Author Archives: Angie Weinberger

We have been living in a world dominated by political and economic uncertainty for many years now. However, 2020 is proving to be a particularly exceptional and tough year and, in its first few months, it had already brought the entire planet down to its knees. The global health crisis caused by Covid-19 has basically impacted all aspects of life and radically changed the way we work. Obviously, the world of Global Mobility was also greatly disrupted.  Considered the extent of the impact caused by the crisis, it doesn’t take a fortune teller to foresee that Global Mobility teams will suffer the blow of the crisis in the years to come.

However, it’s not all bad news. Global Mobility teams continue to prove to be incredibly resilient and are constantly coming  up with immediate and particularly creative solutions to face issues that arise overnight. Imagine the difficulty of having to suddenly repatriate an expat (or an expat family) who was temporarily on holiday in a third country and remains stuck there without any other assistance. Or the complexity of finding a quick solution for someone who was about to go on assignment but suddenly had to postpone the departure, despite all their household goods having already been shipped to the host location. 

In the next few lines, we will briefly outline the top eight Global Mobility trends to watch in 2020.

1 – GM will continue to diversify Assignment Types in guidelines

A constantly changing and diverse population like today’s requires closer alignment between mobility types and support levels, but also more flexibility and agility. The graph below represents the evolution of GM through the latest decades and particularly highlights the need for more flexible mobility types in 2020s, as envisioned by Deloitte (2019) and FIDI (2019).

Predictably, there will be more variety in the range of mobility locations as well. The “global approach”, which Global Mobility has seen increase over time, will become the leading type of move. 

If LTAs remain an important and widely used relocation model, it is also true that the deployment of shorter and more flexible approaches, such as STAs, business trips, immersive experiences and commuter models are constantly gaining traction (Deloitte, 2019). A GAPP Survey from KPMG (2019) confirms the same trend, with survey participants expecting to rely more on shorter duration assignments such as extended business trips (56%), STAs (75%) and developmental/training assignments (46%) over the next five years. On the other hand, a reduction in the use of traditional LTAs (51% is expected).

Companies increasingly make use of technology tools to avoid physically moving people across borders. This trend has become increasingly popular especially during the current 2020 pandemic and is bound to grow steadily thanks to the broad availability of improved real-time communication tools, video conferencing and even Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. These technologies are already being used to transform the employee on-boarding experience into the company and can be used to virtually meet colleagues in other countries, constituting new collaboration tools. Lastly, employees can virtually immerse themselves into new cities before deciding whether to move to another city.

 

The GM function has already increased its involvement in activities such as international recruitment,  global talent acquisition and location strategy, which includes attracting talent to remote locations as mentioned in this report from Stiftung Zukunft.li. According to Deloitte (2019), it will continue diversifying its scope in 2020 and beyond, and those additional responsibilities will keep strengthening the role that GM plays as talent enabler, strategic business partner and employee coach. 

2 – GM will need to be more flexible in dealing with the needs of a diverse workforce

For a GM program to be successful, it needs to work well both for the organisation and the expats. But having a policy both flexible and defined enough to be used as the foundation for any mobility scenario is a big challenge even for the most evolved GM programs, as recent data from Mercer’s Flexible Mobility Policies Survey report.

Flexibility has dominated HR headlines for several years. In fact, it continues to be a trending topic, driven by a number of factors such as a constantly changing expat population and assignment types, employee expectations, modern technologies and tools, but also the new unexpected global halt caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is acting as a stress test of flexible policies and raising important questions in flexibility debate (Mercer). Let us look at all those aspects in more detail.

Expat population and assignment types

Although a traditional LTA is also women’s favoured choice (53% of , shorter and more flexible STA are notably more popular among women than men. Did you know that? The proportion of men and women who prefer these short-term options are as follows. Frequent business travel, but based in home country: men 30% and women 37%; fly-in/fly-out commuter assignment: men 20% and women 21%;  very short-term assignment (less than six months): men 16% and women 27%;  short-term (6–12 months): men 33% and women 39% (PwC, 2016).

Nowadays, a more diverse population than ever is embarking on International Assignments. Employees are more diverse in cultural backgrounds, family situation, age, etc. and it is basically impossible to address all the needs of these diverse groups into a one-size-fits all policy.

Employee expectations

Picture this scenario: a leading multinational company needs to select somebody with the right skills to establish their first overseas division and they have two equally strong candidates. Alice just got married and, in their best intentions but without consulting her, leadership decides that she would not like to go on assignment as she is likely to be starting a family. The opportunity is therefore offered to George. 

What do Alice and George think twelve months later? 

Alice said she was really shocked about not being even consulted on the decision that leadership took. Her husband and she wanted to get the wedding out of the way so that she could pursue her dream of going on an international assignment. But it all worked out for her in the end: she is now working overseas for one of their competitors and is very happy in her role.

George knew that he was going to have to embark on an international assignment at some point. However, the company’s decision really came at the worst time. His wife and he were about to tell their families about their first baby. But he still said yes to the opportunity and eventually convinced her wife to try that out, but it was very tough on her and she ended up being sick through the whole pregnancy. When the baby was born, she had no support network. This situation also impacted his performance which was much lower than back home. For this reason, the company decided to bring him back. 

A more diverse workforce equals a larger variety of individual assignees’ expectations, with the result that if a proposition is very attractive for one employee it might be not appealing at all for another. This is clearly pinpointed by the 2018 How Global Mobility is Responding to New Dilemmas Survey: expectations from millennial generation employees are impacting mobility programs for 43% of surveyed companies, while the aging workforce has 36% of companies re-evaluating their program policies.

