Five new trends of relocation that are changing the face of expat assignments
Even with the world at our fingertips, nothing beats on-the-ground communication. For hundreds of years, companies have sent employees around the world to work in new markets. These expatriates land on the ground, learn new ways of living and working, eat the local food, sometimes learn a new language, get culture shock, make new friends, and in the middle of this turmoil, get work done.
But over the years, and especially since the creation of the Internet and now that the millennial generation has started to fill the workforce, the way companies approach expat assignments has shifted. So, what does a typical expat work assignment look like today? And, more importantly, how does that affect leaders and managers all over the world?
1. Assignments are shorter
Prior to the 1990s, expat assignments usually lasted three to five years, according to Expat Focus. Today, assignments are much shorter, often just a year or even six months. What allows for this change?
Primarily, new tools that promote and enhance remote work are have helped make this change. With today’s technology, people in China can work side-by- side with people in Europe, so there is less need for managers to relocate in order to work efficiently.
Another reason for this change is the high cost of sending employees abroad. According to The Economist, most companies spend tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars on just one expat’s three- to five-year assignment. Companies are opting to save money by sending employees on shorter trips. However, these short-term assignments can be harder than longer ones, since employees must get more done in a shorter period and don’t have time to learn in depth how the local culture works.
2. As global mobility increases, deployment is more common
A report by Mercer found that 47% of companies had increased the number of expatriate deployments, a trend that the American Management Association links to worldwide globalization .
This means that companies have more managers abroad that need to quickly adjust to the new culture to make the most of their assignment. The relocated person has less time to adjust to a new way of interacting with others and getting positive results from their new colleagues—not to mention trying to make positive change in a culture they don’t understand. How can a company deal with this in an efficient way? With continual support from a cross-cultural expert to the managers. Giving personal trainings during the short expat process, acting fast when the person is having a hard time or experiencing culture shock, and assisting the employee when help is desperately needed.
3. Women are the new expatriates
62% millennial women in 2016 said they were willing to take a position in a less developed country in order to advance in their career
12% women in 2011 said they were willing to do the same, indicating an increase in the prominence of female expatriates.
Women used to be the passive expatriates; they would move where their partner was being sent, take the kids to international school, and have meetings at the International Women’s Club. This old picture is changing. Women are seeking more expatriate positions than ever before. According to a report by PwC, 62% of millennial women in 2016 said they were willing to take a position in a less developed country in order to advance in their career. When PwC asked the same question of women in 2011, just 12% of women said they were willing to do the same, indicating an increase in the prominence of female expatriates.
4. Expats are younger
How do you find a role in today’s highly connected and competitive world? Millennials have found a quick way in: they are seeking out expat assignments more often than older workers. According to an article on the Forum for Expatriate Management, 37% of millennial employees seek out an expat assignment in the hopes that it will aid their career development. Nice move!
Keep in mind that millennials generally put off marriage and children until their 30s. This makes them more willing to move abroad, fulfilling their career ambitions and finding adventure at the same time.
5. Talent retention when returning home
When an assignment has ended and an expatriate must return home to life in their home country, the transition can be harder than anyone imagines. The person has made a lot of sacrifices and has grown, and fortunately many companies have learnt that you cannot stick that person back in their old job. Instead, they have found success by promising new positions following the end of an expat assignment and working to integrate the skills expatriates use while on assignment when they return home.
All in all, expat assignments are often still necessary and can be hugely beneficial, especially for the younger generation. With a well-executed expatriation and repatriation plan, employees will bring new skills and better leadership back to the company, along with a host of fascinating stories to share at coffee breaks!