While the economic crisis might seem a distant memory for some it continues to have a profound impact on the way organizations do business. The inexorable pressure on costs and the need to do more for less are two mantras that every head of department is familiar with. Global mobility teams are not immune with budgets coming under threat while more is demanded of them. The global mobility challenge is focused on how to evolve to meet the needs of an ever-changing organization and a changing international assignee population.

The Global Mobility Challenge

This global mobility challenge is also accompanied by a change in the profile of the international worker. It is well known in global mobility circles that expatriates are more than twice as expensive as local employees.

While this data point may be true it is certainly not stopping companies from sending more and more employees on an international assignment to sustain their aggressive growth plans.

Global Mobility in the Age of Diversity

The Role Global Mobility Can Play in Delivering a Diverse Workforce

Working out who is the best person to send and to where is often the tricky question for organizations and where Global Mobility must play a key role.

While this data point may be true it is certainly not stopping companies from sending more and more employees on an international assignment

This global mobility challenge might be considered somewhat of a poison chalice – how to square the need for organizations to become more international with more international assignees with less and less money to spend (and persuade!). 

The Changing Face of International Assignees

This global mobility challenge is linked with a change in the profile of international workers. The traditional expatriate is white, male, more often than not married, on a long-term assignee, and for a period of one to four years.

The last decade, however, has seen the profile of the “average” international assignee change.  While still underrepresented, we now (thankfully) see many more female expats than before with or without a (working) partner.

PwC research suggests that the number of females taking on global assignments is going to increase further.  It is also much more common to see dual careers (both partners work abroad) or even tandem careers (both partners work abroad for the same company). 

Young professionals identified as high potentials are more and more often sent abroad to gain international experience.  The international workforce is more diverse and complex than ever.

Variety is the Spice of (International) Life

Global mobility teams have not stood idle while faced with these seismic changes in expatriate makeup. Varied types of assignments are now on offer to appeal to a wider audience of potential assignees – ranging from long-term to short-term, commuter to developmental assignments. 

This trend is backed by PwC research that shows that the average length of an assignment has dropped to 18 months and assignments of less than a year are more and more common.

Another trend is the localization of expat contracts; expats are no longer employed on favorable expat contracts but on local terms with local conditions.  Mobile workers such as long-distance commuters and business travelers spend a maximum of six weeks abroad for international projects or work on rotation.

PwC research suggests that the number of females taking on global assignments is going to increase further.

Changing Employee Needs

Employee needs are also changing. While well-remunerated positions may still be important, the “modern-day” potential assignee is asking for different things to their “forebears”. 

The new international assignee values highly professional support and career development opportunities.  This can mean everything from mentorship schemes through to more formalized training development programs. A healthy work-life balance, flexibility and a sense of fulfillment are also key criteria. 

The Global Mobility Challenge: Time for a Plan B?

So what can global mobility professionals do? Shortening the length of assignments or hiring on a local contract help to reduce global mobility costs.  But research also shows that many expat policies do not address the changing needs of international assignees.

Global Mobility in the Age of Diversity

The Role Global Mobility Can Play in Delivering a Diverse Workforce

A plan B offers great opportunities for Global Mobility to spend their smaller budgets in a more focused way.  Expatriate policies should not be one-size-fits-all but should offer a high degree of flexibility for the assignee to pick and choose what they really want – and what they really value. 

The new international assignee values highly professional support and career development opportunities.

Global mobility needs to step up from its supporting role and take center stage. It should seek out partnerships with the business and offer a more strategic vision on global mobility packages and the cost-benefit analysis for each component part. 

“Standard packages” should give way to “Flexible packages” that create a unique and enduring relationship between Global Mobility and the assignee. Anticipating changing needs, managing expectations and creating a flexible and dynamic assignee policy should be the new mantra for GM professionals if it is not already. 

This plan B needs to offer solutions to the global mobility challenge so that international assignees receive the pre, in-country and post support they need despite any budgetary limits imposed from above.