Balancing Assignment Flexibility with Duty of Care By Ulrike Hellenkamp, Mercer Flexibility Versus Duty of Care Balancing the flexibility of your assignments with duty-of-care obligations is a complex undertaking, but for global HR professionals, it’s an essential part of the job. Still, the increasingly diverse expectations of today’s employees, coupled with increasingly disparate types of mobility policy offerings, are constantly putting more pressure on global HR professionals to be more flexible, more adaptable, and more willing to change their plans and policies to accommodate a broader range of expectations. Of course, this means that today’s global HR experts also have much more choice in regards to the assignment perks, types, and benefits they can provide. From a high level, this may seem like a win-win for everyone involved, and in many ways, it can be. But the increased pressure put on HR experts to balance between this enhanced flexibility with their pivotal duty-of-care obligations is something that must also be addressed. The Flexibility Conundrum: Breaking Down Duty of Care The flexibility versus duty of care issue posits an interesting question: Can these unprecedented amounts of choice truly exist when you also have to satisfy so many complex duty-of-care issues? After all, duty of care comes in many shapes, and you, as an HR professional or employer, have both a legal and an ethical obligation to ensure the safety, well-being, and health of your employees abroad. However, the more your flexibility increases, the less simple your duty of care tasks become. This is clearly an issue, but before you can start work on balancing out the equation, you must better define what duty of care truly means for global HR experts. From a step-by-step perspective, duty of care is typically composed of three stages: Stage 1: Taking care of overall employee safety and health. This is something that can be arranged through international providers, and for many, it’s the most obvious of the three stages. Stage 2: Ensuring that all international compliance laws are met. This is a bit more complex than the first stage, usually due to the many alternative forms of compliance laws and assignment types throughout the world. Still, as any global HR expert knows, it cannot be overlooked. Stage 3: Providing fair, consistent, and equitable plans for all of your employees. This is more implicit than obvious, and it’s also perhaps the most challenging stage of all due to its contradictory nature. After all, for all intents and purposes, equity is the exact opposite of flexibility – which is why it’s so important to focus on a balance as opposed to total flexibility (a matter which will be touched on in more detail shortly). That’s a lot to consider, so it’s important for you yourself to be flexible and agile if you want to satisfy all three stages. For you, flexibility and agility will mean that you’re willing to adjust your policies as necessary, without completely reinventing them (though in some cases, this too might be necessary). At the same time, you must be able to proactively anticipate emerging trends and policies as necessary. Finding the Right Balance for Your Employees – and Yourself Accomplishing everything that’s been mentioned thus far is far from an easy feat, but there are some tips and tactics that can help you bring more flexibility into your global workforce, while also satisfying your key duty-of-care obligations. For example: Collect ideas from your business leaders, assignees, returnees, and stakeholders in regards to flexibility. Then, take the time to carefully consider them all. By doing this, you’ll be able to say that you paid attention to everyone’s opinions and thoughts, then put in the effort to consciously incorporate it into your policies. Analyze your current and past mobility setups to determine what went wrong and what went right. By doing this, you’ll be able to gauge which tactics you should stick with, versus which ones you should leave behind (or at least alter). Observe ongoing market trends to determine what your peers and competitors are doing. This will ensure you’re not out of line with your own policies, and also give you a chance to identify opportunities to make your policies even more unique (and attractive). Take time out to reflect on your company culture and how it affects your talent mobility decisions and principles. As a general rule, you should always let your culture guide your HR decisions, and that rule certainly extends to the flexibility versus duty-of-care topic. Whenever you’re looking for new policies and approaches to implement, make sure they stay reflective of your overriding company principles. And finally...never forget the families of your expats! As your policies become increasingly complex and variable, you and your expats won’t be the only ones impacted. Never forget that, in many cases, family members are just as likely to be affected by every potential nuance, both in positive and negative ways. This will obviously play a huge role in whether or not an employee will choose to accept an international assignment. Being proactive and covering all of these steps won’t be easy, but there are always ways that processes can be streamlined. For example, some companies split their operational tasks into regional responsibilities, which helps to consolidate and simplify government duties with administrative ones. Organizations can also give in-depth guidance to collaborative HR colleagues and address special or unique issues with individual assignees. At the end of the day, for whatever steps are taken for each specific international assignment, the goals are always proactiveness and flexibility. The Ultimate Goal: Controlling Your Flexibility As you can see, the best approach to the flexibility versus duty-of-care dilemma is to be flexible yourself, but always in a limited or controlled way. This is especially true for handling Stage 3 of the duty of care process, as discussed above. Structuring and controlling your flexibility with a consistent focus on your assignees and their families provides the best of both worlds, allowing for desirable amounts of autonomy but also increasing the simplicity of managing diverse policies. Still, be mindful that there is no “perfect recipe,” and that the concept “total flexibility” really isn’t really even possible in global mobility due to the countless compliance and security issues associated with duty of care. As a result, you will always be met with some limitations in regards to the flexibility you can offer, but as long as you’re making a conscientious effort to satisfy both the needs of your business and the wants of your people, you are bound to find a viable compromise. Need more information? Learn more about the dilemma of flexibility and duty of care, and how to effectively manage both with balanced approach.