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Understanding the realities of international business travel and relocation

A recent trip to Scotland highlights the joys and challenges of international travel
The Kelpies sculpture is a tourist attraction in Scotland. REUTERS/Mary Turner

By Brian Kreissl

My family and I just returned from a vacation in Scotland. It was the first time in 12 years I had been there, and the trip was a much needed break that gave me the ability to reconnect with family, friends and old haunts. It was also my daughter's first trip there and she loved it.

We visited Aberdeen (where I was born and completed my undergraduate education), Edinburgh and Glasgow, toured some small towns and did a Loch Lomond boat cruise. We didn’t rent a car so our trip was heavily focused on cities, but we still managed to see some lovely Scottish countryside.

I absolutely love Scotland and had a fantastic time on my vacation. I have vowed that it certainly won't be another 12 years before returning again (although we spent a fortune on our trip and I doubt we’ll be back next year either).

Nevertheless, it's actually nice to be home and return to my regular routine. As I mentioned previously, travelling can be a great way to help you appreciate your own country.

That was particularly important to my family and me as we reflected on being Canadian around the Canada 150 celebration on Canada Day. We even wore Canada 150 clothing on Canada Day and quite a few people wished us a Happy Canada Day.

We were impressed just how many people could tell we were Canadian – probably because so many Scots have relatives in Canada. Because of that, many people there are pretty familiar with Canada – and more than a few have visited Canada and even lived here.

Implications for employers

In spite of the fact that I normally do a post after returning from holiday relating to work/life balance and the importance of taking one’s vacation, this time around I'm going to focus on the international aspects of our trip and travel in general. In particular, employers need to understand international differences in culture, business practices and costs of living, as well as the realities of travel itself when sending employees on international assignments, repatriating expatriate employees, hiring international candidates and socializing new Canadians into the workforce.

While I thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Scotland, there were a few little things I had forgotten about that irked me slightly, such as traffic lights that seem to take forever to change for pedestrians to cross, the prices of restaurant meals (which are generally about the same price in pounds as we would pay in dollars), chilly weather (I don’t think it even hit 20 degrees the whole time we were there), the prevalence of instant coffee even in fairly nice hotels and the fact that stores close so early even in larger cities like Glasgow.

Because of this, I am reminded of the phenomena of culture shock, reverse culture shock, the tendency to look upon the past with “rose coloured spectacles” and the fact that we as North Americans sometimes expect the rest of the world to conform to our standards and expectations rather than expecting there to be differences and even celebrating those differences. We really need to be mindful at times not to be seen as “ugly Americans” (or “ugly Canadians” in our case).

All of these concerns relate to international assignments and repatriating domestic employees. Employees need to be prepared for the realities of relocation and international travel, and employers need to do their part to ensure the process runs as smoothly as possible by providing language and cultural training, coaching and onboarding and helping to set expectations.

Even where someone isn’t relocating permanently, employers need to be mindful of the realities of business travel. For example, meal, accommodation and travel expenses may not be in line with those in the home country, and meetings should be scheduled to take travel time and jet lag into consideration.

A former professor once told us he actually flew to London for a meeting and then flew back to Toronto the same day. That would probably be about an 18 hour round trip.

Particularly problematic is the fact that people on eastbound transatlantic flights typically lose a night of sleep flying through the night. Many people find it difficult to get much sleep, and the jet lag is much worse travelling east than west. My family and I certainly encountered that on our first day in Scotland.

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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