How can business engage the grown up ‘Third Culture Kid’?

5 min read | Judy Liu | Article | People and culture Retention Staff engagement

Young woman smiling in meeting.

Discover the unique benefits of working with Third Culture Kids. Judy Liu our Training Manager – Asia (and fellow TCK) guides you through the do’s and don'ts of engaging these skilled global nomads.

Engaging the Adult Third Culture Kid

  • Third Culture Kids (TCKs) are defined as “persons raised in a culture other than their parents’ or the culture of the country named on their passport for a significant part of their early development years.” The first generation of TCKs have grown up and entered the workplace.
  • TCKs are comfortable with change and relocation, but may expect to advance faster than average. You need to manage this expectation by showcasing real examples of international progression.
  • Connection is a big part of the struggle. TCKs are cultural chameleons but may tire of adapting to the dominant culture or norm. It is important to help TCKs establish relationships and networks of colleagues who understand their background.
  • Cultural sensitivity is key and you should remember that TCKs often grow up between cultures. Avoid making sweeping generalisations. Be curious and open minded.

Read on for more detail on the unique phenomenon of Third Culture Kids, and how best to engage their unique strengths in your business.

You can also learn more about our employer services designed to provide help for all of your recruitment needs. 

Third Culture Kids: Background

Around 30 years ago there was a surge in the number of expat packages being offered to employees by globally expanding businesses. Many employees relocated internationally and now the offspring of these expats – AKA the first generation of TCKs – are entering the workforce en masse.

However, in order to engage and retain adult TCKs within your organisation, it’s important to remember our unique cultural status. TCKs may look and sound like other members of your team, but we often have motivations and beliefs that differ significantly. If recruited and engaged well, TCKs can be a real asset to your business. We are often chameleonic, able to quickly adapt, and provide valuable insights about bridging culture-gaps and appealing to local clients.

In this article I want to share some tips that will improve the way you attract, work with, and retain adult TCKs.

The secret to engaging with TCKs in the workplace

Focus on advancement, not stability

TCK life is defined by transience. We are used to moving around and probably won’t have quite so many qualms about packing up our lives and moving somewhere new for the right opportunity. TCKs know that we can flourish and build new relationships – because we’ve done it all before. Therefore, appeal to a TCK by stressing how their role can evolve and be fast-tracked, regardless of where in the world it may take them. I would also advise sharing real life anecdotes of people within the business who have progressed their career and relocated internationally.

Make sure you are receptive to any discussions that a TCK initiates about career progression. even if this is only after a short amount of time within the business. Of course, all employees should be subject to the same opportunities and approach, but don’t be surprised if your TCK employees expect to advance quicker than most. Throughout their lives TCKs have never stopped moving forward, and you need to be ready to manage that expectation.

Find a way to connect them

Emotional independence is a by-product of frequent relocation. The greatest challenge faced by most TCKs is a lack of belonging. While a diversity of experience allows them to adapt quickly, TCKs remain well aware that they are performing to make someone else comfortable. Over time, the reality of being rootless and having to always adapt can become a struggle.

TCKs tend to click more easily with people who can appreciate this; people who are curious and show cultural sensitivity. If possible, create an environment where TCKs can bond with those from similar backgrounds. You should also show an active interest in their background and unique story, both in the interview and once they join the company.

Be culturally sensitive

It’s easy to resort to sweeping statements about a group of people. Be mindful that TCKs have grown up across and between cultures. Often TCKs do not sit neatly within one culture. Their identity has been shaped as a result of continuous adaptation to new environments and a multiplicity of cultural influence. It is crucial that you demonstrate cultural sensitivity. Rather than making assumptions, be curious and open minded. Ask your TCK candidates or colleagues about their unique experiences.

TCKs can be your finest eyes and ears, because they have obtained hands-on experience across multiple cultures. Encourage TCKs to share their cultural intelligence and ask for their opinion on matters where you think their point of view could be useful. By doing so, you don’t only reap the benefit of their insight, you also demonstrate their value as global nomads.

Engaging Adult TCKs: What’s next?

The information above is just the beginning of my advice on building the best relationship with your TCK team-members. It’s crucial to remember that TCK is a broad term and there are invariably going to be differences depending on the unique individual and their background. For more detailed theory and definition I recommend reading Third Culture Kids: Growing up among Worlds by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken.

About this author

About Judy Liu, Training Manager, Asia

Judy has been with Hays for over five years and is currently the Training Manager, Asia. Having completed a double degree in Sydney in Law and Psychology, she began her career in Australia, as a solicitor, before relocating to Singapore in 2013. She is a firm believer in blended learning – the notion that learning should not be solely focused on classroom delivery, but rather a strategic combination of online, self-directed, practical application and coaching. Judy and her team work alongside the business to develop and analyse training for all levels of staff.

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