Managing a global workforce is no easy task

Written by
Tom Wilkinson

01 Jul 2016

01 Jul 2016 • by Tom Wilkinson

As more and more companies focus on strengthening their operations abroad, or seek new opportunities in emerging markets, the need for globally mobile talent is greater than ever. In fact, due to increasing globalisation over the past decade, the door has opened for many more employees to move abroad to develop their career and, in turn, grow their employer’s business. The number of international assignees grew by 25% between 1998 and 2009, and is expected to grow a further 50% by 2020 on 2009 levels.* Typically, assignees are getting younger, have specialist technical skills, and are increasingly from developing countries. And, it’s a generation that is motivated by experiences more than monetary rewards. 

This brings with it a need for those employees to be adequately supported by their employers, with everything from relocation logistics to schooling for any children. 

Keep global mobility high on the agenda

HR professionals with a focus on global mobility are crucial to global organisations. They understand the unique needs of employees moving to, and living and working in, unfamiliar places. They play an important role in giving confidence to employees, and often their families, when helping to settle in new countries. Every detail needs to be thought out, it’s not just about visas and housing, but other elements that might not have been considered; what cultural differences should they be aware of? Will they need to learn the local language? How can they connect with local social or leisure activities? Are there any differences in work practices in their new place of work to the one they’re leaving?  

These requirements were highlighted in our recent research, which showed that the drivers for moving abroad included the search for a new adventure (56 per cent), a better work/life balance (40 per cent) and better weather (37 per cent). Other motivations included better career opportunities (17 per cent), better healthcare (16 per cent) or a desire to live in that area of the world (32 per cent).

There has also been a shift in the types of roles people are moving abroad for. These are typically: those moving to lead teams, those moving to transform teams or those moving to learn. There has also been a change in the style of assignment that people move for. For example, people are moving for shorter time periods (say, six months rather than  two years) and then moving on to another location. This shift could in part be attributed to modern technology, which makes it easier to communicate between global offices, thus reducing the dependency on employees being physically present for long periods of time. 

Global mobility managers therefore, need to carefully consider the demographic of employees as well as the environment of the destination that awaits would-be assignees. In order to stand out as an employer, the package offered to employees shouldn’t just be based on pay. There needs to be a support system in place which fully takes into account the transition process employees will have to go through before settling into their new role, and their new country. But what should that support package look like?

Cultural and community support

Our research found that that a fifth of expatriates found it difficult to settle, build a social life or get to grips with local laws – and a large number of overseas assignments fail because family or partners fail to settle.

Offering assistance with taxes, school application forms, or housing contracts can go a long way to helping employees settle quicker. Mobility managers should ensure their employee feels confident and secure in their new country. At a time when they may be overwhelmed with all the changes they face, removing practical stresses and worries where possible will make their transition easier and help them grow in confidence in their new surroundings. This confidence can help in ensuring a successful experience – for the individual and for the company.

Mitigating health risks

Experiencing health problems in a foreign country can be a very upsetting and an unsettling experience. With the introduction of pre-assignment screening, both employees and their families can get assessed to ensure their medical needs are fully appreciated before they leave. This can be invaluable in helping to ensure that the right care and support (should they need it) will be available in their new location. This can also help employers better manage the costs of any medical treatment, care or support required for assignees and their families – for example, an employee moving to Beijing with a dependent with asthma, which otherwise would not be known to the employer – because it gives them an opportunity to plan ahead and consider the most appropriate and cost effective treatment options available. 


Undoubtedly, HR managers are looking for the best support for employees relocating abroad. What’s good for an employee will be good for the business and although making careful provision for relocating employees may, at first, seem resource intensive it’s a sure fire way to ensure employees settle in well and are productive in their new roles. But there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to relocating employees. Instead, businesses should seek to understand an individual employee’s needs right from the minor detail to the major matters, making sure they have support, all the way through.