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We Need Better Communication To Make International Assignments A Success 

By Tom Wilkinson, CEO of AXA Global Healthcare 

While international working can often be a breath of fresh air, it can also be an isolating experience; one that expats enter into eagerly but might not always be best prepared for. Combined with the expectation of delivering strong enough results to justify the cost of being sent overseas, all while trying to adapt to a new environment, it can be easy for an expat to begin to feel overwhelmed.  

With this in mind, it isn’t surprising that a fifth (21%) of all assignments end earlier than planned. Now, this can’t just be down to the work environment expats enter into. And it isn’t.  

Research we commissioned involved hearing from almost 600 HR Decision Makers and 600 Globally Mobile Workers, to see if there was a disconnect between what support was being offered to expats and what they felt would actually benefit them throughout their assignment.  

The communications gap 

We found that 82% of expats felt supported when they had a health issue, but they consistently weren’t aware of the full range of benefits on available to assist them. What’s even more revealing is the fact that HR directors knew, in every category asked, a great deal more than the assignees about the benefits available.  

If we dive a bit deeper, it became clear that the most commonly offered benefits were travel insurance (64%), accommodation costs (62%) and international health insurance (58%). Yet for expats, the benefits they wanted the most were international health insurance (39%), income protection (38%) and accommodation costs (34%).  

How to close the gap 

For businesses, focusing on communication will have a greater effect than they may realise. After all, the differences in understanding of available benefits is something that can be clarified and dealt with.  

If employees aren’t aware of what’s available to them, this could be perceived as a lack of support, and in extreme circumstances even contribute to the placement ending. Likewise, if they aren’t drawing on the benefits provided, employers aren’t reaping any rewards and are wasting money. These can both cause major problems for any employer.  

So, what should you focus on? 

Earlier research we commissioned  has shown that assignments are being designed with more of a focus on employees’ lifestyle ambitions. This is a step in the right direction, but further work is needed to ensure the wants and needs of assignees are being met.  

Listen to what is being asked  

We’ve seen already that international health insurance is the most valued benefit for international assignees, however, it is only the third-most commonly offered benefit.  Listening to what is being asked for is an easy win, ensuring happier, healthier expats and then in turn, more successful assignments.  

Make it flexible  

Each employee has a unique set of requirements and expectations when it comes to their benefit requirements. As an employer, recognising these and providing the right support, can help assignees make the most out of their time on assignment, so if, and when, challenges arise they feel supported and ready to face them.  

We found that a quarter (24%) of employees are left having to select their benefits from a pre-set list, and only 29% are offered the opportunity to negotiate the benefits they receive. It seems there is still a heavy reliance on a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to benefits for internationally based employees.  

Perhaps put in place a more flexible healthcare package that allows for an assignee to choose which benefits would be best for them.  

Check in regularly  

In our research, we discovered that two-thirds (64%) of companies carried out a review of the assignment at least every six months.  

How often do you check in with your assignees? How often do they come forward to raise a concern? In all cases, better communication, and action off the back of that communication, can help everyone involved, both financially and emotionally. I know from my own experience living as an expat that working around the globe can be hugely rewarding, but it does come with challenges and requires a great deal of planning.  

What HR managers do to accommodate and listen to the needs of an assignee, before they make the move, makes a huge difference. As leaders, we must constantly be seeking ways to create an inclusive, productive and supportive work environment. The relationship between HR mobility managers and expats is essential and addressing any gaps in communication will put your business in a better position for success.  

 

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Mobile Workforce As Popular As Ever

Organizations all over the world are leveraging the benefits of a globally mobile workforce. According to a KPMG International survey, 72 percent of over 600 respondents use global mobility programs to support overall business objectives. KPMG International’s 15th annual Global Assignment Policies and Practices (GAPP) survey provides a wealth of information for those responsible for or interested in global mobility. The detailed data found in these pages is an opportunity to compare or contrast one’s current practices to those of their peers or other types of organizations. Further, it allows for critical learning of best practices and new ways of thinking.

“A globally mobile workforce is as popular as ever,” says Achim Mossmann, Principal, KPMG’s International Executive Services, KPMG in the US. “Over the 15 years of this survey’s existence, in those companies where use of mobility is the norm, we have seen continued expansion and adaptation to the programs. We even see companies with headquarters in Nordic and Asia Pacific regions beginning to jump on the globalization bandwagon and needing to move their people to new strategic growth locations.”

Flexibility and adaptability of programs to address changing demands is strongly evidenced through the variety of assignment types offered:

  • 81 percent offer short term assignments;
  • 96 percent offer long term assignments;
  • 47 percent offer permanent transfer/indefinite length assignments.

Surprisingly, given the current economic environment, and the noted desire to support the business, only 12 percent of survey participants say that cost control and assurance of an acceptable return on investment (ROI) are of importance.

According to Mossmann, “Having agreed upon metrics to demonstrate ROI helps any global mobility program demonstrate objectively their value to the broader organization and secure continued program funding. However, a notable amount of survey participants struggle to track ROI information as it relates to international assignments—27 percent do not know the percentage of assignees that leave the organization within 12 months of repatriation and 31 percent do not know why they leave.”

Encouragingly, survey participants, year-on-year, continue to exhibit inclusionary mindsets as it relates to the definition of a “family” within their policies for benefit purposes. Fifty-five percent include unmarried domestic partners/companions of the opposite gender and 49 percent include unmarried domestic partners/companions of the same gender.

These broader definitions are most evident in European and Asia Pacific-headquartered organizations, and also within the financial services and high technology industries. In circumstances where organizations may offer incentives for assignees to accept international opportunities, many survey participants also take into consideration dual-career couples and their children.

For instance 21 percent provide job search support in the host country and 21 percent reimburse education expenses for the spouse/partner. Forty-one percent offer language training and 37 percent offer cross-cultural training to the assignee, spouse and their children.

Overall, the use of international assignees will remain the same amount or more for 86 percent of survey participants.

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