Short-term relocation assignments are emerging as a strategy to keepÂ younger workers engaged and loyal to the organization.
By Marta Chmielowicz
Globalization is raising the bar on mobility. As technologyÂ strengthens economic and intellectual connections acrossÂ the world, leading multinational companies are looking toÂ develop a new generation of leaders with a global mindsetÂ and multicultural experience.
But few businesses are offering emerging leaders theÂ scope of experience they will need to succeed in the newÂ world of work. According to a study by the AmericanÂ Management Association, 48 percent of organizationsÂ consider developing global capabilities in their leadersÂ to be a top priority, but a DDI survey reports that only 18Â percent of multinational companies have the strong globalÂ leadership pipeline necessary to meet their future businessÂ challenges.
Shifting talent demographics may be challenging thisÂ status quo, with millennial and Generation Z workersÂ bringing a fresh appetite for international experiences.Â Graebelâs Millennials and Mobility survey found that 84Â percent of millennials are willing to relocate for a job andÂ 82 percent believe that they will have to relocate in orderÂ to advance their careers. Likewise, the organizationâsÂ subsequent Future Workforce and Mobility survey foundÂ that 75 percent of Gen Z respondents are more likely toÂ accept a job offer from a company that offers options toÂ work abroad.
âIn the past, international work experience was perceivedÂ as means to advance within an organization andÂ gain global business experience,â says Mollie Ivancic,Â vice president of international services at NEI GlobalÂ Relocation. âToday, employee experience and theÂ possibility for advancement are often the key motivatorsÂ for gaining international work experience. Employees inÂ the early stages of their career are often motivated byÂ their desire to experience a different culture, work in aÂ global team environment, and live in a new home baseÂ that will afford them opportunities for frequent weekendÂ and holiday travels to new locations.â
With the emergence of greater mobility expectationsÂ comes a more flexible approach to relocation. Short-termÂ relocation assignments for early-career employees haveÂ become a popular, lower cost strategy to keep pace withÂ the rapidly changing market while filling a business need.
âShort-term placements have been quickly evolving toÂ accommodate business needs and employeesâ changingÂ personal needs,â Ivancic explains. âNo longer is there aÂ single short-term placement policy. Businesses want toÂ be agile in how they mobilize talent, yet they are drivenÂ to make sure the assignments are completed with a moreÂ cost-effective price while employeesâ personal needs areÂ driving more flexibility.â
While more cost-effective than traditional relocationÂ packages, even a short-term international opportunityÂ requires significant capital investment. But the risk is oftenÂ worth the reward, as these programs help employeesÂ develop new skills, encouraging job satisfaction andÂ improving retention.
In addition to giving talent a look at the business from aÂ different perspective, international assignments improveÂ employeesâ cross-cultural and communication skills,Â fostering innovation and creativity. âLiving in a hostÂ country, transferees are immersed in different perspectivesÂ and cultures, and they broaden their mindsets. TransfereesÂ can then take these ideas and ways of life back to theirÂ home country and implement innovative solutions forÂ their organizations,â says Mary Dymond, chief talentÂ officer at Graebel Companies Inc.
Employees often return from assignments moreÂ resilient and responsive to change, with a broaderÂ range of experience and the confidence to take on newÂ opportunities. âThrough their assignment, theyâre exposedÂ to different situations and experiences, and they mustÂ learn to adapt in order to succeed at work,â Dymond adds.Â âThat ability to accept change will serve them throughoutÂ their career and enable them to be even higherÂ performers, as change is a constant in any organization.â
According to Miriam Duignan, vice president of globalÂ services and supply chain management at CornerstoneÂ Relocation Group, an investment in a short-term relocationÂ program for a high-potential employee is an investmentÂ into the future of the company. Employees who participateÂ in these programs feel more valued by their employers,Â increasing their engagement, loyalty, and job satisfaction.
âIf you do send someone on a short-term assignment,Â make it clear that they are high potential and make themÂ aware of the cost of their relocation,â advises Duignan.Â âYou want to show employees that youâre investing inÂ them so that they stay with the company for as long asÂ possible and develop their career with you. Make themÂ aware of the investmentâit makes them likely to stayÂ longer, to believe that you are a good company, and toÂ communicate that to their network.â
Managing International Assignments
Short-term relocation opportunities can deliver significantÂ benefits to organizations, but according to BarryÂ Morris, president and CEO of Capital Relocation ServicesÂ (CapRelo), a mismanaged program has the potential toÂ decrease productivity, hurt the employee experience, andÂ ultimately impact the companyâs bottom line. BusinessesÂ should ensure a positive ROI by reducing some of theÂ challenges that employees face before, during, and afterÂ an assignment.
1. Take an inclusive approach to selection. Who is the idealÂ candidate for a relocation opportunity? Morris says thatÂ generally, companies tend to select employees who do notÂ have concerns about being separated from their homes,Â spouses, and dependents for a long period of time. ManyÂ HR leaders believe these criteria only apply to millennialÂ and Gen Z workersâbut that may limit the potentialÂ talent pool.
Dymond agrees that organizations shouldnât target anyÂ particular demographic for their short-term programsÂ or simply assume that an employee isnât a good fit forÂ the opportunity. Doing so runs the risk of alienatingÂ employees or missing out on high-quality talent that couldÂ excel in the placement.
