By Olivier Meier and Anne Rossier-Renaud
The “great resignation” is making headlines all over the world.
The causes and scale of this phenomenon, first seen in the United States and now reaching many other countries, still need to be fully explored.
However, the headlines highlight the fact that many employers now face a real battle to retain skilled talent.
This challenge stems from the impact that COVID-19 has had on the health and mental and social well-being of employees.
As a result, many people are reconsidering their priorities and employment choices and thinking about how they might enjoy a better lifestyle.
In addition, unlike in previous crises, the pandemic has not led to high unemployment. Companies are therefore struggling to attract and keep key talent.
This is putting upward pressure on salaries and leading to a renewed focus on the quality of the employee experience.
Needs of the mobile workforce
One key issue that must be taken into account when looking at this global challenge is the experience of the “mobile workforce.”
Vague promises made by management about being able to “work from anywhere” have raised the expectations of this much-in-demand group of mobile employees, in terms of their work setups, the support they receive and the overall experience they have when out on international assignments.
If mobile employees are not to be lost as part of the great resignation, companies will require a better understanding of both the issues that affect them and their employment expectations. Companies will also have to set clear priorities to deliver effective support programs for all their mobile assignees.
mobile employee X
The mobile employee experience is the sum of two main things:
- The interactions of the individual with all the stakeholders linked with their assignments
- Their perception of the services and assignment support they receive
In other words, it is the mobile employee’s “customer experience.”
Several aspects of this experience have to be taken into consideration:
- The experience on assignment
- The experience before and after the assignment
- The experience of any accompanying family member
- The experience of the receiving business units/local peers
Assessing the mobile employee experience gives some cause for optimism: Mercer’s recent Internationally Mobile Employee Experience report finds that seven out of ten companies rate the experience of their international assignees as positive or very positive. There is also no reason to doubt the goodwill of human resource (HR) teams and the strength of the efforts they make to support mobile assignees.
However, the report also shows that there is need for caution. It finds that only a minority of companies capture detailed metrics relating to assignees’ experiences before, during or post-assignment. Instead, many rely purely on anecdotal evidence. For a number of organizations the definition of what constitutes a “successful” assignee experience also remains vague: 38% have no clear definition. What’s more, the link between assignee experience and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) indicators is mentioned by only 7% of respondents.
|How does your company define assignee experience success?
||(Multiple answers are possible)
|Assignee retention post-assignment
|We have no clear measurements
|Reported assignee feedback
|Supports career progression
|Satisfactory DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) indicators
Source: 2021 Internationally Mobile Employee Experience Survey. Mercer
This shows that companies have a limited perception of the experiences of their mobile employees. They therefore risk:
- Mis-reading the general mood of their mobile employees
- Missing issues affecting specific assignee groups
- Ignoring the long-term value (or absence of value) of mobility for employees
The absence of data can also lead to unsubstantiated or false assumptions about employee needs and knee-jerk reactions to perceived trends and buzzwords.
Given these risks, a detailed analysis of the mobile employee experience is important. Such an analysis can highlight practical issues or problems that mean mobile employees do not get the support they need. It can also reveal more subjective problems related to the expectations of employees, who feel that their experiences, and the support they receive, fall short of what they were promised.
Such expectation issues can be triggered by implied promises in vague policies, misleading discussions with line managers who ignore company mobility guidelines, and comparisons with assignees from other companies (which, although largely irrelevant, can still have a big impact on employees’ thinking).
Even when good assignee support initiatives are in place, it is important to remember that this does not mean that employees and line managers are aware of them, or that they truly understand what options are available. It is safer to assume that any communication about this type of support needs to be strengthened and regularly re-emphasized, so that the message gets through.
