by screening for suitability factors including previous experience in high-risk countries (Bader and Berg 2015).
  • A range of protective solutions at pre-departure and post-arrival points could be offered to minimise accrued stress levels. Examples offered by International Consultants Centre include: orientation programs and cultural briefings as well as teaching skills in coping, crises management and self-care through the Assignment Support Services for Internationally Successful Transfers (ASSIST) program, which is facilitated by in-house trainers who hold qualifications in counselling and Social Work.
  • Organisations should aim to optimise psychological health and wellbeing of assignees through personalised anti-stress initiatives. These may include provision of leave, psychological assistance such as Employee Assistance Programs or promoting recreational activities that promote stress recovery.
  • There is some evidence to suggest that assignees are seeking greater support and access to information from their home offices as they undertake work aboard (Scullion, Collings, and Gunnigle 2007). Various forms of social media including company chatrooms and messaging applications are becoming increasingly popular methods for keeping in touch. Mentoring programs and social gatherings with other expatriates can also provide a forum to exchange information and reduce social isolation.
  • In line with a global duty of care, emergency management guidelines should be updated and embedded into organisational policy (Bourke and Cooper 2008). The necessary resources to deal with various types of emergencies and information on who to contact in the event of an unplanned disaster must be clearly communicated. With increased global instability, this is applicable to assignees in all locations and not just those that have traditionally been earmarked as a “hardship” destination.
  • Increased fluidity in defining a “hardship” destination. Reiche (2014a) argues that consideration must be given to factors that are not only influenced by variability to the expatriate’s home. These include risk of natural hazards and physical threat as well. The manner in which the safety and wellbeing of international assignees is managed by organisations will largely influence the take up of overseas assignments, the interest of future candidates and ultimately an organisation’s global business and human capital strategies. Therefore, it is imperative that relocations occurring during periods of unrest be adequately supported to sustain a competitive advantage in industry.


Bader, B and Berg, N (2014). The influence of terrorism on expatriate performance: a conceptual approach. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 25, 4, 539-557.

Bourke, R.J and Copper, C.L (2008). International Terrorism and Threats To Security, Cheltenham: Edwards Elgar.

Reiche, S (2014a). Hardship Allowance in Expatriation: A Default Practice Accessed 3 February 2016, from practice

Reiche, S (2014b). Latest Research: How Does Terrorism Influence Expats?. Accessed 16 January 2015, from

Scullion, H, Collings, D.G and Gunnigle, P (2007). International Human Resource Management in The 21St Century: Emerging Themes And Contemporary Debates, Human Resource Management Journal, 17, 4, pp 309-319.


Julie Granek is a Cultural Training Consultant, HR professional and Social Worker. She has lived in the Middle East for several of years, where she worked with local and expatriate communities. She combines her academic background and her experiences abroad to prepare individuals and corporate teams for international relocation, manage of their repatriation, as well as provide support to those working in an intercultural context. Julie is the recipient of the 2015 Eric J. Ingram prize for Strategic HRM from The University of Melbourne.

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