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5 Tips for Managing Successful Overseas Assignments

  • Andy Molinsky
  • Melissa Hahn

international assignments create expatriates

Stay in constant touch and have a plan for their return.

Sending talented employees overseas can be a promising way to leverage the benefits of a global economy. But expatriate assignments can be extremely expensive: up to three times the cost of a person’s typical annual salary, according to some statistics. And despite the investment, many organizations lack the know-how for optimizing the potential benefits, leaving them disappointed with the results. The unfortunate reality is that even companies providing well-crafted relocation packages (including the all-important cultural training) may not have the talent management mechanisms in place to truly leverage the valuable skills expatriate employees gain during their assignments.

  • Andy Molinsky is a professor of Organizational Behavior and International Management at Brandeis University and the author of Global Dexterity , Reach , and Forging Bonds in a Global Workforce . Connect with him on LinkedIn and download his free e-booklet of 7 myths about working effectively across cultures .
  • Melissa Hahn teaches intercultural communication at American University’s School of International Service. Her new book, Forging Bonds in a Global Workforce (McGraw Hill), helps global professionals build effective relationships across cultures.

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International Assignment Management: Expatriate Policy and Procedure

Our philosophy.

[Company Name] is a global company that operates over X offices worldwide. The transfer of employees between the various [Company Name] units, from headquarters to subsidiaries, between subsidiaries and from subsidiaries to headquarters, enables our company to better utilize its human resources, while offering efficient support to its business activity. In addition, it enables our executives and professionals to gain international business experience and opens up wider promotion paths.

The objective of this procedure is to define the processes, terms and conditions for transferring personnel from one [Company Name] unit to another and to provide guidelines for the benefit and relocation package for such employees. While differing laws in various countries may influence some aspects of the policy implementation, the basic guidelines are to be maintained in order to ensure a unified company policy.

The effective date of this policy is [Insert Date].

Definitions

Expatriate (Hereinafter “Ex-pat”) - An employee who is relocated from his/her home country to work at one of the subsidiaries of [Company Name] abroad or at Corporate Headquarters for a period exceeding one year.

Host country/ subsidiary - The receiving or destination country/subsidiary of the Ex-pat.

Home country/subsidiary - Originating country/subsidiary of the Ex-pat.

General Approval process for an Ex-pat assignment

The transfer of an employee from headquarters to a subsidiary, between subsidiaries or from a subsidiary to headquarters, is contingent upon joint discussions held between the divisions and the subsidiaries.

The Ex-pat position must be granted budgetary approval from the division and approved by the Corporate HR Forum. The host country has veto power over the corporate offer for all candidates except those in top management positions. In January of each year, the HR Forum will convene in order to discuss general Ex-pat recruitment needs for the upcoming year.

Contract approval process

Contracts of subsidiary management team are coordinated and approved in advance by the relevant Co-President and Corporate VP of HR. The rest of the Ex-pat’s contract is coordinated and approved in advance by the Corporate VP of HR.

The employment offer, including salary, benefits and job description, is generated on behalf of the subsidiary by the host country HR Manager and/or relevant VP.

When an Ex-pat relocates from one subsidiary to another, the receiving HR Manager will transfer the offer to the HR Manager in the Home Subsidiary and to the Corporate VP of HR.

As a rule, the entire process of transferring employees between the various company units (subsidiaries/headquarters) under Ex-pat terms is coordinated by Corporate VP of HR (as described above).

Standard Assignment Period

Ex-pat status is restricted to a period of up to 5 years. After this period, the employee is no longer employed under Ex-pat terms and conditions, but rather, under local terms. Exceptions are granted under very limited circumstances and require written explanations and approval of the subsidiary president and the Corporate VP of HR. Under no circumstances will the extension of Ex-pat status exceed an additional 3 years.

Transferring from one subsidiary to another is considered a new assignment in this context.

