Companies expect to increase international assignments

A majority (56%) of multinational companies expect to increase their use of short-term international assignments in 2015/16

This is according to Mercer’s Worldwide Survey of International Assignment Policies and Practices report.

The report found that over the next year around half of companies anticipate an increase in the use of permanent transfers (54%), developmental and training assignments (50%), and locally hired foreigners (47%). A smaller proportion of respondents (44%) expect to see a rise in more traditional long-term assignments.

The top five drivers behind international assignments were to ‘provide specific technical skills not available locally’ (47%), to ensure ‘know-how transfer’ (43%), to provide ‘specific managerial skills’ (41%), to facilitate ‘career management and leadership development’ (41%) and fulfil ‘specific project needs’ (40%).

Anne Rossier-Renaud, principal in Mercer’s global mobility business, said that although short-term assignments are often highly beneficial, HR must be aware of the challenges such assignments bring: “The increased diversification of assignment types adds complexity, which can result in potential compliance and policy challenges for HR and mobility directors,” she said. “However, it also creates opportunities to positively impact the overall business strategy by mobilising key resources in more flexible and cost effective ways.”

The report also explored potential obstacles to employee mobility. The challenge of managing career aspirations of the spouse and family issues were cited as the main barriers, with 37% of respondents confirming these issues combined presented a large or very large obstacle. The cost of current conditions ranked as the second highest obstacle (35%), followed by hardship considerations (25%) and career management (23%).

Rossier-Renaud explained that these obstacles help explain the trend towards more short-term assignments. “With the increased use of alternative assignment types such as commuters and short-term assignments companies are bypassing some of the major obstacles to mobility,” she said. ”Employees on these assignments are less likely to bring the family along, allowing the spouse to continue working in the home country and saving the company the cost of relocation.”

The report also found that the proportion of female expatriates has increased from previous years, with the worldwide average participation standing at 15% – up from 12% in 2013 and 9% in 2010.

Kate Fitzpatrick, senior mobility consultant at Mercer, warned however that the statistics on female assignee representation are not representative of the workforce at large. “Companies would do well to review their candidate identification and selection procedures, as well as the benefits provided under international assignment policies, to ensure there is nothing overt nor implied which is restricting the deployment of female talent,” she said.

The report also found that the majority of long-term assignees (66%) are between 35-55 years old, whereas short-term assignees increasingly fall into the younger, under 35 years old bracket (48%, up from 45% in 2013).