Pay As You Go

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 got sunshine in a bag
Perfect fodder for your friendly neighbourhood customer service / employee engagement nerd

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.

The first explained why Amazon, having bought customer service legends Zappos in 2009, has now adopted one of their key employee review tactics: an annual offer to its employees to quit.

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.

Ruby slippers
“I click my heels, and go underground…”

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.

Peggy Olson
Peggy Olson: she’s mad as hell and not going to take it any more

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?


4 thoughts on “Pay As You Go

  1. UmmON May 1, 2014 / 6:56 pm

    I keep asking myself this all the time. Th answer is this. I can’t up and leave as I have commitments and the job market is not exactly ripe outside the country. But even when you know you are done here, it’s the wait for and fear of what comes next.

    • littlecity May 2, 2014 / 10:40 am

      So true – and sorry 😦
      Maybe I should write a light-hearted follow up piece about what we’re all going to do once we’re replaced by robots…

  2. Gypsy May 2, 2014 / 5:36 pm

    This is such a relevant piece for me right now. There are reasons to stay and reasons to go, but there’s a price to both. Over the last year, we’ve considered lucrative moves to another ME country (the only one where I wouldn’t be able to drive), a career move for hubby that would see him leave Qatar and Kiddo and me carry on working and studying here, a career move for hubby that would see Kiddo and me return to a life of leisure in Canada while he worked endlessly with a flight home twice a year. We’ve looked at all the scenarios, in terms of lifestyle, personal and career satisfaction, financial benefits, and ultimate goals. That exercise has been priceless. In every case, there was something to be gained, just not ‘everything’. While we like to think we embrace change, we’ve realized that once you’re a family, there’s a dance you have to learn that may well leave you slightly wistful … We’ve decided, finally, that the most important thing for us is to aim for our ultimate goal (financial freedom on return home) while keeping our family intact. And that means that drastic change isn’t in the cards for us right now (unless it involves both of us finding amazing careers in another location for greater salaries and a great school for Kiddo)!

    • littlecity May 3, 2014 / 10:45 am

      I thought this post might touch a nerve…the good news is that we are far from alone in trying to find the right balance of family / work / quality of life. The down side is that no one else can make that decision for you, because everyone’s answer will be different.

      Having a goal, as you guys clearly do, is a great way of having something to focus on when weighing up choices and alternatives. Whether they’re in your head, on a scrap of paper or a complex spreadsheet, I think most expats (and employees) have a version of your plans they review regularly. Best of luck wth yours…

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