Terms of Assignment Termination

Completion of the Ex-pat assignment requires a ninety (90) day mutual notice period. If the Ex-pat assignment is termi­nated by the company for any reason other than a breach of the employment agreement on the part of the employee, s/he will be relocated to his/her home country in accordance with the company’s then-current relocation policy and will be exempt from repaying the standing relocation loan

Relocation Allowance

In the event that the employee resigns from the company or from the assignment, he is required to repay the relocation allowance on a pro-rata basis as well as take responsibility for household moving arrangement and expenses (excluding countries in which the law requires the Company to cover Ex-pat relocation expenses, even in case of employee resignation).

Budget allocation

All Ex-pat benefits will be allocated to the host country budget.

Commitment to Hiring the Ex-pat When His/Her Assignment is Completed

[Company Name] makes no commitment to re-hire the employee in his/her home country after his/her Ex-pat assignment is completed.

However, should the employee work in his host country during the ninety (90) day notice period (see above), the employee will be granted the right to work for three (3) months at the company in the Home country on local terms as determined by the home country HR manager on a case-by-case basis.

Commitment to return to the company upon assignment completion

The employee makes no commitment to return to the company upon completion of his/her assignment. However, s/he may be eligible for repatriation benefits (see “Repatriation Policy & Benefits”) upon return to his/her home country.

Spouse Status/Domestic Partners

[Company Name] will extend spouse status to domestic partners. Ex-pat terms apply to the employee, his/her spouse or domestic partner and their children.

Salary Review

Salary review takes place in accordance with the host subsidiaries policy as approved by corporate policy.

The Ex-pat is responsible for paying any tax liability incurred from benefits and compensation received in both his/her host and home countries (excluding countries in which the employer is required to deduct the taxes from all paid benefits).

Option Plan

Options are granted, if applicable, in accordance with host country policy.

Retention of Home Country Social Benefits

The company will cease to fund payment to retirement plans for Ex-Pats for the period of employment in one of the Company subsidiaries. Following are details on the implementation of the decision:

Ex-Pats Recruited from within [Company Name]

Upon the termination of employee-employer relations with [Company Name] – prior to his relocation to the subsidiary, the Ex-Pat will sign an employment termination agreement with [Company Name]. The amounts accumulated by the employee in various funds, will be released

Ex-Pats Recruited from outside of the Company

In accordance with the above-mentioned policy, no amounts will be allocated to retirement and national insurance to Ex-pats recruited from outside the company as of January 2004.

Ex-Pats Currently in Office

Employees will be granted the option to choose between the termination of employer-employee relations and between the continued payments of funds, up to a ceiling of 5 years after their departure to the host subsidiary – a time in which, according to the procedure, the employees cease to carry Ex-Pat status.

The termination of employee-employer relations, in this context, is accompanied by the release of accumulated funds only, with no supplement. Any employee decision (continued payment of funds or termination of relations) will be backed by a document signed by the employee.

Health Insurance

The Employee and his immediate family are covered by local or international health insurance as per the host country’s policy.

Performance Appraisal

In accordance with host country policy (as per corporate policy).

Recruitment and Selection of Ex-pats

Ex-pat recruitment is conducted either internally (i.e. within the company) or externally.

Internal Recruitment

The recruitment process must include a professional recommendation from the division/unit/subsidiary and personality assessment of the employee and his/her spouse conducted by the HR manager (in Corporate, HR manager of the relevant Division or by the Recruitment manager) and/or by an external assessment agency.

Once a final decision is made in the home country, the internal candidate will be interviewed at the host country.

Should the host country HR manager decide to hire, s/he will issue a contract to the employee in cooperation with the HR manager in the home country.

The home country HR manager is charged with care of the administrative processes surrounding the relocation of the employee, including the signing of a non-paid-vacation/leave of absence agreement, which identifies preservation of rights benefits but otherwise confirms the lack of a contractual relationship between the home country company and the employee.

External Recruitment at Corporate

In cases where there is no suitable internal candidate the Corporate Recruitment manager in cooperation with the HR Manager of the relevant division, will manage the search.

The external candidate will be interviewed by corporate managers and by the HR department. Assuming the candidate makes a positive impression, an external personality and capabilities assessment process of both the candidate and his/her spouse will be performed by a specialized agency.

Once Corporate makes positive recommendation, the candidate will be interviewed by the host country.

