Expatriate positions rise worldwide
Research shows that companies worldwide are increasing the number of international positions for expatriate workers, although the length of assignments is gradually shortening.
Over 70 percent of companies expect to increase short-term assignments in 2013, according to a recent report on expatriate policies and practices by Mercer. The report showed that 55 percent of companies expect to increase long-term assignments and highlighted that, for the last two years, there has been an increase in the overall number of international assignments. The report found that China, United States, Brazil, United Kingdom and Australia are the priority destinations in their respective regions for expatriates.
Mercer's Worldwide International Assignments Policies and Practices report (WIAPP) also found that more than half of companies reported an increase of long-term (52 percent) and short-term assignments (53 percent) in 2011 and 2010. The WIAPP report presents the latest trends in international assignment programme management, policies, and practices data.
Anne Rossier-Renaud, principal in Mercer's global mobility business said, "International assignments have become diverse in order to meet evolving business and global workforce needs. Relatively low pay increases in some regions, and pressure on companies to attract and retain talent, have spurred many to embrace a wider range of global mobility strategies to incentivise high performers. Mobility and HR directors now face great complexity in the number and type of international assignments that need managing."
According to Mercer, the top five reasons cited for international assignment programmes are; to provide specific technical skills not available locally (47 percent), to provide career management/leadership development (43 percent), to ensure knowledge transfer (41 percent), to fulfil specific project needs (39 percent), and to provide specific managerial skills not available locally (38 percent). Close to half of North American (45 percent) and European (46 percent) companies indicate career management/leadership development as one of the main reasons they have international assignments. In the future, worldwide, 62 percent of participants anticipate an increase in the number of technical-related short-term assignments, 55 percent anticipate an increase in talent development assignments, and half anticipate an increase in key strategic assignments.
Assignment origins, durations, obstacles and demographics
According to the report, the duration of long-term assignments is trending down. The average duration of a long-term assignment is now slightly less than three years (2 years 10 months). The average minimum duration is one year, five months, and the average maximum duration is five years, four months. The average age of long-term assignees is between 35 and 55 years. For short-term assignments, minimum, average and maximum durations, worldwide, stand at respectively 4, 8, and 13 months. The average age of short-term assignees tends to be younger, with a similar proportion of companies in the below 35-years-old bracket and in the 35-to-55-years-old bracket.
The likelihood of expatriates being female has marginally increased, with the average percentage of female assignees standing at 13 percent, just 3 percent higher than two years ago. Latin American and Asia Pacific companies show female average percentages lower than those of North American and European respondent companies.
Family-related issues, such as concerns over children's education in a new location, remain a major obstacle to employee mobility, says Mercer. Partners and spouses of employees asked to work abroad may also have successful careers in their own right that they may not want to compromise. "Career management" ranks as the next most important issue, except for European and Asia Pacific companies, which rate lack of "package attractiveness" as the second-biggest obstacle to mobility.
Multinational companies continue to source most (57 percent) of their international assignees from the country in which they are headquartered and assign them to foreign subsidiaries. However, there has been an increase in the percentage of subsidiary company transfers (51 percent) indicating that subsidiary-to-subsidiary transfers, as opposed to HQ-to-subsidiary transfers, have increased since 2010. This evolution is most significant among European companies, with 6 in 10 (61 percent) reporting an increase of this pattern of assignments, indicating the growing competencies of staff in other parts of the world.
Metrics and Return on Investment
Two out of three employers (65 percent) have no specific tools to track and manage assignments and their related cost, other than using basic tools such as Excel and Word. But even without statistics on the matter, 39 percent of participants reported that, generally, employees with international experience were promoted more quickly.
Press release by Mercer.
Mercer is a global leader in talent, health, retirement and investments. Mercer helps clients around the world advance the health, wealth and performance of their most vital asset – their people. Mercer's 19,000 employees are based in more than 40 countries. Follow Mercer on Twitter @MercerInsights.
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