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Managing The Older Expatriate Employee

In many countries expatriate employees work alongside or report to nationals who are on accelerated employee development programs. Expatriates are most often hired because they have advanced know how and proven experience. With some exceptions, expatriates tend therefore to be older than the average employee. Nationals on accelerated programs, with some exceptions, tend to be relatively young when they become supervisors. They also tend to be recruited from university and immediately enrolled in a multi-year graduate development program, and as a result have experience of only one or two organizations, compared to the broad experience gained in four to eight organizations of the average expatriate. This presents a challenge for a young manager with an older more experienced expatriate reporting to them.


Younger managers are often afraid of managing older more experienced expatriates. They don’t know how to manage them. They are aware that the expatriate knows more than they do, at least about the technical and practical aspects of the job. Younger managers often find it difficult to tell them what to do and to hold them accountable, especially when they try to boss around the more experienced expatriate. Sometimes they just ignore the older expatriate which leads to a dysfunctional team.


So what to do?


The fundamental change required is to try and change the management culture from one of top-down command and control to a way of managing which engages employees. The feature of command and control is that employees should do what the manager says because they are the boss and because the manager assumes they know more than their subordinates. And this is where the frustration occurs for many expatriates, particularly those that are older and may have previously been in a bigger job. “I have been hired because of my experience but my boss acts like he knows it all and does not need me”.


The key is to teach younger managers how to engage their team especially the older members of the team. The central theme should be that you are a partner with the expatriate and you’re making decisions jointly.


Getting away from this situation requires a way of managing which engages older employees, engages their input, asks them for advice, involves partnering and sharing more than traditional managers might be comfortable doing.


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