An acceptance by the Subsidiary will result in either:

  • The Subsidiary offering the position to the candidate and employing him/her from day one (the preferred option), or:
  • The candidate signing a temporary agreement with Corporate until completion of the training period and/or residency visa procedures. In this case, a secondary employment agreement for the assignment will also be signed with the Subsidiary.

Engagement in an Ex-pat employment assignment is contingent on successful attainment of work authorization in the host country. The process for being granted a work visa differs with the country of destination. Company is responsible for supporting the application for a work visa for the employee and a residence visa for the family.

It is the responsibility of the host country HR manager in coordination with the home country HR manager to take care of the process.

Family Visas

[Company Name] is obliged to support the application of a residency visa only for the Ex-pat’s immediate family (for this matter, the term “immediate family” relates to the spouse and children of the Ex-pat).

The employee has the responsibility to monitor the accuracy and expiration dates of visa documentation for himself and his/her family in order to maintain a lawful working status in the host country.

Language studies

The allotment of English/local language lessons will be approved in accordance with each Subsidiary’s existing policy.

Cross-Cultural Orientation

Written material containing informative details relevant to the country of destination will be delivered to the employee by the HR Department. A complementary cross-cultural workshop will be also coordinated for the employee, his/her spouse and their adult children. The workshop will concentrate on the psychological/emotional stages that the employee and his/her family are likely to face during the transition to a foreign country.

The workshop will be coordinated by the HR Department in the home country once the contract is signed.

Preview Trip

The candidate who expresses a sincere intention to accept the Ex-pat assignment and his/her spouse/domestic partner (if they have school age children) are eligible for a preview trip.

The preview trip is approved for up to 5 working days. It is recommended that the preview trip be combined with a business trip.

The company will pay for round trip economy airfares to the host country and per-diem according to the home country’s per-diem travel policy.

The potential candidate should notify the host country’s HR manager re: his/her preview trip schedule so that proper arrangements can be made.

The potential candidate will meet with his/her direct manager and related business VP’s or managers to learn more about the scope of the job as well as the host country milieu.

House hunting should be done during the preview trip. If possible, it is recommended that an apartment be identified so paperwork can be processed and the apartment readied for when the Ex-pat’s arrival to start his/her assignment.

Visits to potential schools should also take place during the preview trip.

Temporary Housing (at home country)

Expats will be allowed to choose between using their 30 days of hotel and rented car right in their Home Country or at the Host Country, as long as they don't exceed the 30 days period limit.

Special Vacation Days for Arrangement

The Ex-pat is eligible for 5 days vacation leave, in addition to the annual leave, before going on the assignment, in order to arrange his personal matters.

Traveling and Settling-in Policy & Benefits

Cargo Shipment

The company pays for a 20-foot container, insured for up to $40K (US).

It is the responsibility of the host country HR manager to coordinate cargo shipment, except in the case of Ex-pats departing or repatriating from and to Corporate. In such cases, the Customer Department of the Operations Division coordinates the shipment.

For Ex-pats moving from one subsidiary to another, on a sequential assignment, the Repatriation Policy and Benefits re: cargo shipment, shall apply.

No payments will be allocated for the storage of freight for longer than the period required to release the container from Customs.

The company will provide the Ex-pat with a Relocation Allowance to assist with miscellaneous transition expenses. The amount of the allowance will be $3K (US) for singles and $4K (US) for couples with or without children.

The payment will be provided in the home country or upon arrival in the host country as per local procedures.

If the Ex-pat resigns before completing two years of his/her assignment, he/she will be required to pay back the Relocation Allowance to the company on a pro-rata basis.

Household Goods Loan- Company Inc.

Upon arrival at Company Inc., the Ex-pat is eligible to apply for an additional no interest loan of up to $2.5K (US) to assist with miscellaneous costs.

The loan is repaid as per subsidiary policy.

Temporary Housing and Rental Car

Upon arrival at the country of destination, the company will pay for car rental and hotel accommodations for a period of up to 30 days. During this time the employee is expected to make longer term automobile and housing arrangements.

Special Vacation Days for initial settling

Upon arrival to new country the Ex-pat is eligible for 5 days vacation leave, in addition to the annual leave, for arranging his personal matters.