Technology

Today more than ever, technology is a great aid tool for managing assignee package creating and makes it possible for expat management teams to stay in close communicative touch with their expats abroad. The impact of technological and digital innovation on Global Mobility will be discussed more in detail later on.

 

Meaningful analyses and reports that evaluate the efficacy of mobility programs are now easier to obtain.

According to the Mercer 2019 Flexible Mobility Policies Survey, 37% of the companies already consider their current mobility policies flexible, and 43% hope to introduce some flexibility to their mobility policies and practices. On the other hand, around 20% do not include and do not intend to introduce flexibility in their mobility policies.

The primary benefits listed by the participants of the Flexible Mobility Policies Survey (Mercer, 2019) who intend to introduce more flexible policies are making packages more valuable for assignees and reducing exception requests. Driving cost efficiency was only 3rd in the list of most expected benefits companies think they will see. Interestingly, among the 56% of the companies who acknowledged the (perceived) benefits of the flexible packages they entail, more than two thirds indicated that their flexible policies also resulted in cost efficiency. 

The most popular policy elements for which participants introduced flexibility are family-related: housing, spousal support, child education, and home leave tickets are all items that can help improve the Expat Experience while on assignment.

With the crisis, the importance of duty of care over excessive flexibility was acknowledged: policies should not be made flexible if they are essential for the wellbeing of employees. Flexible policies have prepared some companies to deal more efficiently with urgent repatriations and unforeseen mobility scenarios. Other companies adopting flexible policies have found them inapplicable and inappropriate in the context of urgency. Once the emergency is over, it is imperative to evaluate which flexible policies have proved effective and which ones were incompatible with duty of care.

Not packages, but rather work arrangements was what benefited the most in terms of flexibility during the crisis. In fact, organisations were compelled to find enough flexibility to allow their mobile employees to do home office, sometimes even in a different country than the assignment country. A remarkable stress was put on business continuity and resilience at the forefront, leaving employee lifestyle and preferences in the background.

3 – Dual-Career Expat Couples 

The 2017 Worldwide Survey of International Assignment Policies & Practices (WIAPP) survey report pinpointed dual-career/family-related issues and cost as the main barriers to mobility. Similarly, the expected advantages of a flexible mobility program were also closely related to these issues. Also the report published by Crown (2019) highlights the same issue. But if this is not a new phenomenon, why is it considered a megatrend to watch in 2020?

Because many more households, globally, rely on two salaries. This means that when an employee is asked to take on an international assignment, the economic impact on the family is greater than in the past. As a consequence, an increasing number of companies are struggling with the challenges posed by the dual-career demographic and they are in search of creative solutions. 

To deal with the dual-career factor, companies have put in place several strategies. Many have put in place policies to support split-families, offering more frequent home leave. However, this is generally limited to 12-24 months, after which the employee runs a higher risk of suffering from burnout with a negative impact on work productivity as well. Another solution is the increase of commuter assignments especially across the EU where distances are limited. The downside of this could be that after some time, the commuter status will impact the employee and their family, as well as the morale of the team in the home and host location. Another strategy, the one for which we advocate, is putting Expat Spouse support at the core of GM policies. According to Crown’s 2019 Policy and Practices report, today, only 56% of companies address spouse/partner assistance. The most standard support comes in the form of reimbursements for job search assistance, professional affiliations and credential maintenance.

4 – GM will learn to facilitate and organize “Virtual Assignments”

The first trend highlighting the continuous diversification of GM also encompasses a higher number of Virtual Assignments. Differently than managers who oversee a region or frequent Business Travelers who might occasionally be involved in operations abroad from remote, a virtual assignee does remotely the same job as an assignee who has relocated to the host country. 

The COVID-19 crisis is changing all the debate around the possibilities of home office and Virtual Assignments since never in history have so many employees worked remotely in order to guarantee essential business continuity. Obviously, Virtual Assignments also raise a lot of new questions. However, Mercer suggests that if they are implemented at a great extent, they could present opportunities beyond the end of the crisis and will lead to companies having to reassess what is meant by GM.

Virtual mobility does not necessarily imply that employees remain in the home country while being responsible for operations in other locations. It can also mean allowing employees to work in a third country of choice (not the home country or the location benefiting from the task performed). Implementing a larger number of Virtual Assignments also means acknowledging and accepting that working arrangements are changing fast in response to technology, generational changes, and sudden business disruptions. 

Of course, as Mercer points out, there are limits, the most obvious of which is the fact that not all jobs can be performed from remote, and that is also one of the reasons why virtual mobility will not replace traditional mobility. Another barrier, and potential risk, can be presented by tax and compliance issues. A further obstacle can also simply be that the company has no existing operations and no wish to have a Permanent Establishment in the location where the employee would like to be based. Last but not least, some organizations are concerned that Virtual Assignments could hinder company culture and teamwork, with the risk for the employee to feel a perpetual outsider. The final point worth considering is that cost saving is not necessarily automatic: in case the assignee wants to live in a high-cost country, there could be additional costs. 

It is now easier to see how the popularity of virtual mobility is closely related to the increase of a more dispersed international workforce. As companies upgrade their technology and become more agile, they could decide to assign projects and tasks to mobile people rather than moving defined jobs as such. In other words, instead of trying to fit assignees into predefined boxes, the aim is to manage a diverse workforce in a more fluid and coordinated way (Mercer). 

Moving jobs to people instead of moving people to jobs is not going to substitute the traditional way of thinking GM, but it is one more tool that companies can use in their global operations. In fact, we live in an era in which recruitment is not limited by geography, and hiring can occur in any global location to fill open positions. As organizations gradually embrace best practices to manage a distributed international workforce, it will be essential for Global Mobility teams to adapt to a new way of thinkinking and to learn to implement virtual assignments successfully. 

