Overseas assignment management is becoming increasingly common as employers move away from permanent relocations in favour of more flexible and less costly solutions to deploy key employees to different regions.
Overseas assignments present both opportunities and risks for employers. While the move may be temporary, employees still require support both in terms of the logistics of moving and in adjusting quickly to hit the ground running and deliver on the assignment objective.
By taking a proactive approach to reducing risk exposure through the assignment management process, organisations can ensure they are best placed to facilitate a successful assignment and achieve a return on the investment.
Why organisations are turning to overseas assignments
Successful overseas assignments can help to grow an organisation’s global revenue and reputation. They offer employers the potential to achieve expansion into new and existing markets without the commitment and investment in recruiting overseas or permanently relocating a key employee and their family.
International experience carries significant value in the talent marketplace. Assignments can be used to develop employees’ leadership and managerial skills. They can increase exposure to other parts of the organisation with different ways of working and they help to build relationships within the organisation across borders.
Overseas assignments also offer significant benefits in relation to succession planning, as an effective way of developing talent within your organisation by offering key employees a career pathway to more senior promotion.
Millennial workers in general seek international experience and the ability to offer overseas assignments can be a key differentiator in providing a rewarding and enriching employee experience.
What are the risks associated with overseas assignments?
While the benefits may be compelling, for employers looking to deploy employees overseas, a range of logistical, economic and legal risks will need to be considered when managing assignments.
Cost control will be a critical concern, ensuring any assignment is both cost-effective and commercially viable.
Relocation costs and compensation packages that ensure the appeal of an international assignment to employees have to be factored in.
The cost of international assignments can pose a significant problem for employers. In particular, complying with the immigration rules of any given country, and applying for permissions or visas, can cause delays and incur processing and administration charges.
Talent retention is one of the key risks in assignment management. To maximise a return on your investment you will need to ensure that employees that you send overseas are equally happy to repatriate and return home.
However, the provision of a suitable role to return to may not, in itself, be sufficient incentive to retain your employees. The employer will also have a crucial role to play in supporting returning employees, where any lack of local support may impact on the success of an international assignment and, worse still, irreparably damage the employer-employee relationship.
Repatriation also raises issues where the employee leaves the organisation on their return home due to their employer’s failure to recognise their new skills and experience through career opportunities or remuneration.
Further, any long-term disconnection from the UK, where an employee has been unable to keep in touch with colleagues and work-life back home, as well as any feelings of isolation they may be experiencing because of cultural or language barriers, or separation from friends and family, may also create their own challenges, both during an assignment and even after its completion.
Legal compliance, both in respect of the organisation and the employee, must be closely managed to reduce risk exposure.
Ensuring compliance with the rules and regulations of another country, for both you as the employer, and for your employee abroad, can also present its own problems. Even where you have previously deployed individuals to any given country, you must still be diligent in reviewing any legislative or procedural changes to avoid non-compliance.
In particular, both travel and leave arrangements between the EU and the UK are likely to be significantly different following Brexit, and you may need to quickly adapt so as to maintain a legally compliant global mobility service for both your business and your employees.
Meeting your duty of care towards assignees and ensuring their safety and wellbeing can be challenging at distance. Ensuring the safety of your employees abroad must be paramount in any assignment management strategies that you implement.
Any ongoing or new security threats must be closely monitored.
This is in addition, of course, to ensuring the general wellbeing and happiness of your employees in accepting an international assignment, and throughout the entire assignment management process, from deployment to reintegration.
What can employers do to reduce these risks?
A critical success factor in reducing the risks of international assignments is the planning and preparation.
Assignees need time to prepare practically and mentally for an overseas assignment, including gaining an understanding of the legal and cultural differences they may experience in the country they will be working in.
For the employer, this highlights the importance of candidate selection when planning an overseas assignment to pre-empt potential problems and avoid early repatriation and the associated wasted costs. Suitability should address both professional and personal criteria, to ensure the individual has the requisite resilience and open-minded attitude to adapt to a different culture, as well as the professional skills, capabilities and language knowledge.
You will also need to carefully consider what compensation package you are prepared to offer an employee. While cost control will remain paramount and the temporary nature of the assignment intended to deliver cost advantages over a permanent relocation, this should be balanced against the need to make the assignment attractive and worthwhile to the individual.
A human-centric approach is advocated for successful assignment management, by preparing, supporting and equipping an employee prior to and during their time abroad.
As an employer sending an employee overseas, you have a moral responsibility and a duty of care to safeguard their wellbeing and facilitate their success in the new environment. This could include the use of pre-deployment programmes such as cultural training and intensive language classes funded by your organisation.
You may also want to consider how cost reductions can be made in alternative ways, for example, administrative savings through different remuneration packages using either a home-based or host-based approach. By varying the approach to cost-control based on each assignment type, this may help to make international assignments more cost effective.
Employers should ensure their support does not stop once the employee lands at the new destination. Settling in services can help with the transition to the new environment, through orientation and dealing with the administrative headaches of a temporary move.
You also have a responsibility during the course of an international assignment to offer ongoing support for assignees. A dedicated assignment programme can provide employees with support to address any issues and reduce the risk of assignment failure.
A final area of risk relates to returning employees. For many employees, coming back to work may seem an anti-climax after the challenge and stimulation of a new and different culture. Employers should ensure they continue their communication and support of returning employees by discussing their thoughts and concerns on repatriation. This often centres on career discussions and ensuring the employee feels sufficiently recognised for their new found experience.
Assignment management support
As global mobility consultants, we can help with the assignment management process, from candidate selection and cultural preparation to settling in services and reintegration of an employee on their return. We combine extensive mobility experience with technology solutions to support the overall success of international assignments.