Why It’s Harder for HR to Manage Expats in Sweden



Close up Two Happy Young Businesswomen: Why it is harder for HR to manage expats in SwedenExpats are a breed of their own. They are braver, they possess a set of skills that are sought after, not only in their own country, but in others as well. Expats are usually recruited by Global Mobility Recruiters who have done a lot of research, Skype interviews, testings, and overseas trips to meet them. The stakes are higher than when you recruit someone around the corner. Expats also need more support than a local hire.


For most recruiters, references are an integral part of the recruitment process to vet the individual’s background, ethics and how they work in a team. This information is all harder to come by with an international recruit. So, it’s a leap of faith for both the expat and the recruiter when they sign the dotted line and have an employment contract ready.


When the contracts are signed the real work begins. The good news is that the workforce in the Nordic countries couldn’t be in better shape! The combined average Global Happiness Reports 2013-2017 ranks #1 Denmark #2 Switzerland #3 Norway #4 Iceland #5 Finland #6 Canada #7 Netherlands and #8 Sweden. As stated in “The little book of Lykke” written by Meik Wiking who researches happiness. So, a lot of your work is done for you already.


HR departments are evaluated on the recruit’s achievements and satisfaction, so it is not small matter to have them succeed.


For the HR manager, any expat with skills that couldn’t be found locally should be treasured. While a great deal of the movement is initiated by the expat who wants to see the world, don’t make the mistake of taking less care of them. The challenges are the same. The expat is here because they have skills that you want.


There are reasons why it’s harder to manage expats in Sweden. Expats generally have more needs than your local staff. Here are our tips on how to assist your expat so they thrive in their new job.


Be patient during the settling in period.

In the beginning everything is new. While the Nordic countries have a great deal of official documentation in English it doesn’t mean that it is easy for the expat to understand. You don’t have to be a foreigner to have a hard time with the sign up form for medical services and child allowance — in fact sometimes it feels like you need to be a genius.

For expats that are highly skilled individuals, struggling with these practical things may cause a loss of self confidence since they are not used to feeling helpless.

It will be helpful to give your expat time and attention to explain how things work, even on a very basic level. In this situation your input is invaluable to the individual, but the crucial thing is that your expat has the energy and confidence to be successful in their work role.


Understand that your expat my need help navigating their new personal landscape.

While local staff will find it normal to keep things close to the chest and not mix work with life outside the office, expats may find this unsettling.

There are several reasons for this, not least culture. In many countries business and private life are closely linked. Jobs are found through personal and family networks or alumni organisations. In some patriarchal cultures, the manager in the office is a person that they would naturally go to with concerns. Nordic managers, on the other hand, are quite unused to getting involved in personal issues. You must be prepared for how to handle this and, depending on how it affects the business, have some solutions.


You may need to bridge the gap between local teams and expats

Have you heard “I feel like I’m working in a daycare not an office” before? HR is on the front line of handling conflicts, misunderstandings, bridging the gaps between people, cultures, sexes, senior and junior staff, and functions that are innately at odds with one another.


Many expats comment that Swedes aren’t team players. The job descriptions are referred to when they don’t want to help out and people who say “that isn’t my job” aren’t unusual. This may be a total mystery to an expat and it isn’t unlikely that they will take it personally.


You need friction to make a fire, however smooth operations are more productive. As a Nordic HR manager, you can explain the local nuances, cultural idiosyncrasies and get at least the basics down with time management, productivity, trust and integrity. These days in the #metoo era, it is also a good idea to touch upon gender equality and how the new recruit will work with and be managed by women.


We interviewed many expats and Swedish co-workers who told us their stories before we created Professional Inspiration to help HR managers help expats moving to Sweden. Points of friction were identified, and while a lot of the responsibility rests with the expat to understand their new environment, there is a lot that the HR manager can do to help things along. Expats benefit from getting inside information and we show them why Sweden is ranked second highest inquality of life in the world. It can be due to some of the things that are hard to understand in the beginning.


HR and Global Mobility Managers may find it a challenge to help expats in addition to the myriad of other things that need to get done in a day. The rewards are certainly there though, and getting a multicultural team to work well together can be an outstanding accomplishment.


Feel overwhelmed by the thought of how much support you need to lend to expats? There’s a solution. Try our Professional Inspiration program that demystifies and prepares expats for Swedish work places. It’s part of our Expat Success series!

The videos and worksheets in this course will help unlock each employee’s magic potential. Here’s a bit of what we will cover:

  • A comprehensive move to Sweden checklist
  • Tips on how to stay safe
  • The unwritten rules in Sweden
  • Swedish office etiquette
  • The nuances of working in Sweden
  • Work and family life in Sweden
  • Swedish culture


If your would like to read more about supporting your expat in Sweden try reading our post How HR Can Prepare Foreign Hires in Sweden

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