The COVID-19 crisis has perhaps exposed even more the weaknesses and inconsistencies in current mobility management practices in relation to talent mobility. And if, on the one hand, it shows the limit of rigid organization policies, on the other, it also forces HR teams to be more creative and agile in addressing the business’s needs and assisting assignees. The hope is that talent mobility professionals will indeed retain some of this reactivity born out of the crisis as to be in a good position to help organizations recover in the post-crisis times. 

5 – GM Managers will expand their skills and become more agile 

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, multi-skilling is “the practice of training employees to do several different things, or of using employees who can do several different things”, or, in other words, the ability to master a wide range of skills relevant for different types of functions and jobs. Research from Hershbein and Khan (2018) provide broad-based evidence of how firms demand even more upskilling from workers when the local economy suffers a recession. Thus, this practice is likely to be even more useful in the aftermath of the crisis, when more agility will be required in all areas of business. 

The future of work is skill-driven and the expansion of the gig economy brings proof to the statement. Since organizations are becoming more flatter and more digital, corporate positions or job titles will not matter as much as skills and the capacity to update and renew these skills. 

Mercer listed a series of skills that will matter for talent mobility professionals and that will contribute to more relevant and strategic for the organizations. Below is a summary.

Now more than ever global mobility teams are asked to be advisers to the business and to help anticipate risks and compliance issues. Mobility professionals should basically function as bridges between departments and geographies and serve as facilitators to coordinate arising issues. One possibility is that the mobility functions will be gradually more oriented towards consultancy. In one sentence, Global Mobility teams need to master compliance issues.

Another necessary step will be making sure that the basics are in place in terms of metrics and cost tracking, but what really makes the difference for HR professionals will be the ability to turn the results of newly developed metrics into concrete suggestions to improve people management.

It is also fundamental that mobility professionals are able to speak the same language as general management and finance and that they have the capacity to link mobility with compelling business cases.

Another crucial point Global Mobility teams need to  bring to the top of their agendas is developing the ability to be good storytellers. Explaining the bigger story behind talent mobility and to what extent employees’ tasks relate (even distantly) to the overall economy and the society’s well being is a differentiator. Storytelling is also about being able to summarize clearly what the main principles underlying the mobility program policy are or what the very mobility program entails. 

Today we live in an unprecedented abundance of information. Making sense of the information or where to find the information is not the problem anymore. The crucial issue is determining which data are true and relevant and how they should be interpreted in order to draw relevant conclusions for the business. Another objective for GM professionals is to have a role to play in the digitalization of companies and to become more familiar with the concepts and technologies revolving around AI.In other words, develop statistical and technology literacy.

Last but not least, now that companies diversify more and more their compensation approaches, Global Mobility professionals need to dig deeper into Expat base pay, benefits, short-term and long-term incentives as to have a wider financial understanding of the implications of an international move. It’s time to broaden reward skills. 

6 – The Human Touch will be the key to successful Global Mobility programs

According to Deloitte (2019), mobility professionals rank Expat Experience as top strategic priority. For employees, this results in a heightened focus on wellbeing, development and recognition. At the same time, Expats have started perceiving global mobility differently and if they once used to see compensation as the primary incentive for global relocations, they now tend to value a human‑centric global mobility experience providing validation on both a personal and professional level. Nowadays the global workforce is attracted and motivated by a more personalised, agile and holistic experience which predictably results in a better relationship between employees and employer.

Deloitte has come up with three actions to ‘humanise’ global mobility, namely setting people at the center of the mobility experience; making mobility more personal than other aspects of the talent lifecycle; and building the experience around the specific person going on assignment.

Enhancing the Expat Experience has been on top of the priority list of many employers for quite some time. However, it would be unfair to deny that too often, it is difficult to prioritize it if teams are too busy focusing on the many operational aspects of the mobility program. 

As a matter of fact, a well designed human‑centric global mobility program does not simply consider employee needs, but also takes into account the rest of the stakeholders involved. Deloitte predicts that enhancing Expat Experience will keep being a key priority focus area for many leaders in the years to come. Organisations who wish to embrace a human-centred global mobility program successfully should focus on the following four core aspects:

  • Operational Support. Structure of operations, and satisfaction with external vendors.
  • Financial Welfare.  Rewards, benefits and other support provided to the employee. 
  • Professional Engagement.  Successful integration into the host location, and career progression.
  • Expat Well Being. Employee resilience, and focus outside of work life.

The COVID-19 crisis has particularly highlighted the very last aspect of the above list, Expat Well Being. According to Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends, 80% of the respondents identified well being as an important priority for their organization’s success over the next 12-18 months, making it this year’s top trend for importance. Yet, only 12% feel “very ready” to address this issue, meaning that there is clearly a “readiness gap”.  Expat Well Being definitely does not stop to healthcare considerations and should not be a priority only during emergencies.  It also entails social, emotional and financial aspects, in other words, areas in which highly mobile employees are automatically more at risk. Factors such as stress, mental health, family and financial issues, but also demotivation and failed assignments should put the mobility team on full alert. There is no doubt that the current crisis is pushing companies to accelerate their strategies to ameliorate Expat Well Being, potentially enabling a better work-life balance. In fact, the investments made towards an improved well being come with valid reasons: burnout impacts employee retention, employees with higher well-being are more likely to feel engaged at work and recommend their organizations, and, to some extent, well being drives organizational performance (Deloitte, 2020).

7 – Harder immigration compliance 

Even before this global pandemic, the waiting time organizations had to face before holding all the authorizations required for an employee to travel abroad for business were becoming increasingly longer. The quicker visa to obtain, that for short-term business travels, are not intended for productive work or long-term assignments, and many countries are more actively enforcing measures against illegal employment, with a larger number of employees having not only to pay pricey fines but to undergo criminal punishments. 

