The Importance of Integrating Expat Employees to Strengthen Relationships and Improve Retention

April 4, 2019 - 3 minute read

Managing employees can be tricky. Managing employees from various cultures is even trickier.

All of your employees may speak the same common language, but cultural differences can be a minefield if they originate from various countries - even seemingly similar places, such as the US and UK have distinctly different outlooks on specific issues.

From the employee side, exploring a new culture is enormously satisfying, but the challenges of settling into a new company can stack up when you’re also adapting to a new culture. Finding common ground with your colleagues can take a little longer, as you often need to assess and adjust to workplace norms and behaviors to build successful working relationships.

Although full integration is ultimately the responsibility of the expat employee, employers can (and should) support their social integration process through personal development, tools, and social activities. An unhappy and unfulfilled employee will not perform their best work, which will impact productivity and business performance.

Speakap’s HR Officer, Marit Stoop, shares her opinion and personal experience about how assisting expat employees with the integration process—in this case, through language lessons—provides benefit for the whole company;

Learning the Dutch language with colleagues, how amazing is that!?

Packing belongings, saying goodbye to loved ones, and leaving the place you call home... just a few of the things some of our employees have to do before traveling to the Netherlands to start their journey with Speakap. These things, however, are life-changing and can be very unsettling. So how do we empower our non-Dutch employees to feel more “at home” with the Dutch culture?

Our awesome employees suggested that we could start with Dutch language lessons. All communication at Speakap is in English, so one might assume that the motivation for learning the Dutch language would be quite low amongst our expats, but the willingness to participate exceeded our expectations; we are proud to say that 11 people joined the first class held at Speakap HQ!

And even here in bilingual Amsterdam, employees do need to learn the language. Have you ever thought about all the communication the government is sending out in regards to the process of relocating? All of it is in Dutch! Not to mention if you have to arrange daycare for your children, or participate in the WhatsApp group with parents from classmates of your kid. Also all in Dutch!

I am amazed and proud of the effort they have put into learning the common phrases that we Dutchies use every day. Since Speakap develops an internal communications platform, we (of course) have a group where they can practice their Dutch amongst colleagues. In this group, called “Spreekt u Nederlands?”, they motivate each other to communicate in Dutch. Even the teacher participates. One of the most discussed topics is Dutch football and the culture that accompanies the game, such as the songs that football fans sing to ‘their’ club. It should come as no surprise that how (and where!) to order a round of drinks is a hot topic, too.

Learning Dutch with a group of colleagues is an opportunity to get to know each other in a more personal way, something that we at Speakap think is important. Telling others about your interests and your family is also a way to connect on a deeper level which makes you feel more at home. Learning the (super difficult) Dutch language gives our expat employees a new tool for becoming more familiar with the local culture, so they feel more at home in our beautiful country. Equally important is that learning a new language is a way to introduce a fun and empowering activity to our employees, as well as to enhance their physical, mental and social well being.

So to all companies with expat employees; I highly recommend you start investigating the possibilities to provide Dutch language lessons as a company benefit. It will bring everyone much joy!

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Marit Stoop

Written by Marit Stoop