A majority of multinational companies (56 per cent) expect to increase their hiring for short-term assignments in 2015/16, according to a report on expatriate policies and practices by Mercer.
The research, by Mercer, a talent management, compensation and benefits and global mobility firm, highlighted an ongoing diversification in the type of assignments used by companies.
Notably, over the next year or so, around half the companies anticipate an increase in the use of permanent transfers (54 per cent) and developmental training assignments (50 per cent).
A smaller proportion of respondents (44 per cent) expect to see an increase in more traditional long-term assignments.
“Companies are using a more varied range of assignments in order to respond to evolving business needs and changing patterns in the global workforce,” said Rob Thissen, consultant in Mercer’s mobility business, based in Dubai.
“Especially developmental assignments are a trend in our region, with many Middle Eastern multinationals sending staff abroad to acquire skills and learn from different (business) cultures.”
Thissen added: “The increased diversification of assignment types adds complexity which can result in potential compliance and policy challenges for HR and mobility directors.
“Whereas tax isn’t a major concern in the Middle East, intra-regional moves do tend to trigger compliance issues in terms of visas for particular nationalities and the requirement for longer term assignees to have a local contract. And how to manage payroll obligations in the form of WPS for short-term assignees or commuters?”
Mercer’s Worldwide Survey of International Assignment Policies and Practices report covers 831 multinational companies with approximately 29 million employees combined.
The report noted a marked increase in companies with multiple policies (64 per cent, up from 57 per cent), a consequence of the diversifying trend in assignments.
“One policy is unlikely to fit all, and such an approach can lead to inadequate compensation which again can make it difficult to attract and retain talent.
“Implementing fit-for-purpose policies, to suit both different assignees and assignments, can be a highly efficient cost-saving initiative for most global mobility functions,” said Thissen.
Assignment drivers, obstacles and demographics
The top five drivers behind international assignments are; to ‘provide specific technical skills not available locally’ (47 per cent), to ensure ‘know-how transfer’ (43 per cent), to provide ‘specific managerial skills’ (41 per cent), to facilitate ‘career management and leadership development’ (41 per cent) and fulfil ‘specific project needs’ (40 per cent).
In the future, 57 per cent of companies expect the number of key or strategic assignments to increase, 51 per cent expect to deploy a higher number of younger assignees and 41 per cent anticipate more assignments to remote locations.
‘Dual career’, i.e. the challenge of effectively helping to manage the career aspirations of the spouse, and ‘family issues’ are cited as the main barriers to employee mobility, with 37 per cent of respondents citing these issues combined as a large or very large obstacle.
The ‘cost of current conditions’ ranks as the second highest obstacle (35 per cent), followed by ‘hardship considerations’ (25 per cent) and ‘career management’ (23 per cent).
The proportion of female expatriates has increased somewhat, with the worldwide average participation standing at 15 per cent, up from 12 per cent in 2013 and 9 per cent in 2010.
Although an upward trend, this figure is still far below the composition of the average workforce.
Age-wise the majority of long-term assignees (66 per cent) are between 35-55 years old, whereas short-term assignees are increasingly younger, under 35 years old (48 per cent, up from 45 per cent in 2013).
With an average of 10 per cent and 7 per cent representation in long and short term assignments respectively, the over-55s remain very underrepresented in a mobility context. Looming skills shortages as a result of an ageing population is likely to change this picture over time.