The Changing Face of Expat Assignments

31 July 2017



Global workforce management faces constant development due to changing demands in talents and evolving global markets.


ExpatFinder looks into two new reports regarding the emerging trends in global talent assignments and workforce mobility. AXA’s ‘World of Work Report: Developing Global Talent for International Business’ offers interesting data that shows the perspective of hiring companies as well as the expats (250 MNCs in eight countries and, 372 people in 11 countries). Another interesting finding comes from RES Forum’s Annual Report 2017 ‘The New Normal of Global Mobility: Flexibility, Diversity & Data Mastery’ with data from 57 MNCs. This report analyses the current trends in assignment management and mobility programs.


We would like to point out some of the most important findings showcased in these reports. Get a closer look at the emerging trends and changes in the face of workforce mobility, specifically breaking the barriers of ‘normal assignments’ and explore how you can surf the wave of the world’s new global employments practices.


The talent competition is on and it is global

Finding the right people is one of the most integral parts of talent mobility, and it has also become a key challenge for HR according to 46% of HR Directors surveyed in AXA's 'World of Work Report'.

When it comes to global talent competition, putting together the perfect package to attract the right people can determine the difference between excellence and mediocrity for global companies. In this aspect, the range of programs and benefits package can be the main factor in getting the right talent.


45% of HR Directors surveyed in AXA's report say that the main factors that drive the design of corporate benefits packages is to make sure assignments are managed efficiently and that the staff can fulfil the demands of their roles, while 44% say that creating benefits to attract talent or the company's duty to take care of the staff are the main factors in creating corporate benefits packages.


“… it is perhaps no great surprise that 98% of multinational firms we surveyed said they think globally mobile workforces are important, and over a third (35%) say they are ‘critical’, to allowing them to achieve their objectives.

For a successful global workforce, businesses must structure assignments, pay and benefits to make the opportunity rewarding for staff.” – Tom Wilkinson, CEO, AXA-Global Healthcare


Short-term is here to stay

One of the biggest shifts in talent workforce mobility trends is the length of assignments. According to HR Directors surveyed by AXA, it's clear that the industry is moving towards short-term assignments over the next five years despite anticipated growth in long-term assignments.


27% of surveyed staff says that they do not wish to relocate abroad permanently, while 38% says that they prefer short-term contracts abroad and commute from their home country.


In line with the findings of the research, we are seeing a trend for shorter assignments and people are less keen to take on long-term relocations – they don’t want to disrupt their family life and friendships. Adapting to this change is a key challenge for the HR community.


Currently less than half of AXA’s international roles are on long-term assignments and that figure is decreasing. Commuter assignments are increasingly popular – where staff work for periods of three months and longer in a different country to the one they live in (usually working for a day a week or more in another country). - Olga Kravchenko, AXA Head of International Mobility

The RES Forum Annual Report 2017 points out that many Multinational Companies’ (MNCs) Global Mobility approach is to give developmental assignments to the younger generation of expats and more high ranking strategic business assignments to older expats.


Pressure on cost

The war for talents comes with additional pressure from the business side to reduce overall costs. The key to this problem is structuring flexible mobility programs. Flexible benefits can be adapted to the company as well as the assignee’s key motivations whereas sticking to the standard benefits programs can be inefficient and expensive.


It’s important for the MNCs to start reimagining the driving factors of the costs for global mobility and stir the packages to a more flexible and more efficient benefit structure.


“The issue, however, is one of talent attraction—if cost pressures guide global mobility programmes, how can multi-national companies place suitable talent in key positions abroad? Ultimately, a drive to manage cost can result in the reintroduction of allowances or an expansion in benefits packages to incentivise a global move while controlling costs. In the future, it will be increasingly important for global mobility to serve other motivations, including more targeted personal and professional growth.” - Professor Sebastian Reiche, Associate Professor of Managing People in Organisations, IESE Business School, University of Navarra

Different challenges

There are different challenges that emerge from the new dynamic that’s being formed by these recent developments in the talent mobility according to AXA’s report. First, is the ‘Motivational Challenges’ this pertains to getting the available roles to match the work preferences of the assignees. Second, is the ‘Wellbeing Challenges’ which is the management of the staff’s mental and physical wellbeing given the stress of being away from family and friends and living abroad. And the third is the ‘Financial Challenges’ which is the struggle to balance the demands of companies as well as the employees.


Despite these challenges, business requirements are the main drivers behind the type of programs selected as highlighted by The RES Forum:



The Res Forum's report finds that depending on a wide range of factors, assignment packages and profiles can vary significantly. For example, short-term assignees have less generous offers compared to long-term assignees on average, and business and strategic needs based assignments get more generous rewards than developmental assignments.


Assignment Profile Business Drivers
Short Term Business Needs
  • Skills Shortage
  • Rapid Development
Long Term Business Needs
  • Knowledge Transfer
  • Control and Coordination
Strategic Business Needs
  • Global Talent Management
  • Career Development
  • Global Leadership

What’s the take away if you would like to go work abroad?


Despite the many challenges of relocation and working abroad, AXA's report shows that 68% of international assignees say they want to continue being expats and work for their current companies at the end of their assignments.


Therefore, while the trends are moving away from the traditional expat packages, the emerging trends and developments are proving to be more efficient and cost-friendly for companies. As an expat abroad, your company would be willing to work with you to find the right balance for benefits to give you the best experience so you can be an efficient and productive employee.


Here are some things to remember when adjusting to your companies mobility program:

  • Understand how to be on wait list early
  • Highlight your key strength in filling each position (cross cultural experience, entrepreneurial spirit etc.)
  • Check the openings on the company intranet or career site regularly
  • Show that you are prepared: do your research on the cost of living and general life in the main office locations of your choice. Research online, but also by speaking with colleagues there.