A Rise in Commuter Assignments Post-Brexit?

At the moment, it’s hard to say what will happen between now and the looming Brexit deadline of 29 March 2019.  One thing that is clear, however, is that “the impact of a hard Brexit or any withdrawal of the UK from the EU will have both direct and indirect consequences on workforce mobility,” as Worldwide ERC® President and CEO, Peggy Smith, SCRP, SGMS-T noted in a recent post on the subject.

One of those consequences could very well be an increasing number of commuter assignments, particularly within Western Europe. Long before the Brexit referendum, the use of flexible mobility programs in the face of changing employee demographics, family and business needs was steadily and rapidly growing.

Now, as business leaders consider whether to expand existing, open new or transition activities and talent from the UK to EU hubs like Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt or Paris, they’ll also require an array of solutions to meet new recruiting, hiring and staffing needs, with talent pools representing different types of work and travel eligibility.

AIRINC’s most recent Mobility Outlook Survey (2018) reports that “54% of companies anticipate an increased demand for cross-border mobility this year. The types of mobility are not all more of the same, though; companies continue to expand the way in which cross-border mobility is defined. The trend remains for companies to expand the range of mobility options available to meet different talent needs.” It goes on to note that “33% of companies plan to add a business traveler policy to their offerings this year, while 23% will add a policy for commuters, and 20% of companies expect to formalize their international one-way transfer approach.”  The report further indicated that 30% of respondents anticipate an increase in commuter assignments within the next year.

There are a number of different things that define a commuter assignment, including its overall duration, how far an employee travels and how many days he or she remains in the host location for work each week. EU law currently defines cross-border commuters as those who work in one EU country but live in another, and return at least once a week, if not more frequently.  

Aires’ Pulse Survey – Commuters, conducted last May, confirmed that there seems to be no clear-cut definition of commuters at present, but respondents cited “living in the work location Monday through Friday” most frequently. In spite of wide variances and scenarios that create different types of commuters, there is one element that seems to be consistent: a large majority of companies report that their management and tracking falls under the global mobility umbrella. In the Aires findings, 61% of its participants indicated commuters are handled within the overall mobility function.

There are multiple reasons for both employers and employees to deem commuter status more appropriate, convenient or appealing than a traditional or short-term assignment, or a permanent move. For employers, the types of skills needed, for how long and in which locations factor heavily into the decision. Employees tend to place considerable weight on their personal financial and lifestyle implications, the impact on the careers and/or the income support of a spouse or partner; a possible need for elder or child care, or the current ages and educational status of dependents when deciding whether uprooting is right for them.

When weighing the pros and cons, cost is often the first thing to come to mind. But as Andrea Duxbury of ECA International points out in Commuter assignments – the consequences beyond the financial cost, “the financial implication is far from the only factor that matters when deciding if a commuting arrangement is right for both the employee and the company.”  There are the “hard costs” to both parties - from accommodation and transportation expenses, to how meals and visits from a spouse, partner or other family members will be treated, and what, if any, home location expenses incurred as a result of the commuting arrangement will be covered.  It’s crucial for employers and employees alike to have a realistic understanding of those costs before deciding whether the commuter assignment is the right approach.

The above contains excerpts from content originally published in the Winter 2018/2019 issue of International HR Adviser. Read the full article for more information, and plan to join the conversations around policy innovations, assignment and temporary living costs, global payroll management solutions and more in our innovation labs, speed sessions, roundtable discussions and networking opportunities at Worldwide ERC®‘s 2019 Frankfurt Mobility Summit.

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