4 steps to more effectively manage international assignments

Global mobility teams could more effectively manage the increasing compliance risks and regulatory requirements of having employees assigned overseas – as well as contain costs – if more multinational companies collected and analysed the information necessary to take action, an EY survey suggests.

Of the more than 200 respondents EY polled worldwide, 72% said they do not track the success of international assignments, 52% said they lack access to the data they would need to identify or forecast mobility trends, and 45% said they have very little or no technology to support decision-making for talent management.

Meanwhile, short-term assignments, which face the highest mobility risk rating because of rising regulatory pressures, are tremendously popular. Eighty-five per cent of respondents said they have short-term assignments in force.

“Mobility programmes are under unprecedented levels of pressure to deliver value,” EY mobility leaders for Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and the Americas stated in a press release. “Mobility data can be used more effectively in international workforce planning, policy, and cost effectiveness,” the report added.

The majority of the respondents thought their teams were functioning effectively. But to do more than ensure compliance obligations for home and host tax filings, social security, and immigration, global mobility teams need information and insights, according to EY.

Only 1% of respondents said they do not have robust and thoughtful mobility-related policies, but the survey found that those policies are often overlooked and are not properly applied when decisions have to be made to deploy people quickly.

About one-third of respondents said their companies are investing more in payroll training, but accurate cost reporting frequently remains elusive. Forty-three per cent said they lacked effective global processes and data controls to manage assignee compensation, and 37% said they had no formal process to validate compensation is being accurately reported through payroll.

Also, large informational gaps existed in tracking of whether international assignments were successful or failed. While 60% of the companies participating in the EY survey tracked whether assignees stayed for the anticipated length of the assignment, only 46% tracked whether assignees met or exceeded key performance indicators or other performance measurements. Forty-two per cent of respondents said their companies did not consider cultural fit in the assignee selection process.

To fill the gaps and better integrate data analytics into mobility programmes, EY suggests multinationals take these steps:

  • Upgrade mobility controls. Establish global standards and process integration across the mobility lifecycle and business functions based on a clear mobility strategy and supporting policies that are endorsed by leadership.
  • Establish sustainable methodologies. To ensure regulatory requirements are met, consider replacing traditional tracking and reporting methods with descriptive analytics of mobility compliance across tax, immigration, social security, and payroll.
  • Ask the question and source the data. Companies have to first identify what they need to know and what they want to achieve with the information they are seeking. Then, they can harness data from, for example, mobile employee tracking, the assignee selection process, and talent management and compliance for tax to support decision-making and drive mobility planning.
  • Upskill internally. Add the use of data analytics, the ability to generate actionable insights, and the responsibility for data integrity and quality to the skillset of the mobility programme.

Sabine Vollmer ( is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.