Types of Expatriate Assignment
Regardless of the reason, two major challenges face expatriate assignments: costs and family considerations. To overcome these issues, HR needs to design flexible expatriate assignments that match company needs, as well as those of the employee and their family.
Short Term Expatriate Assignment
Many companies are turning to short term expatriate assignments as an answer to cost and family issues. Employees work overseas for a fixed term, usually for a period of three months to one year, on an unaccompanied basis. Home leave allowances are an integral part of the assignment to enable regular trips back to the home country, or family visits to the host country. The benefit for the employee is that there is no need to uproot the entire family and relocate them overseas. The company makes considerable savings from the absence of costs associated with relocation like school fees, shipping of goods, vehicle transportation and furniture storage.
However, even if the employee is only overseas for three months, HR needs to manage the assignment effectively to make it a successful undertaking on both sides. There are a number of factors to incorporate into a package, even for a short term posting overseas:
- Pre-assignment preparation- language and culture training, orientation, work permits and visas
- Settling-in assistance
- Housing - e.g. serviced apartments or company (found) properties
- Home leave and family visitation allowances
- Host country transportation
- Telephone and internet allowances
- Support for child care and house maintenance in the home country
- Tax assistance and equalisation
- Repatriation support
Long term Expatriate Assignments
Typically overseas for three to five years, long term expatriate assignments are the traditional form of overseas placements. An employee and family members relocate to a host country for the duration of the assignment. This requires company support and payments for the housing situation in the host and home countries, school allowances, dual career support or spousal assistance, shipment of goods, storage of belongings, pet relocation, relocation service provisions, tax assistance, cost-of-living adjustment and expatriate allowances.
Whilst there are many justifiable and cost effective business reasons for sending staff on long-term expat assignments, particularly in situations requiring continuity and a transfer of skills, family issues can make these types of assignments notoriously harder to manage than other forms of expatriate postings.
Many surveys indicate that families feel HR adopt an "out of sight, out of mind" attitude to its expatriate staff; ensuring that employees cannot say the same about your HR team increases the chances of a successful overseas posting.
Living in one country during the week, and travelling home for the weekends is another popular form of expatriate assignments. A home commuting arrangement allows companies to send talent where the business needs it most, on a short-term basis, without relocating an entire family. In addition to the same advantages offered by a short-term assignment, a home commuter arrangement offers a better work life balance for the employee with weekly trips home. However, home commuting is not sustainable in the long-term, unless there are no family considerations.
This increasing trend in international working brings its own set of challenges with it. In essence, an employee makes regular (extended) business visits overseas and works remotely from the home country. This may mean virtual meetings and phone calls across time zones, so work life balance issues need to be managed carefully if such an assignment is to be successful. Frequent flyer arrangements require flexibility on the part of the company, the employee, and the employee's family, but certainly cause much less upheaval than a traditional expatriate posting.
No matter the duration of the posting, it is important to remember that family issues need to be at the heart of expatriate assignment design; family concerns is the number one reason for failed expatriate postings. Integrating support for both the employee and the spouse throughout the assignment duration, regardless of the spouse's location, is undoubtedly an essential element of the design of an expatriate assignment.
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