Problems only increase when the employee is accompanied by dependents who travel on a holiday visa and then try to find a job in the new host country or get a local driver’s license. 

Undoubtedly, the unexpected crisis caused by the widespread presence of COVID-19 will make immigration compliance an even more complicated matter for organisations wanting to send their employees abroad, repatriate or transfer them to a third country. 

In a world where business travel, secondments and overseas relocations are routine, the resulting level of disruption caused by the restrictions on movement that governments set in place to combat the spread of the pandemic is unprecedented. With companies working hard to prioritise their staff well being, another whole set of legal challenges arise. In such a rapidly changing scenario, it is not uncommon for mobile employees to remain stranded in their host country or a transit country or to risk overstaying their visa. Some of the measures that governments around the world are enacting are temporary but others could have a more negative effect on business in the near future. Two measures in particular could have a more long lasting impact on Global Mobility: 

  1. Entry restrictions and an increased number of admission criteria for certain countries, including bans on some high-risk locations.
  2. Heightened eligibility criteria and application requirements where visas are being issued, including suspension of visa waiver agreements and more detailed document requirements for new applications.

8 – Digital Innovation

In the past 24 months, many organizations have put a major focus both on digitisation (moving to more digital formats) and digitalisation (strategically shifting to digital processes and activities) of the mobility function. According to Deloitte and Fidi, this will continue being a global trend in 2020 as well. One of the biggest challenges of Global Mobility will be to bring digital innovation at the core of companies’ business models, evaluating how the technology available today can augment their human workforce. 

Companies’ level of ‘digital engagement’ obviously depends on how “digitally mature” their global mobility programs already are. Some might be just  ‘exploring digital’, using robotics to carry out simple and repetitive tasks,while others might be already ‘becoming digital’ with a formal digital strategy set in place. 

Automation

Mobility functions are already experiencing success where this technology is implemented to perform tasks that humans would normally be assigned, such as ending routine emails or copying and pasting information from public or private sources. In turn, workers can be repurposed to high value tasks for the benefit for the mobility function. By adopting and introducing those techniques  into existing processes, Global Mobility teams will be able to focus on diminishing costs, increase productivity by improving operational efficiency, and retain talent. In fact, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology is already being used to speed up administrative/transactional processes in mobility functions. Equally important is that automation can also reveal itself crucial in reducing hierarchical thinking.

Workplace tools

Core office technologies such as telephone, word processing platforms and email have already evolved as to expand the possibilities of connected and collaborative working. Employees can now access the latest information, join video conferences, share and work on the same documents or workspace at their convenience, from a device and location of their choice. The next generation of workplace tools will create even more opportunities in areas such as collaboration, training and learning, and it will as well provide business leaders the opportunity to deliver a better experience to their teams and assignees. Even more importantly, new ‘digital learning’ means that organizations will be able to make fun what is hard stuff in life. For instance, Augmented and Virtual  Reality (AR and VR respectively), can be used to transform the employee’s onboarding experience into the organisation, or it can provide the possibility to meet and collaborate with colleagues in other countries. Additionally, it can be used as well to virtually recreate cities so that one can immerse oneself in the new environment before deciding to move there.

Artificial Intelligence

According to Deloitte (2020), AI is projected to add US$13 trillion to the global economy over the next decade. Thus, it is no wonder that in their 2020 Global Human Capital Trends Survey, 70% of the respondents stated that their organizations were exploring or using AI to some extent. At this point, the question is not anymore whether AI will affect jobs, but rather how. As a matter of fact, reducing costs by replacing workforce with AI technology is not the only viable path: 60% of the surveyed (Deloitte, 2020) organizations are using AI to assist rather than replace workers. 

By using smart devices to predict, detect and prevent risks in moving people around the globe, AI is already helping organisations to go beyond traditional ways of managing the global workforce. With the huge increase of the data volume available to organisations, the emergence of advanced AI-based algorithms and the growing availability of data scientists, systems become increasingly self-managing and potentially self-defending against risks.  

 

Resources (Websites)

https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/insights/article/2020-buzzwords-and-what-they-tell-us-about-mobility

https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/insights/article/virtual-assignments-cultural-and-inclusion-issues

https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/insights/article/the-rise-of-virtual-assignments https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/insights/article/assessing-the-feasibility-of-virtual-assignments-a-checklist

https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/insights/article/delivering-flexibility 

https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/Insights/article/Global-mobility-policy-flexibility-in-practice

https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/solutions/data-solutions/policies-and-practices-surveys/flexible-mobility-policies-survey

https://www.imercer.com/products/WorldwideIAPP

https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/Insights/article/Upskilling-the-Mobility-Function

Books and Reports

Baker McKenzie. (2019). ‘The Global Employer: Focus on Global Immigration and Mobility.’ Baker McKenzie. Retrieved May 27, 2020, from https://www.bakermckenzie.com/en-/media/files/insight/publications/2019/12/the-global-employer-focus-on-immigration-and-mobility_041219.pdf

Beck, P., Eisenhut, P. and Thomas, L. (2018). „Fokus Arbeitsmarkt: Fit für di Zukunft?”. Stiftung Zukunft.li. Retrieved 28 May, 2020, from https://www.stiftungzukunft.li/publikationen/fokus-arbeitsmart-fit-fuer-die-zukunft 

Bertolino, M. (2020). ‘How Covid-19 is disrupting immigration policies and worker mobility: a tracker’. Ernst and Young. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from https://www.ey.com/en_gl/tax/how-covid-19-is-disrupting-immigration-policies-and-worker-mobility-a-tracker

