Descriptions of assignees often focus on the skills and value they bring to an organization: different perspectives, cultural awareness, global leadership. This has been part of the thinking process behind sending people on assignments – we give you a nice expat package, and you give us these valuable skills. In 2019, companies are beginning to recognize that the balance has changed from the perspective of the Modern International Assignee.

The Modern International Assignee is a Millennial

Since around 2010, there has been a trend for assignees to be at a much earlier stage in their career than has been true historically. Commuter assignments, development assignments, and short-term secondments are much more common than even three or four years ago. 

This change corresponds with a change in the profile of the Modern International Assignee and what the Modern Assignee expects to both give and receive from their assignment.  We cannot ignore that a large proportion of Modern Assignees are either Millennials or influenced by Millennials.

Global Mobility in the Age of Diversity

The Role Global Mobility Can Play in Delivering a Diverse Workforce

The Generational Theory, identified by Strauss and Howe proposes several characteristics of the millennial generation:

  • Tolerant
  • Community-minded – both local and global
  • Achieving and confident
  • Values authenticity

Additional studies add:

  • Sense of entitlement
  • Narcissistic

Although we must be wary of any attempt at reductionism – reducing an entire generation to a list of five characteristics – the profile of the Modern International Assignee reflects in many ways these traits identified by research.

Globalization has happened already

One of the key advantages of an international assignment is that it gives the assignee a more international perspective and allows them to develop greater intercultural awareness. Business is global, globalization has happened: business people who cannot see beyond their own cultural boundaries will be confined to roles with diminishing relevance.

The Modern Assignee is keen to exploit the opportunity of travel to learn about other cultures and to develop skills that give an immediate return on the international stage. 

However, this international perspective is very different from previous generations. 

The Modern International Assignee does not arrive in a new country as a colonial leader, come to impart wisdom on ignorant natives.  It is with good reason that the developmental assignment is increasingly popular. 

Assignees are traveling to learn. But they are also traveling to network with peers. The Modern Assignee recognizes that their colleagues in international offices are valuable not as a fixed resource for the business, but at a personal level.

Further reading

The Top 10 Global Mobility Insights of 2018

Why International Assignments Are Vital for Talent Attraction and Retention

By developing working and personal relationships across borders, the Modern Assignee is able to fulfill several needs.  They are able to take part in a global network that has personal and professional benefits. 

Personal travel has never been more affordable and quick: a weekend break can now be intercontinental, and having local contacts means that travel is authentic.  Rather than a polished tour of superficial sites, a trip is an experience. 

2019 modern assignee

 The Modern Assignee recognizes that an international network can lead to new professional experiences too – they are no longer limited to building a career in one country.  The world is open; employment too is globalized.

Recognizing the value-add of the Modern Assignee

The Millennial generation is the most educated, best informed, and most widely experienced generation there has ever been.  And they know it.  They are aware of the value not only as a customer but also as an employer.  They are also the generation that has the largest sense of entitlement. 

The Modern Assignee knows that the golden packages of the 1970s and 1980s are not a realistic expectation in the 21st Century. 

This does not prevent them from pushing as hard as they can for what they consider their “rights.”  The right to a comfortable life, to have someone else resolve their life problems and to receive recognition of their value. 

This has challenged Global Mobility professionals to find creative ways to respond. Self-service packages give the Modern International Assignee more freedom in choosing a personalized package to suit their needs.

Matrix structures have allowed reporting lines and accountability to follow the assignee on their travels. Digitalization is simplifying communication and process. The Modern Assignee expects these as a minimum.

Global Mobility in the Age of Diversity

The Role Global Mobility Can Play in Delivering a Diverse Workforce

The balance of power is changing

In the 20th Century, assignees grew to see themselves as the most important resource an organization had. In the second decade of this century, the Modern Assignee is confident that they are already more valuable than previous generations. 

Failures and challenges are more difficult to overcome.  Millennials are confident and self-assured, so on assignment culture shock may hit harder as they find their confidence is shaken and their self-assurance slips. 

It is clear, however, that the Modern Assignee has an instinctive preparation for global working

The sense of curiosity, tolerance, and openness to other perspectives and new experiences blends well with their desire to learn and build community. 

The millennial Modern International Assignee brings to their organization a global native who recognizes instinctively the value of different cultural perspectives.  They have the flexibility of judgment and perspective not only to tolerate difference but also to make the most of it, capitalizing culture into a strategic resource.

Each generation brings a new set of challenges and perspectives to shake the status quo. Millennials are no exception, and their traits are defining the profile of the Modern International Assignee. Organizations that have the flexibility to accommodate and respond will be better able to exploit the opportunities presented by this highly educated and curious generation.