Global Mobility Trends: 3 Questions for Employers

A few weeks ago a good friend of mine was offered an opportunity too good to pass up. The multinational company for which he works has asked him to lead a new business opportunity in Europe, which involves packing up his working wife and three kids (two of them high school teenagers), saying goodbye to grandparents and moving the family to Zug, Switzerland.

Lucky for my friend, he has an adventurous family who are excited about the experience of living as American expatriates for the next three years. Sadly (for me), they don’t need someone to carry their luggage. I already asked!

Brookfield Global Relocation Services reports in their 2014 mobility trends study companies continue to see international assignments as a way to develop an international executive workforce, despite the significant costs and complexity of managing a mobility program.

Companies that want to build and leverage the skills of a global workforce need to be willing to pay the premium involved to transition and support an executive through an international assignment, which about 50% of the time includes a spouse/partner and children too. Everyone has a lot at stake in international assignments.

I have known a handful of people in my career who have relocated for international assignments and all but one reported a positive experience that resulted in professional and personal growth (according to GBRS about 5% of international assignments “fail” due to poor fit, career choices or cultural assimilation challenges).

As companies and leaders identify mobility needs and assess their pool of candidates, they should consider how the assignment will benefit not just the company, but the employee as well by asking questions like the ones below:

How does the employee benefit from the experience? Will she be able to apply newly acquired experience, skills and networks in relevant ways when she repatriates to her home country? Is the experience a stepping stone that will make her a more qualified candidate for a future opportunity? What does the employee gain from the international assignment that she couldn’t acquire or develop in her home location/role?

Will others in the organization view the employee’s experience positively? Will they think “Sign me up for one of those!” or “Never in a million years …?” One of my clients describes her employer as a company that operates like a small town, where everyone knows everybody else’s business. In today’s socially wired world, it is very likely that an expat’s home-country colleagues will be able to observe the international experience through a Facebook feed, blog posts or Twitter.

Will repatriation be handled in a way that reinforces – or negates – the international experience? Expatriates are often willing to take on incredible challenges in exchange for the opportunity to live and work abroad – cultural assimilation, homesickness and disconnection from extended family, and increased cost of living, to name a few. If the repatriation process – the experience of returning to a job in one’s home country following the international assignment – fails to live up to promised made at the beginning of the assignment, the employee is left with a sense of mistrust and betrayal that no moving allowance will fix.

Image Credit: Roland zh

Heather Nelson is a partner with PeopleResults. She is already planning the itinerary for a summer 2015 trip to Europe with her husband and two teenagers – Switzerland (to meet up with the friends mentioned in this blog), Northern Italy and home through London/Kent, UK. She accepts travel suggestions at or on Twitter at @HeatherGNelson1. Sign up to receive the PeopleResults blog at Current.