Hauri, D., Eisenhut, P., and Lorenz T. (2016). „Knacknuss Wachstum und Zuwanderung: Hintergründe unde Zusammenhange.” Stiftung Zukunft.li. Retrieved 28 May, 2020, from Knacknuss Wachstum und Zuwanderung

Robb, A., Frewin, K. and Jagger, P. (2017a). ‘Global Workforce Trends: The Impact of the Digital Age on Global Mobility.’ Deloitte. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/tax/deloitte-uk-global-mobility-trends-latest.PDF 

Robb, A., Frewin, K. and Jagger, P. (2017b). ‘Global Workforce : Digital Innovation in Mobility.’ Deloitte. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/fi/Documents/tax/deloitte-uk-digital-innovation-in-mobility.pd 

References

Deloitte. (2020). ‘2020 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Survey. Deloitte.’ Deloitte. Retrieved May 27, 2020, from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/insights/us/articles/us43244_human-capital-trends-2020/us43244_human-capital-trends-2020/di_hc-trends-2020.pdf 

Deloitte. (2019). ’Global Workforce Insight 2019.’ Deloitte. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/ch/Documents/tax/deloitte-ch-Back-to-the-future-global-workforce.pdf

FIDI. (2019). ‘2020 Vision: A Focus on Next Year’s Trends.’ FIDI Global Alliance. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from https://www.fidi.org/blog/2020-vision-focus-next-years-trends 

Hershbein B and Khan, L. B. (2018). ‘Do Recessions Accelerate Routine-Biased Technological Change? Evidence from Vacancy Postings.’ American Economic Review. Vol. 108, no. 7, pp. 1737-72. Retrieved May 27, 2020, from https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/aer.20161570

KPMG. (2019). ‘Global Assignment Policies and Practices Survey.’ KPMG International. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2019/10/2019-gapp-survey-report-web.pdf

PwC. (2016). Women of the world: Aligning gender diversity and international mobility in financial services. PwC. https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/financial-services/assets/women-of-the-world.pdf


We thought we should pull together the main reasons according to our experience that hinder Expat Spouse employment  in the host country. This is a non-scientific analysis based on opinions and experience. There are a number of studies (Permits Foundation, 2012; Silberbauer, 2015) dedicated to the topic though. Main Global Mobility providers research how family impacts expat failure. In my view this is not enough. We should investigate how we can bring down the barriers to Expat Spouse employment. Why is it so difficult for Expat Spouses to find work in the host country? Here is a short analysis of the issues.

Work Permit Restrictions

Finding a job is not as straightforward for many of my clients as it is in their home countries. Even if most top host locations allow Expat Spouses to work on the partner’s dependent work permit (NetExpat & EY, 2018), other countries present significant restrictions to Expat Spouse employment. In fact, while some of them do not issue work permits to any Expat Spouses at all, others may present subtleties linked to marital status or they might not recognize same sex-marriages.

Lack of Host Language Skills

Even though the expat might work for a global company, most jobs in the host country will require host language skills. Unless you move from the UK to the USA, you often will not have the language skills required to work in the host country. It’s important that you don’t underestimate this aspect and that you start learning the local language as soon as possible, ideally before relocating. The good news is that almost two thirds of employers already provide this as the main form of assistance (Permits Foundation, 2012). If there is a business need, companies generally pay for a 60 hour-course.

Additionally, in countries where expats are numero there are specific job search engines that filter for English speaking roles. If you are looking to find employment in the Swiss job market, you can look up www.englishforum.ch.

Lack of Recognition of University Degrees in Regulated Fields

While within the EU we can assume that university degrees will be recognized due to the common job market, a Brazilian doctor cannot work in a hospital in Switzerland. We call this a “regulated profession”.

In the best case scenario, you will need to go through a considerable amount of bureaucracy to get your degree converted, and this may cost you a good amount of money. In the worst case scenario, however, if you want to keep practicing your profession, you will have to get complementary certificates in the host country.

Lack of Transferable Knowledge

While within the EU we can assume that university degrees will be recognized due to the common job market, a Brazilian doctor cannot work in a hospital in Switzerland. We call this a “regulated profession”.

In the best case scenario, you will need to go through a considerable amount of bureaucracy to get your degree converted, and this may cost you a good amount of money. In the worst case scenario, however, if you want to keep practicing your profession, you will have to get complementary certificates in the host country.

Lack of Professional Networks

Another issue is the lack of a professional network, which gives access to the untapped and informal labor market in the host country. Often you can only join professional associations when you are in a corporate role or when you have graduated in the country.

Building your professional network in your host country will require time and trust. You will have to start from scratch and dedicate a considerable amount of time to this activity if you want to see good results. You will also need to understand that matters of trust and relationships are culturally different, so it’s important that you act in a culturally appropriate manner when attempting to expand your professional network.

Lack of Support in the Global Mobility Policy

Only very forward thinking global mobility and global recruiting policies address the need for support for “trailing” dual career partner. While ten years ago dual-career issues on international assignments were solved by sticking to a classical Western nuclear “family” models, we now want to adhere to the needs of dual careers, patchwork families, Eastern “family” models, same-sex partners and unmarried de-facto relationships.

Visionary Global Mobility policies address various support models ranging from providing a lump sum to spousal career coaching. As an intercultural career advisor, I also work with clients who decide to start a global, transferable business so that they can follow their life partner to other locations and become location-independent. Thanks to technology I can support clients in NYC as well as in Mumbai. We also support candidates to improve their personal branding in the host market, learn to network effectively, improve their interview skills and online presentations. But it’s crucial that Global Mobility Leaders  update their policies and promote spouse support services rather than pay lump sums.

