Have you found the recent trends on overseas assignment that employees are less inclined to move abroad? According to SHRM, employees in 2017 are less eager to take on international assignments as compared to their predecessors.

The Canadian Employee Relocation Council (CERC) completed a Global Mobility Survey to better understand this shift. They surveyed employees in 20 different countries and found that only 18% of employees would move abroad for up to two years with a 10% increase in their pay. In 2012, 25% of employees were likely to take on international assignments.

I find these results interesting because in many ways, moving abroad is becoming easier over time. With technology, we can easily stay in touch with loved ones back home, travel has become much more efficient, and there’s so much that can be done to help employees feel prepared prior to leaving. So, then what has contributed to the decline in willingness to move abroad?

The SHRM article helps us understand that there are many factors at play here. However, there’s still a lot that remains unknown or simply speculation. It seems as though employees are less tolerant of moving abroad due to the impact on their family unit. Employees are having a harder time balancing their family’s needs with what the job might require. It is difficult to move a family with dual income professionals, children, and sometimes even aging parents abroad for one person’s job. The financial incentives are not quite sufficient to account for the disruption to the larger family.

The responsibility falls on the employer to provide ample support and opportunities for the employee’s entire family. This is no surprise though! We have always known that the family needs assistance in order to ensure the success of the employee’s assignment. But now, it seems that more work must be done ahead of time to entice employees and their spouses to move abroad. Programs targeting the family more specifically, including securing a job for the spouse, cultural training for children, and even in-home assistance for the children and aging parents are becoming increasingly important. The way international assignments are handled must account for the changing modern family.

Other issues have also become more relevant to employees in recent years. According to the survey, global employees are concerned about beliefs on immigration, healthcare, education, social security, taxation, and the economy. It makes sense that employees would be concerned with these issues. But again, why have these issues have grown increasingly important in recent years?

The CEO of CERC, Stephen Cyrne, notes that, “Growing levels of opposition to global trade and immigration in some regions are very likely influencing the decision making of employees who are considering moving for employment.” Mr. Cyrne highlights how the political climate and attitude shift in certain regions likely play a role in an employee’s willingness to move abroad. A country’s friendliness towards immigrants is also an important concern for employees today. While this cannot be a new concern, recent shifts in the perspective on immigration within certain regions of the world are likely contributing the growing worry over the issue.

Moreover, perhaps with more Millenials entering the workplace and stepping up into management positions, their perspective on family values and work-life balance is related to these survey results. The younger generation of employees places greater emphasis on work-life balance, which means that they save more time for family than their predecessors. Modern families also place an emphasis on the importance of both spouses engaging in meaningful work. The financial incentives are not enough to get spouses on board with moving abroad if they cannot also maintain employment while on assignment.

What does this mean for the employer? How can employers encourage their employees to go on international assignment despite their hesitation? While one answer might be simply increasing the incentives for moving abroad, another approach would be to better understand the root causes of the reluctance. If an employer can find out specifically what the employee is concerned about, then they will be better prepared to address these concerns. Furthermore, more work can be done up front to educate employees about the benefits of international assignment and what supports will be put in place to ease the transition.

Of course, we cannot throw in the towel and give up on international assignments. As more and more companies expand operations abroad, we have to become creative about ways to entice employees to go on international assignment. Making use of cultural training programs, incentives, and open conversations about an employee’s concerns will be helpful.

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