Mobility Continues to Demonstrate Key Role in Employee Development

Research shows that while priorities for international assignments have shifted, what remains evident is global mobility as a tool for employee development.

In 2017, global healthcare specialist company AXA commissioned the World of Work report to provide insight to global mobility and international working. To understand the changes from 2017 to 2020, a similar report was commissioned, surveying 543 HR Directors at multinational companies and 568 globally mobile workers across 7 countries and territories around the world. The report shows that while priorities for international assignments have shifted, what remains evident is global mobility as a tool for employee development.

Employee Development as a Top Priority for International Assignments

The survey found that compared to 2017, there’s been a shift in rationale for organizations to send employees on international assignment. Before, improving the performance of overseas operations was top of mind, while now, there’s a bigger focus on building a global way of working and approach to business. At the same time, the personal and professional development of employees increased from 23% to 37%, showing that organizations are focusing on employee development when creating international assignments.

The challenges facing global mobility and HR professionals managing globally mobile employees have shifted as well, with an increase in focus on flexibility as opposed to strictly managing costs. The 2017 survey found that managing costs, specifically when it comes to healthcare packages, was the biggest challenge, while 2020 has seen more attention on meeting the wide range of employee needs across regions. HR decision-makers also indicated that managing the cost of a comprehensive package was less challenging than in previous years, decreasing from 52% in 2017 to 39% in 2020.

For international assignees, one of the most significant changes from 2017 is their ability to adapt to the culture of their working country, which ranked as the number one reason for failed placements, up from third place in 2017. However, employee support continues to grow, with 54% of HR leaders providing full repatriation for staff including, when relevant, career counseling and a new role upon return, up from 43% in 2017. Additionally, respondents see international assignments as a route to career progression, with 53% promoting staff at the end of an assignment, an increase from 42% in 2017.

These results show that no matter the challenge for international assignees or those who manage them, global mobility is a strategic way to not just improve business operations but enhance employee development. Going forward, the challenges facing employees and those who manage their international assignments will, as we have clearly seen, continue to shift. For one thing, the report was conducted in April 2020, as the COVID-19 crisis was in full swing. Yet, the respondents remained positive about the future of international assignments, with 67% of HR leaders expecting the number of short-term international assignments to increase over the next five years.

As the pandemic has demonstrated, however, businesses and leaders must stay agile and innovative to continue meeting the demands of a shifting workforce. The increase in remote work, employee health and well-being, DE&I, and sustainability all offer new terrain for workforce mobility professionals to navigate. However, as we enter 2021 with lessons learned and a new normal, workforce mobility professionals will surely conquer any challenge thrown their way and demonstrate that mobility is where work is going.

Want to Learn More?

Worldwide ERC® President and CEO Lynn Shotwell and Board of Directors Chair Andrew Walker held the first quarterly town hall of 2021 last week to discuss changes to the mobility industry and how Worldwide ERC® will continue to support mobility professionals adapting to these changes. In case you missed it, members can access the webinar recording here.

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