Mobile employee experience: Avoiding inconsistencies By Olivier Meier, Mercer Employee experience has emerged as a key focus for organizations, particularly in a time of talent scarcity and multiple challenges. Significant efforts have been made to understand the diverse needs of employee groups, although some have arguably oversimplified some key issues (e.g., the alleged preferences of younger workers, a degree of corporate wishful thinking about the role of base pay compared to other more abstract motivators, and the ease of moving employees where the organization really needs them.) That said, policies and processes are being developed to enhance the overall mobile employee experience. While the intentions behind these initiatives are commendable, the execution often falls short. The issue at hand extends beyond writing policies and unconnected ad hoc initiatives. The lack of effective implementation, characterized by a series of inconsistencies, lies at the heart of the problem. These inconsistencies encompass a misalignment between objectives and corporate reality, as well as misunderstandings between stakeholders. 1. Missing the root causes Risks: When faced with a challenge, it’s all too easy to hastily jump to conclusions and solely address its symptoms rather than thoroughly analyze its underlying sources. One common example pertains to employee well-being: Companies are increasingly introducing support programs. While these are commendable endeavors and can help in some circumstances, they will be of little use to employees burdened with excessive workloads, unrealistic objectives, or subjected to toxic management practices. Unspoken issues, such as family constraints limiting employee mobility or broader problems, concealed beneath discussions about costs, often remain unaddressed. Mitigation: To effectively tackle these challenges, it is crucial to combine opinions with factual data to get to the root causes. Creating an environment that encourages employees to express their concerns without fear of repercussions is essential. Many employees may hesitate to voice their concerns due to apprehension about missing career opportunities, while others may feel unsupported and consequently dismiss themselves from mobility opportunities. Consider the broader employee experience over the entire assignment lifecycle rather than focusing on isolated incidents and individual items in the mobility package. Frustration about an issue might be a symptom of a broader problem that started earlier in the assignment process. Offering “workation” and allowing employees to work for a short period remotely from abroad may seem like nice benefits. But for many employees, taking up a position in a new location is about having a better lifestyle for their families and not just a superficial attempt to increase vacation time. Bearing this in mind should trigger a broader reflection from management instead of a quick fix. 2. Say-do gap Risks: One perennial management challenge is effectively managing expectations. Making grand announcements, particularly in the context of new work arrangements like “working from anywhere,” carries inherent risks. The repercussions of promising more than can be delivered can come back to haunt the company. The gap leads to challenges to policies and could produce a counter-narrative that would threaten the whole approach: “I did not receive the support I was promised” (assignees); “We spent a lot of money on the assignments and employees resigned shortly after” (management). Mitigation: Consistency over time is essential when it comes to improving employee experience. The say-do gap can be the result of several things: Often, narratives are not adapted to the realities of talent mobility in the companies: For example, officially, mobility is good for employees but if there is no talent management process in place, that international experience will not be translated into a career boost. Too much novelty and complex choices can kill flexibility: The organization claims to provide extensive support to the assignees and their families, but in practice, it is difficult for them to find and understand the options offered or have a clear point of contact. Resources can also limit the capacity of the HR teams to deliver the promised experience. Assessing the increased direct workload but also the indirect burden over the long term for HR teams is crucial. Be mindful of conflicting changing priorities — new business changes can impact mobility practices and force management to discard some of their original promises. For instance, a sweeping cost-cutting exercise or reorganization might mean that some of the mobility provisions are not fully implemented. 3. Lost in translation Risks: top management’s communications and intentions may not be fully understood at all levels of the organization. Line management and local HR are not experts in assignment management and might misrepresent new initiatives. Similarly, external providers who are in contact with assignees might not accurately convey the messages set by the company. Mitigation: Organizations need to ensure that line managers and local HR personnel have a clear understanding of the objectives and rationale behind the initiatives by providing comprehensive training programs. This empowers them to effectively convey the message to their teams and address any concerns or questions that may arise. Words matter and trigger expectations. Terminology and principles should be communicated consistently by all the stakeholders. A clear narrative and clear logic should emerge from communication materials and delivery at all levels: approved language around important concepts (in short, which words to use and which to avoid) is invaluable here. Regular updates and clear messaging from top management help to ensure that intended improvements are effectively communicated and understood throughout the organization. Watch out for outsourcing pitfalls associated with limiting mobility teams’ control over communication channels. Know the influencers within the organization: Engaging these people, understanding their perspectives, and aligning their interests with the intended changes, can help secure their buy-in and support, making it easier to gain traction and overcome resistance among the wider workforce. 4. Conflict of interest Risks: issues arise often not just from misunderstandings but from conflicting priorities between different stakeholders in different business units. Cost issues, competing objectives and a lack of incentive to share talent can all give rise to these problems. Mitigation: Reconciling the business objectives of different stakeholders and, when possible, addressing their concerns early in the process, can help avoid risk and overcome resistance. The allocation of costs is often a point of friction for talent mobility. Central or regional budgets can sometimes be used to avoid inequities between business units. (If only the largest business units can afford top talent, it could lead to a skillset imbalance within the organization.) Overcome reluctance to share talent: Business unit managers should be viewed less as “talent owners” and more as “talent brokers” who encourage the rotation of talent. This will work only if managers are rewarded for participating in the global sourcing efforts of the company and the development of talent. Provide incentives to line management to foster a good experience. Avoid pitching assignees versus locals: make sure that the assignments benefit all parties involved and that the receiving business units can voice their concerns and expectations. The real test of the success of assignees is their long-term impact on the receiving business’ performance and the skills of the local talent pool. 5. Culture clash The risks: HR managers trying to launch new initiatives to improve employee experience are not starting from scratch. They operate in a complex environment shaped by their organization’s culture. This culture is the sum of the perceptions and attitudes of all the stakeholders over time — and not just what management wants it to be. This does not mean that the culture cannot evolve, but rather that change requires time and effort. Misreading the starting point could be fatal to new approaches. Mitigation: Pragmatically analyze your organization’s culture and measure it against different dimensions — for example: Paternalistic versus laissez-faire Centralized versus decentralized Pioneer versus risk-averse Hierarchical versus egalitarian Traditional setup versus flexible work model The history of the company and understanding previous HR initiatives can also shed light on what could work (or, on the contrary, should be avoided). These elements do not constitute barriers as such but inform how different initiatives might be implemented. Your company’s culture is not just an abstract idea: It is reflected in processes and work practices. Benchmarking is a good first step to sourcing ideas for new initiatives but ultimately organizations need solutions that fit their unique cultures. HR professionals must move beyond the realm of buzzwords, generic benchmarking, and formal policies. They must proactively identify and address the potential inconsistencies within their organizations if the implementation of new employee experience initiatives is to stand any chance of success.