Intercultural Bias of Our Recruiters

Our recruiters often do not understand intercultural differences. Recruiters often don’t understand resumes from another country and outsourcing of talent specialists into HR shared service centers has not improved the chances of “foreign” candidates in the recruitment process.

Most selection methods and assessments are culturally biased. For example, in Switzerland, psychometric testing and other assessments of candidates are used to assess candidates next to interviews. Riedel (2015) shows examples where highly skilled candidates from China fell through the assessment roster in a German company because of their indirect communication style.

Companies should provide training on Inclusion and Diversity in the attempt to eliminate unconscious biases and ensure all worthy candidates are being considered for global mobility. This practice is not yet spread. According to KPMG, 39% of employees surveyed aren’t aware of inclusive leadership training within their organizations.

Unconscious Bias of Sending Home Sponsors

PwC issued a study in 2016 on female expatriation where it appears very obvious that a lot more women would be interested in an international assignment than the ones that are actually sent. As a matter of fact, some types of assignments (like short-term, very short-term, and fly-in and out commuter assignments) are notably more popular among women than among men.

If women make up 20% only (PwC, 2016) of the internationally mobile population across all sectors, it’s probably due to the unconscious bias of the sending home sponsors who assume a female manager is not mobile even though she might have mentioned it several times. I speak from experience.

If you want to guarantee that the selection of women and other underrepresented groups is fair and objective, you need to measure the relative inclusiveness of mobility assignments and ensure policies on equal access are working. If you find out they are not working, intervene as soon as possible.

Lack of Research to Measure Impact of Dual-Career Programs

In 2012, ETH Zurich conducted extensive research with several European universities on barriers to dual careers within the EU and EFTA countries. For most companies (NetExpat & EY, 2018; Atlas World Group, 2019) the presence of dual-career couples negatively affects the decision to relocate. There’s more: the spouse’s unwillingness to move because of his or her career is the first reason for turning down relocation. After all, it’s 2020, and the increasing number of households relying on two salaries should not surprise us. While in the past, small firms were relatively less affected by spouse/partner’s employment than medium and big firms, in more recent times, the impact has been similar across company size. 

There is evidently still a lot to do in order to integrate the needs of dual-career couples  in the expatriation process. If you want to keep pace with reality and stand out with a far-reaching Global Mobility policy, please keep this issue top priority. 

On the receiving end, I can report that more and more expat spouses are male. There is hope.

If you want to see how all this works in practice and would like to receive a proposal from us, please drop a line to Angie Weinberger (angela@globalpeopletransitions.com). I am happy to support you!

Further Readings: 

https://www.sirva.com/learning-center/blog/2019/12/20/supporting-accompanying-spouses-partners-during-relocation

Why building professional relationships is harder for Expats and their spouses in Zurich

The Modern Professional’s Guide to Avoiding Career Stagnation

My favourite Productivity Hacks – Seven Tips to claim back your Diary

Global Recruiting – Helping Global Talents succeed in Switzerland

Offline and Online Presence is the Way Forward for Modern Professionals

References:

Atlas World Group. (2019). 52nd Annual Atlas Corporate Relocation Survey. https://www.atlasvanlines.com/AtlasVanLines/media/Corporate-Relo-Survey/PDFs/2019survey.pdf

KPMG. (2018). Inclusion and Diversity: How Global Mobility can help move the Needle. KPMG International. https://assets.kpmg//content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2018/06/global-mobility-inclusion-and-diversity-how-gms-can-help-move-the-needle-FINAL.pd

NetExpat & EY. (2018). Relocating Partner Survey Report. https://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/ey-2018-relocating-partner-survey-final-report/$File/ey-2018-relocating-partner-survey-final-report.pdf

Permits Foundation. (2012). International Mobility and Dual-Career Survey of International Employers. https://www.permitsfoundation.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Permits+Global+Survey+2012nw.pdf 

PwC. (2016). Women of the world: Aligning gender diversity and international mobility in financial services. PwC. https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/financial-services/assets/women-of-the-world.pdf

Riedel, Tim (2015): “Internationale Personalauswahl”, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Gottingen.

Silberbauer, K. (2015). Benefits of dual-career support for expat spouses, International Journal of Business and Management, vol 3, no. 2. DOI: 10.20472/BM.2015.3.2.005

Weinberger, A. (2019). “The Global Mobility Workbook”, Global People Transitions, Zurich.

Weinberger, A. (2016). “The Global Career Workbook”, Global People Transitions, Zurich.

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Dr. Jens Schmidt, A German Executive in Shanghai

Dr. Jens Schmidt is an expat. The company’s corporate headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, assigned him  to improve efficiency at the company’s manufacturing plant in Shangai, China. During his first 90 days he came up with a list of quality issues and he shared this list with three of his direct reports (Mr. Zhu, Mr. Cao and Mrs. Ping). 

He asked them for input on how to mitigate the issues within the next 90 days and what the “low hanging fruit” were. He emailed them on Friday evening and asked them to respond by Monday morning, enough time to review over the weekend. While Dr. Jens Schmidt was sorting out his moving goods that finally arrived from Stuttgart and settled into his apartment, Mr. Zhu, Mr. Cao and Mrs. Ping went for lunch. They did not appreciate that they had to leave their families on the weekend but they knew this was important. On Sunday night Mr. Cao, the most senior, eldest and most experienced manager responded to the email.

“Dear Dr. Schmidt, thank you for the trust you are giving to your senior managers by sharing this report with us before sending it to the headquarters. We are fully on board with you and we think you and the quality assurance team in the headquarters will give good guidance on how to mitigate the issues presented in the report. We kindly ask that you inform us of any changes once you have discussed this report with the headquarters. With kind regards, Mr. Cao”.

On Monday, when Dr. Schmidt came back to the office, Mr. Zhu handed in his resignation. Two weeks later Mr. Cao and Mrs. Ping also resigned.

