Bring the whole family: Rising demand for globally mobile talent drives policy changes

The number of employees on international assignments is on the rise and so are the complexity and customisation of companies’ international assignment programmes, a KPMG survey of more than 600 companies from across the world found.

The emergence of economies such as China and India – especially while the US and Europe struggled through financial crises and the buying power of consumers in developing countries rose – established tighter connection across the business world. And the international expansions and acquisitions by companies of all sizes added to the demand for globally mobile talent.

The average number of global assignment locations supported by a multinational company was 22 in 2009, up from 13 in 1998, according to research by PwC. By 2020, the average number of global assignment locations is projected to be 33 per multinational.

As international assignments have become more common, companies have customised them to fit their needs and take advantage of new technologies. Also, mobility benefit policies broadened to become more family-friendly and take two-earner couples into consideration. For example, companies increasingly include domestic partners of the opposite sex and the same sex.

The more family-oriented approach is a positive development, according to the KPMG report.  “Encouragingly, survey participants … continue to exhibit inclusionary mind-sets as it relates to the definition of a ‘family’ within their policies for benefit purposes,” the report said.

But the survey also found that higher demand for globally mobile talent and more customisation and inclusiveness of international assignment programmes were accompanied by growing concerns that the administration of international assignments takes too much time and effort.

The number of programme managers who said employees on international assignment require too much administration rose to 51%, from 49% in 2008, according to KPMG research.

KPMG findings reflecting the demands on programme managers include:

  • Forty-four per cent of the companies participating in the survey projected they would send employees on international assignments at least somewhat more frequently five years from now. That’s up from 40% five years ago.
  • Fifty-four per cent of respondents have employees assigned in up to ten countries, and half have more than 50 assignees.
  • International assignments may last one to five years or less than 12 months. But a company’s international assignment program may also allow for commuting (25% of respondents), rotations (18%) or permanent transfers (47%). Assignments could also be project- or contract-specific (42%).
  • Thirty-six per cent of respondents offered international assignments during which family members had to stay home.
  • Forty-one per cent offered employees, their partners and children language training; 37% offered cross-cultural training to the whole family; 21% provided job search support in the host country for an employee’s partner; and 21% reimbursed education expenses for the employee’s partner.
  • Fifty-five per cent of respondents included unmarried domestic partners of the opposite sex, and 49% included unmarried domestic partners of the same sex in the benefits they offered. In 1999, only 24% of companies offered benefits to unmarried domestic partners of the opposite sex and 17% to unmarried domestic partners of the same sex.

Getting a handle on programme administration

To better deal with the increasing demands and achieve strategic international growth objectives, companies could change the way they approach international assignments, a Deloitte white paper suggests.

Instead of emphasising high-touch service for long-term assignments, Deloitte offers a framework to design global mobility programmes and options for a range of tasks and employees.

The superstar. Next-generation leaders should be offered international assignments that define a clear career path, set expectations about development goals and put the employees on the company’s fast track once they return. These assignments focus on development, experience and retention and are expensive.

The rising star. Employees with long-term potential who are worth the investment are suited for assignments that focus on learning experiences but offer scaled-down relocation benefits and programme services. These rising stars are expected to shoulder part of the burden and costs in return for a strategic opportunity to improve their skills and qualifications.

The demonstrated performer. Employees with deep, specialised management or technical skills are suited for short-term international assignments that fill workforce gaps and are project-based. Companies should establish a database of suitable specialists to quickly fill these gaps with the most capable candidates.

The volunteer. Employees who want to work overseas for personal reasons, such as a spouse who has received a job offer in another country, may be assigned an overseas job that needs to be done but doesn’t offer a lot of upside to the business. The employee assigned to such a commodity job would receive minimal services and relocation benefits.

Related CGMA Magazine content:

More Domestic, Same-Sex Partners Receiving Mobility Benefits”: Organisations sending employees on international assignments increasingly are including domestic partners of the opposite sex and the same sex in mobility benefit plans, a new survey shows.

Many Companies Unprepared for Risks That Go With Sending Employees to Emerging Markets”: To establish footholds in emerging markets, companies are sending more and more employees overseas, but many of their global mobility teams are ill-prepared for the financial and compliance risks that accompany such deployments.

Sabine Vollmer ( is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.