A serious question for employees and expats alike: why are you still here? And how much would it take for you to go?
I’m surprised it took so long for my professional interest in employee engagement and my personal interest in all things expat to overlap.
I think I was thrown off the scent by the fact that, as an expat, the first question you ask someone you meet isn’t “What do you do?”, it’s “Where are you from?”. That’s closely followed by “How long have you been here?” before sometime later you get into “So, what brought you here?” which is the expat’s roundabout way of asking what you do.
Far smarter minds than mine have probably grappled with this already, but my hunch is that there’s a strong correlation between expats and employees when it comes to moving on.
Pay if you go
My theory was triggered by a couple of articles I read recently with my professional head on, but that seemed so applicable to my personal situation.
Yes, you read that right: they’ll pay you to walk away, just like a real-life game show.
The logic, as twisted as it might seem at first, is actually impeccable: Amazon’s increasingly generous offer (the golden goodbye gets larger each year) encourages, nay forces, the employee to sit back and ask themselves at least once a year: is this the right place for me?
Because too often employees only consider that question at interview stage.
Once they sign on the dotted line, however, that perspective goes out of the window; the security of a monthly pay cheque and company benefits drowns out the voice in their head telling them to seek something, somewhere, better.
Why are you still here?
And expats are just the same. The Olympic hassle of moving somewhere new – again – might be enough to keep someone in a job or country that has long since lost its sparkle.
So I think we (by which I mean expats; the world of full-time employment and annual reviews continues to elude me) should be encouraged to ask ourselves the same question.
(The sentiment was echoed in the second piece I read, Leandro Herrero’s “shortest Employee Engagement survey”, which has just one straight-to-the-point question: Why are you still here?)
Because no matter how secure you think your situation is, or how settled you feel, the idea of an expat annual review makes a lot of sense.
Yes, it means asking yourself / your partner potentially difficult questions about your work/life balance, prospects, opportunities and general wellbeing.
But if nothing else, it’s a great opportunity to check in with where you are on the expat journey. Do you want to carry on here, wherever here is? Carry on somewhere else (if so, where)? Or click your heels and repeat “there’s no place like home”? Are you compromising on your values?
Admittedly, it’s hard to freely discuss challenges like this without coming across as a whinging pom. And a more nuanced response is needed than a variation on ‘If you don’t like it, why don’t you just leave?’
Such a response ignores the fact that nowhere is perfect (yes, even the sainted paradise of your dreams where you originally come from.)
And it’s hard to discuss freely because no one can ever truly know anyone else’s motivations or reasons for staying in a relationship, in a job or in a country. It’s simply not that simple.
But better to have an honest conversation, surely, than to plough on regardless assuming everything’s a-ok.
Mad as hell
I can’t even rely on the TV to provide some light relief. Ok, so watching a show about office politics was never going to be a complete switch off, but the return of Mad Men brought with it a timely reminder that there’s nothing new under the sun.
Turning its back on the flabby 60s flannel of last season, the season 7 opener (Time Zones) saw the show back to its scotch-soaked sparkling best and included, from Peggy – who has always been the anti-heroine heart of the show – a passionate rant that echoed all the thoughts I was already having about why we do what do all day.
Frustrated by both her boss’ inability to recognise fantastic work even when she puts it under his nose, as well as her team’s desire to quit at the first hurdle, Peggy unleashes a crie de coeur:
“I’m tired of fighting for everything to be better. You’re all a bunch of hacks who are perfectly happy with shit. Nobody cares about anything.”
(Naturally, she ends the episode having a professional and personal breakdown.)
If Zappos’ offer had existed at Sterling Cooper & Partners (or whatever they’re called this week), I think Peggy would have taken it, because no job, no posting, is worth that much damage to your health.
Name your price
Who knows what you’ll uncover if you actually take a step back and review your situation objectively? You’ll find areas where things you’ll be better, no doubt.
But you’ll also be reminded of opportunities and experiences you’re grateful for that you wouldn’t have otherwise had.
So I think it would benefit all expats to ask ourselves the question once a year; to do a performance review on ourselves, our family, our expectations, our hopes, our priorities.
And then when you’ve asked and answered those tough questions, you’ll start to get a sense of where you are on the scale, and what your answer would be if you got offered to quit tomorrow.
Because we all have our price. What’s yours?