The term EAP is short for Employee Assistance Program. It is already well known in the US – approximately 90% of (larger) US companies offer their employees participation in the program. With EAP, employees get help with all kinds of problems – private and professional – from a qualified, external consulting service. The Corrente AG offers employees who are about to be sent abroad a special preparation program or consulting and support during their stay – this is not only for employees, but also for their spouses and children. The American Dream (TAD) interviewed experts Juliane Barth and Petra Kleinewoerdemann of the Corrente AG about this. Juliane Barth is a co-founder of the Employee Assistance European Forum (EAEF) and as such has worked on the concepts of Employee Assistance and EAP in Germany. Her responsibility at Corrente is the consulting department, especially employee consulting, and product development. Petra Kleinewoerdemann is a certified psychologist, her responsibility at Corrente is expatriate services. She has lived and worked for several years in the US and in Israel. Since 2003 she is in charge of managing Cross Cultural Adaptability Assessments.
TAD: What services does Corrente offer companies that want to send employees abroad?
CORRENTE: The Corrente Expatriate Program includes several different components. Put together, they offer the employees and their families the best possible support to handle the move to another country. Depending on whether the employee is sent from Germany to a company abroad or is coming from a foreign company to Germany, Corrente starts the expatriate program accordingly.
If an employee and his family are being sent abroad, the first step of the program is a preparation counseling. For this, Corrente assigns the family a psychologist counselor. Before departure, the individual situation will be discussed and the family prepared for the possible cultural shock in a session of several hours. Together we will work out a plan to realize their plans and goals. This plan can be useful in the case of complications or difficult situations.
Employees coming to Germany from abroad will get an information manual. This detailed information package contains all necessary information about living and working in Germany. A welcoming meeting is also part of the program. In addition, Corrente offers, at first four times a year and then once every year, individual consultations and a repatriate consulting to manage the often even more difficult adjustment after returning to one’s home country. This includes support with the handling of any changes in the family members’ personal life that might have occurred in the meantime, support with early career planning for the time after the return to the home country for the employee and his or her spouse or partner, and support with any preparations for the return, especially for the children.
The goal of Corrente’s expatriate program is a successful stay abroad for all members of the party, prevent a premature return home, reduce any stress factors for the family as much as possible and support employee and family during the process of integration and, later, re-integration.
TAD: What are the biggest pitfalls in the process of sending an employee abroad? What role does the family play here?
CORRENTE: Quite frequently, the reason a stay abroad doesn’t work out is the fact that family members have difficulties dealing with the situation in the host country and can’t very well handle the cultural adjustments. Even usual stress factors can be exponentially more severe in an unfamiliar environment and difficult situations can escalate a lot faster. Especially in the case of single parents, newly-weds, families with teenagers, family members in need of care in the home country, and blended families.
That’s why the support for family members is a vital part of the expatriate program, since the family members are usually not very much linked with the company. Experience has shown that they have the most difficulties adjusting to the new situation. They often have difficulties managing even usual every-day problems, in addition, they have to leave behind their social network of friends and relatives. Moving to another country is highly stressful for them. This is especially true for single parents.
The most common problems are:
- health problems (physical and mental), medical standards in the host country
- safety (crime, terror, pandemics, natural disasters)
- coping with cultural shock, adjustment
- the accompanying partner’s career slump, feeling of boredom, loneliness
- missing their familiar social networks (friends and family)
- problems with their relationship
- trouble with their children, problems at school, behavioral problems
- family members in need of care in the home country
TAD: What exactly does Corrente do to support the employee and his or her family?
CORRENTE: In close collaboration with the medizinischer Dienst (German Medical Review Board) we carry out a CCAA (Cross Cultural Adaptability Assessment). This interview will be held before the expatriates and their families leave their home country and the following topics will be discussed:
- motivation, individual strengths, intercultural experiences
- the situation of partners, children, relatives (grandparents) in connection with the stay abroad
- cultural adjustment capabilities, information about the process of adjusting to a new culture (what they have to expect, how to be prepared etc., formulating an action plan)
- work-life balance, hobbies
- fears and hopes
- information about EAP and further support in the foreign country
During the first year, Corrente offers follow-up calls every three months, after that once a year and a repatriate consulting three months prior to the return to the home country. In the host country, all employees have access to EAP providers offering help with every-day problems. In the case of crisis situations, we will provide fast and flexible support in the employees native language. A written summary of the assessment will be submitted to the company physician/medical officer. This report is confidential, as are the results of all medical check-ups. The report also contains information for the employer advising on how to best support the employees so that the stay abroad can be successful for all parties involved.
TAD: Judging from your experience: What should employees going to the US be especially prepared for?
CORRENTE: The US is not a welfare state, many social services are provided on a voluntary basis. So we advise employees to be prepared for the following:
Health care system
- get health insurance, but dental treatment will not be covered
- inefficient emergency rooms in big cities (better find a good general practitioner right away who, in emergencies, can also be reached at night)
- Privacy laws are different from those in Germany, with a German background some questions can be confusing; please be very careful with your personal information
- identity card requirement; mostly, only US driver’s licenses will be accepted
- consumption of alcohol for people under the age of 21 has consequences, be careful with alcohol consumption in public places
- dealing with authorities, taxes, fill out the forms very carefully, otherwise they will be rejected without any reasons for the rejection stated
- Homeland Security at airports, general security checks
- No dismissals protection
- on return to Germany: Riesterrenten are not recognized
- parental leave will not be recognized
- good education is expensive (for each child’s education you will pay as much as for an entire house)
- compulsory vaccination (e.g. chicken pox)
culture, every day life
- without credit history, buying a car or house is difficult
- weapons (e.g. in the houses of school mates)
- finding healthy, wholesome food is difficult, lunch at school – overweight children
- compared to Europe, power lines are not very safe (above ground), as are water pipes and installations
- frequently supermarkets can only be reached by car, every day activities for families are expensive (e.g. swimming pools, often require membership in a country club etc.)