Every month, we quiz HR experts on the questions that really matter about expenses, employee travel and business across borders. Send your business travel, HR and expenses questions to us via Twitter for your chance to be featured in a future HR Hotline article.
They may be keen to impress and ready to work their socks off. But new employees, whatever their level of experience, need time to understand how their new business functions, and to get to grips with its processes, culture and clients.
A study by Oxford Economics showed that new staff can take between six and twelve months to get up to speed and deliver at their full productivity.
Nonetheless, employees – particularly in senior roles – are quickly expected to deliver. And this might involve travel overseas. But how soon are employees ready to go on business trips?
There are a few rules of thumb:
Discuss travel – before day one
If an employee will be expected to travel for business, then this should be discussed in the interview process.
This is true even if the trip won’t involve meeting clients or prospects. Zoe Bennett, redeployment & global mobility manager at SThree, says: “A lot of organisations send people abroad for training or to be inducted. I’d expect that to be discussed in the later stage of the interview process and to form part of their job offer.”
Get to know them
Whatever impression they may have made at their interview, the new employee might not be right for your business.
So, it may be risky to send someone abroad before the end of their probationary period. Ruth Cornish, founder and director of HR consultancy Amelore, says: “They may seem sweet and shiny in their interview, but might not be an appropriate fit for the company.”
Also consider, are they clued-up enough to respect the cultural subtleties of the country and clients they are visiting? Ruth says: “Some of it is quite subtle. In the Far East, if the employee likes a drink, it could be a disaster. Or they might not wear the right clothing in a country where there are strict rules about covering up.”
You also probably don’t know much about their state of health. Business travel can be stressful, so it is recommended for employees to have a medical check before they go anywhere.
Consider experience: seasoned exec or fresh graduate?
Your raw recruit’s level of seniority and experience is an important consideration. A professional such as a qualified accountant could be trusted to represent the company overseas sooner than a graduate.
In reality, new senior leaders may need to travel very soon after joining, not least to visit overseas branches or subsidiary offices. Zoe from SThree says: “If the individual is very senior, I would expect some travel earlier on, especially to do rounds of the company they are going to be leading.”
On the contrary, she adds: “If they are green and new to the role, you would expect to wait longer before letting them off their leash”.
Ensure they understand travel policy and expenses
New should starters read a company’s HR and travel policy, including guidelines for new employees, as soon as they step through the door.
An essential part of this policy will be expenses. A misunderstanding of expenses policies is a common problem, says Ruth: “Take for example flights. What policy does a company have? If a new employee books their own flights, do they know what class they can travel or if they can drink on the plane on expenses?”
Get your paperwork in order
When a new employee starts, there may be a delay before they are covered by a company insurance policy. This needs to be checked.
Ruth says: “The important thing is not to make any assumptions. If they are on probation are they covered by private medical insurance? Do you know if they’ve got the right documentation?”
Send them with someone else
If possible, HR experts advise that a new member of staff travel with an existing employee.
Zoe says: “If they are to attend a really important client meeting, with a strict agenda and KPIs, I would expect the new person to go with someone else.”
Consider: how effective will a new employee be overseas, and what is the likely return on investment from that trip?
“I wouldn’t send someone abroad until they have been with company for at least a month, so they could talk with confidence,” says Ruth.
Ultimately, the decision when to send an employee abroad will be taken by their line manager on a case-by-case basis. Zoe says: “I don’t think there’s a hard and fast answer on when should allow somebody to travel. The decision should be made between the individual and their manager.”
When sending any employee abroad you must make sure that they take the local culture into consideration, otherwise they could commit a faux pas.
Take a look at our top cultural tips for the UK’s biggest trading partners.