Impact of war on expatriates

||Last Updated: 09/04/2003

Being at war on foreign soil can give rise to renewed feelings of personal insecurity and vulnerability. Many will re-experience the impact of past global events and become symptomatic in response to the current situation.

Americans living in Canada, and Canadians living in the U.S. and overseas, will be impacted by the unique circumstances of being on foreign soil during the war in Iraq. With this in mind, FGI, a Toronto-based EAP consulting firm, has prepared advice on how to handle expats.

Expats who could be viewed as sympathetic to the U.S. government’s position in the conflict may experience discrimination and alienation from host nationals. Many may feel more isolated from their families at home as they experience strong anti-American and anti-Western sentiments from the host community.

Impact on individuals

Expats may experience:

•Sense of feeling disconnected and loneliness as they view the media attention from afar.

•Sense of isolation — more than ever they will be aware they are leaving their extended family and social support system behind.

•Sense of guilt at leaving the country.

•Sense of guilt as they may experience some of the perspectives of the host culture which may be more critical or less sympathetic than the views held back home.

•Relapse in culture shock and some renewed sense of hostility towards the host culture.

•Increased confusion about cultural identity as they are torn between the need to assimilate to the host culture and a strong need to assert their personal national identity.

•Increased concerns about safety for their family on assignment.

•Increased anxiety about the safety of loved ones back home compounded by the awareness of distance.

•Feeling torn between wanting to leave the host country or staying to complete the assignment.

How managers can support expats

Managers need to understand these responses are normal and should be temporary. The general emotionality surrounding war may trigger others who are struggling with unrelated losses or issues into increased emotionality or symptomatic behaviour.

Managers can support expats in a number of ways:

•Be proactive in acknowledging the impact of current world events and validating their emotions.

•Reinforce that individual reactions will vary from person to person. Promote tolerance of differences and a non-judgmental attitude within the workplace.

•Do not tolerate political aggression or inappropriateness in the workplace.

•Promote an inclusive vision of the workplace and business teams.

•Provide expat employees with increased opportunity to connect with each other and with their families.

•Take the emotional impact of current events into account when scheduling deadlines, demanding tasks and travel for expat employees.

Source: FGI

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