By Olivier Meier, Mercer
The More Things Change, the More the Management Challenges Persist
Every year brings its share of geopolitical challenges and natural disasters. 2017 was no exception, and the combination of hurricanes, earthquakes, international tensions, and the ongoing uncertainty linked to the Brexit and changes in American politics propelled the VUCA acronym (“Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity”) to the top of the list of talent mobility buzzwords for this year. These challenges and disasters were a stark reminder that global mobility is not all smooth sailing and easy relocation: it can lead companies to put employees in harm’s way. The traditional expatriates willing to relocate to hardship locations (and expecting a premium for it) won’t disappear anytime soon.
Less dramatic but still prevalent and difficult to manage are the traditional practical mobility issues such as managing assignees purchasing power – a challenge when major world currencies, such as the US dollar, the euro, and the British pound, seem to be on a roller coaster. Other long-standing mobility issues such as cost containment and exception management remain omnipresent in mobility teams’ agenda.
And Fresh Challenges for Mobility Managers Have Emerged
It would be wrong to assume that mobility is not changing though. On the contrary, in 2017 we identified a number of mobility trends that will increasingly test the mettle of program managers around the world.
New Assignment Types
New types of assignment including business trips, virtual assignments, expatriate gig workers and new forms of mobility like moving jobs to people and third country assignments are challenging the traditional definition of global mobility management. Beyond just implementing traditional policy segmentation approaches, integrating these different types of moves might requires a redefinition of the role of the global mobility teams.
Digitalization is a major trend for most companies. HR departments are scrambling to catch up with their internal clients’ and management’s technology expectations. Translating the digitalization buzzword into practical changes and adopting new technologies require careful planning. (Download Using Technology to Optimize Mobility Management.) These technological developments go hand in hand with the development and implementation of detailed mobility metrics. More generally, aligning mobility practices with the global talent agenda is a priority for mobility teams.
The buzz around millennials intensified this year as they increasingly enter the expatriate workforce. Their expectations and work preferences are closely scrutinized by companies. Whether or not the advent of the millennial generation will facilitate mobility is still under debate and there is a potential expectation mismatch between companies and their millennials expatriates.
The rise of the millennials and the development of assignment types reopen the debate about flexibility in policies and the limits imposed by duty of care. From a compensation perspective, the ongoing debate about traditional expatriate compensation approaches versus different types of local and local plus approaches shows no sign of abating.
Aging Global Workforce
While millennials catch the headlines, the global workforce is aging fast in developed countries as well as in many emerging markets. The requirements of older expats, including health and pensions issues as well as caring for elderly parents, are increasingly on mobility teams’ radars.
Diversity and Gender Parity
Diversity is becoming an important issue not just for management but also for mobility teams. The disappointing results highlighted in Mercer's 2017 Worldwide Survey of International Assignment Policies and Practices about the participation of women in the expatriate workforce show that much has to be done to ensure gender parity and to fight the unconscious bias that limit the participation of minorities in the expatriate workforce.
Preparing for 2018
Adaptability is now an essential aspect of mobility program management in a world where unpredictability and uncertainty have become the only predictable certainties. Effectively managing global mobility is bound to remain an exercise in complexity for companies, and more than ever mobility managers need a wide range of skills to tackle the complex and sometimes conflicting expectations of international assignees and of management. Stayed tuned to Mobility Exchange in the new year as we continue to explore the dynamic field of global mobility.
Contact the author: Olivier Meier