Rather, HR leaders should evaluate all of their talent forÂ interest and competency in handling an assignment.Â âDuring the annual performance review, ask the questionÂ of all employees, âAre you interested in an internationalÂ assignment?â This supports diversity, increases the talentÂ pool, and provides an appropriate forum for discussionÂ with management,â suggests Morris.
Morris also recommends that organizations conductÂ candidate assessments to determine whether an employeeÂ is a good fit for an assignmentâand only choose theÂ highest performers. âDiscourage deploying employeesÂ who are rated âmeets expectationsâ or below on anÂ international assignment,â he says. âIn addition toÂ acclimating to a new environment, low performers wouldÂ be exposed to more challenging work to which they mayÂ not meet the demands, resulting in a failed assignment.â
2. Clearly communicate expectations. The best way toÂ ensure a positive ROI on short-term assignments is toÂ communicate the goals of the assignment, establishÂ expectations, and align the opportunity with a longer-termÂ career plan, Dymond says.
Organizations should begin by understanding theÂ employeeâs specific aspirations and motivations for theÂ relocation. Those short-term goals can then be alignedÂ to the succession planning needs of the organization toÂ develop a plan for the employeeâs return.
âSetting the employee up for a successful return is a keyÂ part of ensuring a positive ROI,â says Dymond. âIf youÂ havenât crafted and clearly explained the employeeâsÂ career path and how the employee will reintegrate intoÂ the company, they will likely look for an opportunityÂ elsewhere and the transfereeâs next employer will reap theÂ benefits of the relocation.â
Ivancic recommends that companies establish a definedÂ performance management process prior to the start ofÂ the assignment to ensure that HR leaders at home andÂ on-location have the tools they need to keep transfereesÂ on track. âFor employees on assignment, it is importantÂ that the home and host HR leaders collaborate to ensureÂ the employeeâs short-term and long-term career goals areÂ aligned,â she says. âThis will help ensure the employee hasÂ consistent messaging while on assignment and will reduceÂ the potential for disengagement and concern regardingÂ job position upon return to the home location.â
Duignan says that organizations also need to be clearÂ and transparent about the scope of the opportunityâin particular, whether the assignment is a one-timeÂ opportunity or the beginning of a longer series ofÂ relocations. This can help employees manage theirÂ expectations and fully take advantage of the placement.
HR leaders can communicate all of these considerationsÂ by providing coaching and resources to support relocatingÂ employees. According to Morris, hosting a global mobilityÂ intranet site to store information and offering webinarsÂ to answer questions is a great startâbut relocatingÂ employees also need a human touch.
âThere should be an unbiased person, place, or teamÂ dedicated to answering questions and coaching employeesÂ interested in an international assignment,â he explains.Â âCoach managers on how to encourage and supportÂ their employees regarding their plans and goals for anÂ international assignment.â
According to Duignan, organizations can leverage pastÂ relocating employees as mentors. âIf companies haveÂ a history of sending assignees abroad, they can set theÂ relocating employee up with a mentor who has goneÂ through the process to have a conversation before theyÂ go. Mentors can share their experience around howÂ they settled in quickly and how to make the most ofÂ the assignment. Speaking with someone else who hasÂ been there and done that before can make sure that theÂ employee has a good start and gets the most out of theÂ opportunity.â
3. Provide cultural training. Cultural training can be anÂ effective way to prepare employees for their experienceÂ living in a new country. Engaging an expert in a groupÂ training session can help transferees manage theirÂ expectations for the assignment and their return, DuignanÂ says. While face-to-face, multiple day trainings were onceÂ the norm, todayâs organizations can use virtual trainings,Â shorter sessions, and other creative solutions to handle thisÂ inexpensively and effectively.
4. Conduct frequent check-ins while on assignment. AÂ positive short-term relocation experience can only occurÂ with consistent communication. HR, the transferee, andÂ their manager should be in constant contact to makeÂ sure that the employee feels supported throughout theÂ experience and ahead of their return. Scheduled check-insÂ will ensure that the organization and the employee remainÂ engaged and focused on assignment goals, explainsÂ Ivancic.
âBoth home and host managers should conduct frequentÂ one-on-ones to check in with transferees and see howÂ theyâre adjusting and if there are additional ways theÂ company can support them in their relocation,â DymondÂ says. âAs employees near the end of their assignment, beÂ sure to communicate next steps for their return and howÂ the relocation experience can translate into their nextÂ position with the organization.â
5. Manage the transition back to the home country. TheÂ transition from a short-term international assignment backÂ to daily life at the office can be difficult for some, butÂ HR leaders and managers can ease the process by clearlyÂ defining how the employeeâs role will change followingÂ the relocation.
Dymond recommends that the transfereeâs manager reachÂ out to the employee before their return. âThe discussionÂ should focus on reviewing the relocation experience andÂ how this can be applied to the returning position. ThisÂ establishes a clear path for the transfereeâs return and theyÂ will feel acknowledged and appreciated, decreasing theÂ chance the employee looks for another opportunity,â sheÂ says.
An employee with a newfound sense of confidence andÂ adventure may not be satisfied returning home to theÂ same work duties, Morris says, so organizations needÂ to acknowledge their success, evaluate the new skillsÂ they bring to the table, and set a new challenge in the new position. âAfter completing such an assignment,Â an employee should expect an outlet for knowledge-sharingÂ and employers should ensure a forum for theseÂ opportunities,â he adds.
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