When asked about their priorities to improve the experience of mobile assignees, HR professionals mention issues related to coordination and talent management, flexibility and personalization, as well as practical support.
|What are the top priorities to enhance assignee experience?
||(Multiple answers are possible)
|Connect current assignment experience to greater career development
|Improve communication about available employee support
|Improved internal coordination between stakeholders
|International remote working (e.g. working from another country than the assignment location)
|Customiation of assignment packages based on each employee’s individual priorities
|Introduction of more custom interactions (customized treatment/personal vs. automated interaction)
|Enhanced diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) benefits, ensuring all employees are considered
|New technology implementation
|Increase benefits relating to employee health and wellness
Source: 2021 Internationally Mobile Employee Experience Survey. Mercer
We have highlighted a number of key areas where improvements can be made: Integration and coordination, flexibility and diversity, technological support and well-being benefits.
All too often, mobility is managed in isolation without clear reference to long-term talent and career management goals (in other words, it is not an integrated experience.) Mobile employees and teams may discuss some of these issues with their talent management peers, but this is not enough. Making progress requires integrating mobility with the entire talent management cycle — from talent management and recruitment to long-career management post-assignment.
A lack of connection between talent management and mobility makes it difficult to assess the outcome of assignments. An assignment may appear successful at first glance, but then turn out to be a failure if the assignee resigns after repatriation, or if the workforce in the receiving business unit did not benefit from any skill or knowledge transfer.
More generally, a strong connection between stakeholders and HR teams is needed to deliver a good mobility experience. A company may have the right policies in place for its mobile employees, but if these policies are not applied consistently at the local level, mobile staff will not be supported effectively. As a result, the company’s talent mobility activities will not be as successful as they might have been.
the gaps in diversity
The idea of providing more flexibility and personalization in mobility programs has progressed over the past few years.
- Flexibility can relate to compensation packages for mobile workers (e.g. swapping benefits or exchanging them for lump sums). It can also relate to new work setups (e.g. remote working).
- Personalization allows companies to meet the needs of a diverse mobile workforce. This is key, as an organization can be successful with some assignees but fail to meet the needs of specific groups that require different types of support. Such groups include single parents, minorities, older employees or assignees with disabilities. A lack of personalization in the support provided to mobile employees can therefore hinder diversity progress in this part of the workforce.
The use of people management technology has increased during the COVID-19 crisis, as have the expectations of employees about the use of such technology. Integrated mobility management tools and platforms are an enabler of new forms of mobility and facilitate transparency and effective communication.
Robust tracking and mobility management tools make it much easier to implement international remote working and to put flexible solutions in place. A lack of these tools and platforms is a source of inefficiency — it also prevents international HR teams from working effectively in an emergency.
Health is another key issue for mobile employees. Highly mobile employees can face a wide range of health problems. Their well-being is also affected by less visible factors such as stress, financial problems and various other work-related issues. These problems can manifest themselves in demotivation, family issues and, ultimately, failed assignments.
Most organizations support their mobile employees with comprehensive reward and relocation packages. However, they sometimes fail to take a holistic approach to employee well-being and therefore miss the full range of problems such employees can face.
Checking the need
Improving employee experience is a long process and, while short-term wins are possible, companies should not rush to make large changes to existing policies without checking the evidence to see if there is a pressing need to act.
Before addressing an issue, HR teams should check:
- If more contextual information is available, i.e. what has prompted assignees and managers to mention an issue?
- If the company should act, or if it’s the responsibility of the employee to solve the problem, i.e. is the issue assignment related or not?
- Should the issue be handled just by making an exception?
- If the solution should involve adding more flexibility to an existing policy or changing it.
- What the long-term costs and consequences of the envisaged solution will be.
HR teams should guard against developing complex solutions that are not needed and which would be difficult to communicate and implement.
Improving the experience of mobile employees should be an ongoing exercise supported by a rigorous process of analysis.
The objective of any action should be to develop a more holistic approach to supporting international assignees — one that includes the assignee’s entire family, their long-term career evolution, and their overall well-being.
HR teams should be provided with the tools they need to support mobility effectively.