This article series offering short overviews of numerous key topics and trends in the field of global mobility is available in one PDF for your convenience.
By Olivier Meier, Mercer
The fast evolution of assignee demographics, assignment patterns, and technology is increasingly prompting mobility managers to address the question of flexibility in mobility programs and ponder the adoption of “cafeteria models” allowing assignees to select mobility package options. At the same time, many are concerned about compliance issues and have doubts about the practicalities of implementing a fully flexible approach. How flexible can a company be without jeopardizing the consistency of its mobility program?
The Business Case for Flexibility
The expectations of new generation of assignees and the rise of new types of mobility are increasing the pressure on companies to have more flexible approaches when managing international assignments.
Flexibility can be an answer to different business issues:
- Specific local conditions can challenge global policies and threaten their consistency or give rise to exceptions.
- It helps removing barriers to mobility and avoiding process rigidities than could delay or even prevent assignments.
- Flexibility could be a way to allocate budget efficiently and manage costs in general.
- It also leans towards more personalization by meeting the specific requirements needs of the different assignee groups. It can increase satisfaction and address the needs of a more diverse workforce.
Different levels of flexibility can be considered:
- Talent pool flexibility: Expanding the mobile talent pool and considering new types of candidates can facilitate assignments and help control costs. Will the organization rely on internal employees, or does external resourcing make more sense for any specific scenario?
- Location and working arrangement flexibility: This involves taking into account the chosen employee’s home country, host country, and his or her work set up upon international relocation. For example, consider whether assignees will be working from an office or a home/remote location, or whether it will be a rotational assignment versus full-time work. It is feasible to move jobs to people as opposed to people to jobs?
- Policy flexibility: Policy flexibility could involve meeting minimum global guidelines and requirements, while also reflecting the needs and requirements of specific geographies or categories of employees. Increased flexibility can take the form of more segmented policies with different terms and conditions for different types of assignments (for example by differentiating between self-requested moves and business essential ones).
- Package flexibility: package flexibility includes relying on flexible expat benefit options, having the possibility to reallocate allowances for new purposes, and implementing lump sums. It can also lead companies to offer assignees more choice in terms of mobility benefits (the “cafeteria” model) or allow employees to take cash amounts instead of benefits in kind.
The Limits of Flexibility
Excessive flexibility and an absence of clear guidelines could lead assignees to take risks in the host location (especially hardship locations). The absence of strict tax and immigration compliance monitoring as well as unsecured exchange of data between jurisdictions could also create problems for companies and individuals alike.
As a result, duty of care and compliance should be the top priorities in any company’s global mobility flexible strategy. In many instances, organizations should look beyond the minimum legal requirements. Flexible policies should consider the bigger picture, provide a fair treatment to international assignees, and ensure that they are not being penalized or facing unreasonable costs, family issues, or other problems.
HR teams can also have concerns with flexibility related to work practices and career management. For example:
- Fair application of working conditions across all employees (46%)
- Ability to measure and reward contribution (36%)
- Career progression for flexible workers (32%)
Source: Mercer’s Global Talent Trends 2018 Study
Practical Tips for a Successful Implementation of Flexible Approaches
- Don’t just follow current trends: introduce flexibility for a reason. What business problems are you trying to solve? Barriers to mobility linked to local regulations? Increasing the satisfactions of employees? Back the business case with factual evidence and develop performance indicators (e.g. employee satisfaction, time spent on managing specific tasks, employee retention and cost control) to measure the impact of increase flexibility.
- Set a limit to flexibility and define the minimum requirements that are non-negotiable and that the company must implement. Categorize policy items: fixed/non-negotiable, flexible in terms of delivery but with a minimal coverage, and optional. Ensure that the minimum requirements are implemented in all policies covering the different types of assignment and communicated to local HR.
- Define who should be the decision-maker for each item in the policy (the mobility team, local HR or the assignee).
- Flexibility does not have the same implications for all assignments: consider limiting flexibility for moves to hardship locations and other types of moves (e.g. moves involving families).
- Make sure that employees can make informed choices through financial and tax education. Involve local HR teams and management in the process so that they understand the implications of duty of care.
- Determine what legitimate safeguards against excessive flexibility should remain in place, what are practical barriers that may or may not be addressed given the current resources and false barriers that are due to current processes and practices that can be changed. Foster collaboration between teams to enable more flexibility (some decisions and processes in terms of compliance or types of moves might not fall under the purview of the mobility team alone).
Contact the author: Olivier Meier
Find out more: