Is global work losing its attractiveness?

Global Mobility is in crisis as companies use more virtual work. Convincing staff to accept an assignment abroad has never been harder. Is there a solution?

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The Covid-19 pandemic is an extraordinary event that has severe economic and societal implications we are just starting to uncover. In a little over a year, uncertainty led to job insecurities and massive loss of income worldwide, increasing general anxiety. Companies were requested to take unprecedented measures to keep business afloat.Shut-down measures and different national restrictions called for the rapid adoption of digital technologies and employees were constrained to recreate their offices at home. International travel virtually disappeared. With little professional stimulus, the pandemic triggered a deliberate evaluation of one’s career and global work, it seems, lost some of its attractiveness.Identifying emerging issues  of the expatriate work, while assessing implications for policies at national and international levels is the objective of GLOMO (, a pioneer project funded by EU. Through crosslevel research we have generated knowledge about the success factors, effects, and implications of the mobility phenomenon.When individuals encounter periods of stress and anxiety, predictability brings comfort and there is a tendency to look for the familiar, be it in people or places. The effects of the pandemic led to the collapse of available opportunities, high cost of living and remote work which pushed many employees to go back to their home countries, creating a reverse migration movement in Europe.Firms saw their global talent plans  disrupted. Work-life inconsistencies made staff less willing to move abroad. The re-evaluation of career aspirations will have a strong impact on business continuity planning. Global mobility is in crisis.

Mid-career, family and disruption

Organizations make use  of global work for leadership development, subsidiary control, knowledge transfer or when there is a shortage of skills in the host country. Often global talent is in their mid-careers when they leave for organizational assignments, precisely when they are more likely to have higher workfamily conflict and financial debt. As we grow older, we are also less willing to compromise, especially with regards to children and family. The GLOMO research has shown that Covid-19 fueled familyoriented decisions, as personal and professional spheres were merged in the domestic space, challenging a long-pursued but fragile balance.
Read more GLOMO research:
Assignments are disruptive, requiring people to leave their comfort zones and adjust to new cultures. In exchange, companies will try to minimize the shock by providing financial compensation in the form of enablers (visa, relocation services, schooling costs), equalizers (housing and cost of living allowance, taxes) and financial incentives (foreign service premium). Monetary rewards can be useful to attract candidates, but research shows it won’t have the same impact in securing their permanence abroad as socialties, career prospects and perceived support prevails.

Expatriate career risks

When you move abroad, you lose sight of the political, relational, and institutional changes that are happening back home. Depending on the nature of your contract, it’s a gamble. It can help you climb the career ladder or not, as your foreign achievements may not be considered when you come back. There is no guarantee.In turn, the pandemic has raised the question whether the costs of global assignments are justified. With the development of technological skills, especially those associated with virtual teams and spaces, is expatriate work still necessary? Hiring locally is much more compliant and cost effective. Could expertise be taught through virtual means, anticipating skill shortages in key countries? Could we foster cross cultural abilities through domestic-based experiences if the place is diverse enough?Enterprises have a tough choice to make. They can either embrace the going local mindset, seizing the sudden technological upskill to virtually train domestic employees to achieve business objectives from a distance, lowering the need for staff mobility. Or they can try to better understand the profi le and expectations of people being sent abroad, allowing a bigger variety of compensations mechanisms, and strengthening the bond between reward and talent management.

Research findings and the future

The GLOMO research has shown that a compromise can be found in the middle. Depending on organization business models, the acquisition of international knowledge can foster important networks, diffi cult to be replicated digitally. Diff erent motivations and personal interest should be assessed meticulously, as they can allow different contractual agreements to be proposed, cutting costs in a winwin scenario. Assignments need to be fully aligned with business needs. Expatriates are often resilient in dealing with distracting emotions while keeping the will to learn, grow and demonstrate competence. This unique skill set should be supported by the right leadership.For global work to become attractive again, it will be necessary to focus on enabling all stakeholders to deal successfully with uncertainty. Achievements abroad should be transferred and recognized at the repatriation stage or before the next departure, fostering psychological support for the development of a global mindset and career. Context matters when we deal with mobile work. In a world that changed drastically in a matter of months, policy flexibility is key.About the authors:
Michael Dickmann
is Professor of International Human Resource Management (HRM) at Cranfield University and the Director of the Cranfield Masters in Management. His research focuses on human resource strategies, structures and processes of multinational organisations, cross-cultural management, international mobility and global careers. Michael has published in a broad range of academic journals and he is the lead author of several books on international HRM and global careers. Since 2017 he is the Senior Editor-in-Chief of The International Journal of Human Resource Management.
Giovanna Silveira-Milani
Giovanna Silveira-Milani
Identifying emerging issues of the expatriate work, while assessing implications for policies at national and international levels is the objective of GLOMO, a pioneer project that has received funding from the European Union’s H2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 765355. Researchers from a variety of countries have generated knowledge about the success factors, effects, and implications of the mobility phenomenon. 

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