By Olivier Meier, Mercer
Global mobility management has rarely evolved as fast as in recent times. In a couple of years, mobility teams have had to manage a pandemic crisis leading to a temporary cessation of most global mobility, the advent of remote working and new employee expectations in terms of wellbeing. And now we face the resurgence of high inflation.
International HR professionals urgently need to take time to digest the implications of all these changes and reassess their policies and processes. This implies amending and checking the logic of policies, defining a clear message, preparing new analytics and metrics, reviewing the mobility function’s operating model and assessing the impact of inflation on mobility compensation packages for what could be a long time.
Amending existing policies
The rise of new forms of mobility, such as international remote working, calls for new policy developments. However, this is not just about creating new policies. It is also about thinking through the effect of the new assignment types on multiple existing policies.
Could they produce unintended knock-on effects? For example:
- Employees working from home might ask to do so from another country. Even if mobility teams have not been involved in remote working issues before, they would need to provide their input and expertise to the local HR teams to amend associated policies and to prevent international compliance issues.
- Commuter and business travel policies should also include references to international remote working, as employees are likely to modify their mobility arrangements of their own volition — sometimes without informing HR.
- Periods of remote working can be combined with traditional assignments: This could be the case if unexpected issues affect assignees’ departure or repatriation. Guidelines on these situations, which could trigger compliance issues, need to be included alongside existing long-term and short-term assignment policies.
Updating existing new policies means not only adding new clauses for emerging scenarios but also reviewing the terminology and the consistency of all HR policies.
Find out more about the different forms of flexible working.
Cutting through the noise and defining clear narratives
Having up-to-date and consistent policies is an important step, but policies are only as good as the buzz they generate. The best policy in the world will fail if it is not communicated effectively or if its message is at odds with the company’s broader messaging and practices. Historically, companies have sometimes struggled to explain the benefits of talent mobility to management and employees. The increased number of flexibility options and new forms of mobility could obscure the message even more.
The main point is to integrate traditional international mobility, as well as flexible and remote working, into a unified story, a coherent narrative that is compatible with the company’s objectives and employer branding strategy.
Some organizations over-communicate or send conflicting messages. For example, the CEO might talk about “working from anywhere,” but line managers and HR then contradict them by flagging compliance barriers. In other organizations, responses to requests for more flexible working may be reactive and dealt with on a case-by-case basis. In such situations, no clear message emerges and, as a result, the value of the new measures is unclear and understood poorly by both management and employees.
The first step is about clear definitions and a glossary of terms. The second (trickier) step is to ensure that messages are consistent across all communication channels and to all stakeholders. More than just basic communication, this requires ongoing learning and coaching for all mobility stakeholders.
Find out more about developing a consistent talent mobility narrative.
Data analytics: Data collection about new changes needs to start now
We need to understand the value and impact of the changes implemented, but this cannot be achieved without high-quality information.
- Does flexibility truly improve attraction and retention?
- What business value is driven by new forms of mobility?
- Are all forms of flexibility benefitting employee groups equally, or is there a risk that the diversity gap might widen?
Initial high-level answers to these questions may be enough as a starting point, but the need for more robust business cases and clear justifications for mobility activities will grow. The presence (or lack) of real value in the new changes will be visible only over time and will require new analytics and metrics.
This analytics process cannot be started overnight and needs to be about more than a large amount of data. The first step is to build consistent databases, and check and label every piece of information properly — in other words, are we comparing apples with apples? What data are available? Where are relevant data located? They are likely to be spread across geographies, business units and different systems. Even if you have not started analyzing trends, a lot of groundwork needs to be done now to prepare for questions that will inevitably come from management.
Find out more about developing talent mobility analytics.
The future of the mobility function: Managing mobility “gray areas” requires new operating models
We have been saying for years that the role of mobility teams will shift from managing traditional international assignments to providing advice on broader HR issues. Mobility professionals now have an increased workload resulting from both the restart of traditional assignments and new requests to manage international remote working. This is in addition to complex cross-border issues that are not traditionally part of mobility management.
It is no longer possible to draw clear lines between expatriates managed by dedicated mobility professionals and purely local employees managed by local HR, as the increasing numbers of mobile employees can trigger international HR issues. The question of remote working is one of resourcing as much as feasibility. Most options are possible given time and resources, but mobility teams will be overwhelmed if they have to deal with every case on an ad hoc basis. The real question is, given the available resources and expected value, how much effort should be put into these new forms of flexibility?
Mobility teams will have to review their operating model to take into account the broader picture of what is required by the business and the experience expected by mobile employees. In practice, this could mean:
- Increasing the HR headcount — and that may be difficult as recession looms in many countries.
- Adding new technology (especially tracking tools) and considering an increase in the automation of admin tasks.
- Changing the sourcing model: for example, outsourcing or off-shoring part of the mobility activities but retaining control of the most important mobility steps and interactions with employees.
- Developing cross-functional teams to manage issues that cannot be addressed without bringing in the expertise from several HR teams. These teams can be temporary or permanent, but overall, organizations are heading toward more agile forms of management.
Find out more about agile talent mobility management.
Mobile employees’ purchasing power in times of inflation: More than just cost of living allowances
For the past decade, inflation has remained subdued in most developed economies. However, the successive economic shocks triggered by the coronavirus pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine have brought a return to higher inflation. Employees are increasingly concerned about their purchasing power, and their expectations for salary increases are rising. Companies often need to perform a balancing act of controlling costs while attracting and retaining talent at competitive salaries. The additional impact of higher inflation on internationally mobile employees complicates the exercise further.
The first issue is that salary increases (or their absence) are potentially cascading in all the items of the assignment mobility packages — many allowances and benefits are linked to the base salary. Regardless of the steps taken to address inflation locally, it has an even greater impact for assignees than for local workers, and the cost implications for the company are potentially more significant.
The second set of issues is related to the overall purchasing power of employees moving internationally. The traditional cost of allowances addresses some purchasing issues but not the entire financial package offered to employees. More frequent updates might be required (particularly if there is inflation or if exchange rates fluctuate by more than 10%.).
Furthermore, assignees’ savings will also be affected by inflation and the brutal shifts in exchange rates. Their whole families need to be taken into consideration. Dual-career issues are frequently a concern for mobility management. And when families have to rely on two salaries in order to maintain their financial stability, this can become a burning problem.
Companies need to reflect on the broader implications of ongoing inflation for mobile employees because the solution is not just to pay one allowance. It will probably include a combination of pay and allowance adjustments along with practical advice and financial education for both employees and managers involved in pay discussions.
We recognize that it is difficult to pause and reflect on current changes when mobility teams are already overworked and new requests continue to pour in. But taking time to review the points above before moving on to new challenges is important. Consistency, impeccable logic, robust processes and clear communications are the foundations of effective mobility management.
Access our webinar to learn more about today’s cost of living and quality of living trends, as well as how companies can adjust their international assignment packages to respond to the current economic and political volatility.