Now, Dr. Schmidt had to lead 50 engineers directly. He was using everything he knew that worked in Germany — especially in terms of performance appraisal, and yet the Chinese employees seemed to be losing efficiency and effectiveness by the week. After 90 days, many engineers had moved to other companies and Dr. Schmidt had a hard time to explain to HR why he needed to hire new engineers and managers in the middle of a global crisis. His 180 days report looked bleak. The quality issues had become worse and Dr. Schmidt had nothing to show for but failure.

It took quite some time and effort on Dr. Schmidt’s part to recognize that what worked in Germany in terms of critical and to-the-point feedback was actually demotivating to the Chinese employees, who were used to more positive reinforcement than pure critique. These positive comments motivated them to increase productivity and put forth that extra, discretionary effort. Once Dr. Schmidt changed his feedback and his communication style in general he noticed that productivity improved again. He was also able to win the managers and some of the employees back once he understood the importance of relationships and the concept of “face” in the Chinese culture.

Three years later he managed to leave the country with a good feeling. 

Feedback is Completely Misconstrued

According to the original mechanistic definition feedback occurs when an environment reacts to an action or behavior. For example, ‘customer feedback’ is the buyer’s reaction to a firm’s products and policies, and ‘operational feedback’ is the internally generated information on a firm’s performance. 

Originally, the idea was that feedback changes behavior. Criticism or praise is considered  feedback only if it brings about a lasting change in the recipient’s behavior. While I am generally critical of this assumption, I would like to explain here three major feedback styles that I have seen over my career. Often they work in a monocultural setting or when they are framed well. For example, critiques work well for writers and bloggers, the sandwich works well in an Anglo-Saxon environment and Hindi-style generally works well in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

One major issue is that feedback often is NOT delivered well. Another issue is that often it is full of projections and that it has to be abused to justify why a good performer was not promoted. That is one of the key issues with feedback. For the next three styles we will assume that the feedback is well delivered, the feedback receiver asked for feedback and the feedback is not used as a justification for non-promotion or a performance rating.

German-Style: Pure Direct Critique

The German Style
The German Style

Clearly, people in Germany do not generally provide and receive feedback in the same way that people in China are used to doing. In fact, appraisal feedback can be very different across different cultures. Although not many like to do it, we know that critiquing – in a constructive and empowering way – others’ work is a crucial part of a manager’s job. However, critiquing someone often brings unwanted results and ends up hurting others even when this wasn’t the initial goal. This generally happens because criticism embodies two of the things that human beings hate the most, i.e. it calls for submission and it devalues. 

With a focus on what needs to be improved, this method works extremely well for writers, bloggers and co-creators. In many instances, authors actually request it. It’s also often used in educational circumstances, training contexts and examinations. Here it is important to focus on the work, instead of the person. For example, “In this report, capitalization is not applied consistently.” or “This paragraph is hard to understand because it contains a lot of passive constructions.” Germans love “Sachlichkeit” so the focus here is on the object, the piece of art, the work output, rather than the person delivering the work. The intention here is to improve the overall quality of the work output.

US-Style: The Sandwich Feedback

The original sandwich feedback technique entails something positive to warm up the discussion, followed by some criticism which is the real feedback one wants to give, and it wraps up with more praise, i.e. again something positive to soften the actual feedback. In other words, the sandwich feedback method involves discussing corrective feedback that is “sandwiched” between two layers of praise.

There are two ways to put the sandwich feedback technique in practice: 

  1. You start off with a positive comment, add constructive feedback with an explanation of how to improve, and end with another positive comment. 
  2. You begin with a contextual statement (I liked…because…Now/Next time…) and conclude with an interactive statement, e.g. a question based on the work done.

The Sandwich Feedback Model
The Sandwich Feedback Model

This method is particularly helpful to managers when they want to discuss problems with the employee’s behavior. It is especially useful for those managers who find it difficult to deliver corrective feedback. It is important to note that you need to ask for permission to give feedback and also find examples of where you observe what you find worth changing. Here you should focus on behavior, rather than the person and soften it with “tend to” and “I observed” and “what this does with me…”. Speak about how it affects you. This approach takes the name of Non-Violent Communication (NVC) and it was developed by the  American psychologist M. Rosenberg.

Hindi-Style: Focus on the Positive

Thumb Up
The Hindi Style Feedback

In Bangalore, I learned another feedback style which I call “Hindi-Style Feedback”. Basically, here you focus on the positive and remain silent on the negative. In order to save face you don’t confront the person you are addressing directly. If you have negative feedback you would tell this to an intermediary who then decides about how to approach the topic with the person.

This method works well in the Asian context or when you generally already have a high-performing team and nothing major goes wrong. Focussing and reinforcing the strengths and the positive behavior will lift employees up and encourage them to do more of this behavior. Also, I think it is important to build a personal relationship before delivering feedback and better to deliver it 1:1. If you are only correcting errors and you have agreed a more direct style to do that it is acceptable if you have a good relationship with your team members.

In the SIETAR conference in Dublin in a pre-congress workshop my colleague Adrienne Rubatos and I co-created a feedback map with the participants.

The Feedback Map
The Feedback Map (Rubatos, Weinberger, 2017)

We also suggested that feedback usually creates more harm than support and as humanistic coaches we therefore would propose to stop using performance management systems, Management by Objectives and certainly feedback. Where we feel feedback is helpful ONLY would be in learning situations, transitions and when it is explicitly demanded by the feedback-receiver.

I’m aware that this is a complete paradigm shift and that it will change our approaches to promotions, compensation, benefits, hierarchy and basically completely turn around how we work in organizations.

