HR managers see rise in overseas assignments

Two-thirds of senior HR personnel responsible for their companies' global mobility policies expect the number of international assignments to grow over the coming five years, according to a new survey.

Woman working on a laptop on a plane
Based on interviews with 543 HR decision-makers in seven countries - the US, UK, Germany, France, Hong Kong, Singapore and China - AXA Global Healthcare's latest 'World of Work' report found that 67% of respondents believed there was would be a rise, primarily in short-term assignments.The research was carried out over the past year by Savanta, an independent market research agency, and compared global mobility trends in 2020 compared to a previous survey carried out in 2017.Over the three years, it found significant changes in the process of establishing and supporting international assignments, including a notable switch in the rationale for sending employees to work abroad.

Building a global way of working

In 2017, the main reason among more than half the companies surveyed was simply to improve business operations, but in 2020, the emphasis had changed and was instead based on building a global way of working and approaching business.And in a positive change for employees, the number of businesses prioritising sending employees abroad to meet lifestyle ambitions of the workforce had increased to 37% last year from 23% in 2017.Andy Edwards, global head of international healthcare at AXA Global Healthcare, said, "The need for international working has not gone away since our initial report in 2017. If anything, the appetite for it has grown. Undoubtedly, the Covid-19 pandemic, which began as this research was being undertaken, will bring a new perspective to international assignments."But of those global mobility managers we interviewed some weeks into the pandemic, many suggested that it wouldn't necessarily change their business need for international assignments to take place."Instead, it appeared to be the nature of the assignments that might evolve, with shorter-term assignments and focus on choosing the right person to send becoming even more prevalent. We might even see this evolution unfold differently in individual sectors, depending on their ability to deploy skills and resources when needed."

International assignments: a route to career progression and promotion

The report also revealed that more than half of HR mobility managers now saw international assignments as a route to career progression, with a posting often ending in a promotion for the employee (up to 53% from 42% in 2017).Mr Edwards added, “International working has no doubt been hit hard by the pandemic, creating huge uncertainty for those on assignment and those managing the process.“As we move forward into 2021, and a new normal is established, we expect more focus to be upon who takes assignments and an increase in specific support to maximise the likelihood of the placement’s success.”On the specific question of providing an international assignee with a health package, the research found that, compared to other benefits, managing the cost had become markedly less challenging, falling from 52% in 2017 to 39% in 2020.However, the report also found that, mainly owing to the impact of Covid-19, the average cost of placing an employee abroad had increased from $50,000 in 2017 to $69,000 in 2020.

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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