We are demanding a new approach to feedback. We promote an approach that is mindful, supportive and transcultural. 

Delivering Feedback like a Global Virtual Leader

Even if in a new cultural setting it’s useful to learn the cultural rules, perhaps through a cultural mentor, don’t assume that “going native” is always and necessarily successful. Most of the time, you will have to adjust your feedback style and create a blend with which you feel comfortable enough in the given setting and with the person you have in front of you. 

More and more often teams are global virtual teams (GVT) and there are no rules other than the rules the teams co-create.  We have vast experience working within global, virtual teams and you find further blog posts via https://globalpeopletransitions.com/?s=global+virtual+teams.

Alternatively, you can join our RockMe! program or the RockMeRetreat where we discuss these matters based on your leadership challenges.

 

Guest Post by Kevin Castro

In a survey commissioned in 2019 by Santa Fe Relocation Services and conducted by Savanta, a critical view is revealed on how and why Global Mobility professionals need to take action to affect change. 

The findings suggest again that even now, not all stakeholders are aware of the full roles performed by Global Mobility and that there is an opportunity here to educate both internal and external stakeholders on the true future potential that Global Mobility brings to an organisation and its development. This is further underpinned by John Rason, Group Head of Consulting, Santa Fe Relocation, who identifies that: “Those of us working in the Global Mobility industry will tell you that it can be frustrating, challenging, complex—sometimes even scary. However, when executed well it can also be exciting, fulfilling…” 

You can request a copy of the report by clicking here

While Senior Leadership recognizes the role that GM professionals play in the organization, does it transcend to having real benefits for those supporting the company’s best talents i.e. not feeling under-resourced or undervalued?

Perhaps only for some. As GM professionals, how can we further demonstrate value in order to improve the team’s perception and thus influence how the organization provides support to the team? It is evident from the above quote that challenging, rewarding work is being done but not being recognized at all junctures. In fact, given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on international travel and thus international assignments and GM in general, Global Mobility professionals have stepped up in a big way to manage and facilitate expats stranded in foreign countries, navigating complicated and unknown pathways to providing them essential support.

Such value should not go unappreciated. In light of that, I have listed four points, which I hope can help you and your teams increase your value in the organization:

1. Get a Seat at the Table 

Do you have Joint-Business Planning with your HR & Business Leaders? If none yet, you should start engaging them in order to better understand their goals, focus, and how you can support Talent Strategy. This may lead to an easier path in demonstrating your value to the business as you will get to know how and where to play towards their goals. Does your company do assignee pre-screening, where you determine the suitable candidates for the international assignments? If not, this is something that you can explore and introduce. If done right, you avoid the pitfalls of selecting the wrong people. 

2. Communicate Your Value, Regularly and Consistently

Do you consistently communicate what you have achieved, the projects you initiated? Ensure that you communicate the things that you do and how you have supported the business. A study by Cartus in 2016, a global relocation services provider, found out that 54% of companies lack focus on tracking and reporting on assignments. Hence, it is high time to gather that data (assignment success, costs, the return on investment, assignees feedback, etc.) and have a regular newsletter, blog post or presentation at your next strategy and planning meeting. As my clients always ask, how will I know if the expat assignment is successful? Presenting reports is useful to communicate such info. 

3. Demonstrate Why Your Expertise Matters

You are the expert, and you should try to demonstrate this frequently. You can do this through sharing GM insights, trends, and how these contribute to business or talent strategy. If the opportunity is available to increase your Global Mobility expertise through having certification and further studies. GM organizations and consultancy organizations provide certifications/courses, where you can further deepen your mobility knowledge. For example, Global People Transitions offers the FlyMe! Program, a career coaching geared towards Global Mobility professionals.

An academic course to certify you as a “Global Mobility Advisor” is available with Expatise Academy in collaboration with Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

4. Be Flexible and Agile 

In previous years, the goal was to ensure that you arrange logistics and meet compliance needs, which are more transactional. In today’s world, the role expands and you are now viewed by the business as a strategic partner not merely as administrators. You should always understand what is important to the business. Today, the focus may be costs, but it might be something else in three months’ time. Keep your eyes and ears open for this and be agile and flexible.

In addition, as practitioner (in-house or outsourced),tyou should also be aware of trends in terms of mobility practices and service delivery.  You can start by looking at how technology affects the delivery. Do all assignees adapt to these changes, or do we provide omnichannel delivery? What do other companies do?  Such questions might lead you to new service delivery models or enhancement.

I hope these four points will prove to be beneficial for you and will help your team to push more value to the organization. So, don’t forget to get a seat, market your value, be the expert and be agile and flexible.

I remember a conversation with my previous boss, where he shared with me that HR is a cost-generating function, so it might sometimes receive smaller budgets (e.g. hiring additional headcount, higher bonus, etc.). However, HR’s role has transformed itself from a back-office support function into a more strategic business partner. This principle should also apply on Global Mobility regardless of where it is structured in the company. In fact, as the Santa Fe survey points out, Global Mobility is now increasingly connecting more formally with broader HR and Centres of Excellence subjects such as: workforce planning, innovative policies and advisory services (to both executive management and employees).

To summarise, in today’s world, Global Mobility teams are and will continue to become more valuable than ever!

P.S Sign up for FlyMe! now. If you would like to become a Global Mobility Specialist or deepen your knowledge, improve your skill set and build your professional network at the same time, this program is for you. Read in details below.

 

Kevin Castro is a Filipino by birth, who lived in Singapore for almost 8 years and is now residing in Zurich. A Global Mobility professional, with experience in Mobility Operations, HR Services, Project & Supplier Management, and Customer Service. He is currently learning German and at the same time enjoying cooking & curating travel experiences.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/kevin-castro-37010a49/