At-Post Policy & Benefits

Annual Leave- as per host country policy.

Holidays and Leave - as per host country policy.

Housing- as per host country policy.

Car- as per host country policy.

Ex-pats are eligible for home leave after each year, as long as they have a balance of one-year service commitment in the host country upon return from home leave.

Home Leave Duration

The duration of the home leave will be up to 21 days, as listed below:

5 days – Training and meetings that will be regarded as working days at Corporate headquarters or at the Home Subsidiary headquarters. In case there is no need for the employee to attend any business meetings/training or if his home country is far from subsidiary headquarters, these 5 days, if taken, will be on the account of the employee’s annual vacation days allotment together with the other 10 days mentioned below.

6 days – Weekends

10 days – Annual vacation days

[Company Name] will cover the round-trip coach fare from and to the country of origin for up to a 21-day visit by the employee and his/her family. In the event that the employee’s family extends its visit beyond the 21-day period and in the event that this extension incurs additional costs to the tickets, these costs will be borne by the employee.

Home Leave Expenses

The Ex-pat is eligible for a special (taxable) allowance towards expenses during home leave:

Senior Subsidiary managers (Presidents/Vice Presidents) will be eligible for $2,000 (US). They are also eligible to a car for their use during the working days they are requested to work during their home leave period, up to a 5 days limit. Any other car expenses during the Home Leave period are covered by the $2,000 that Senior Subsidiary Managers are entitled to as Home Leave Expenses.

Other Ex-pats will be eligible for $1,300 (US).

Application for Home Leave

Ex-pats will fill the home leave application form and obtain direct manager’s, relevant VP’S and host country HR manager’s approvals prior to taking the leave. This process should take place 3 months prior to the starting date of the planned home leave.

Children’s Education

[Company Name] pays for children’s education from Kindergarten through Secondary School or High School Grade 12 equivalent or from age 2 to age 18, depending on local practice.

In countries where the local school system is inappropriate or in an unfamiliar language, International/ American/ British/ Canadian School may be an appropriate alternative.

Educational expenses supported by the company include the following:

  • School registration fee
  • Tuition fee
  • School bus transportation fee
  • The company does not pay for the following:
  • Summer school
  • Summer camp
  • School field trip

Academic Studies

Ex-pats (who are not subsidiary management members) will have the option to apply for academic studies, with a subsidy of the company, according to the local subsidiary’s terms and procedures.

Ex-pats who are subsidiary management members (VP’s and Branch managers) will have the option to apply for academic studies, with a subsidy of the company (based on the subsidiary terms and procedure). The applications will be submitted with the subsidiary recommendations to Corporate HR VP for final approval

Family Member in Home Country

The company will provide a round trip economy air ticket for the shortest route to the host country as per the home leave policy of frequency of the Ex-pat, for family member/s who continue to reside in the home country. Family member/s in this case includes sons and/or daughters of the Ex-pat until age 18 or completion of mandatory military service.

Death in the Family

In the event there is a death in the Ex-pat’s family or the Ex-pat’s spouse’s family the company will pay for round trip economy air tickets to the Ex-pat’s home country for either the Ex-pat or his/her spouse. The Ex-pat is entitled to 7 working days paid leave under such circumstances. For the matter of this paragraph, “Family” is defined as: father, mother, spouse, son, daughter, brother or sister.

Tax Preparation Assistance

The Ex-pat is eligible for tax consultation reimbursement as per host country policy.

Repatriation Policy & Benefits

The benefits set forth below will be valid for a period of up to three months after the date of assignment completion and only in conjunction with a bona fide move of a permanent nature back to the employee’s country of origin or to a subsequent assignment in another subsidiary.

Upon assignment completion the company will arrange and pay for the Ex-pat’s cargo shipment. An Ex-pat with 3 or more children will be eligible for a 40-foot container insured for up to $40K (US). An Ex-pat with fewer than 3 children is eligible for a 20-foot container, insured for the amount of up to $40K (US).

It is the responsibility of the originating country HR manager to coordinate the shipment, except in the case of Ex-pats repatriating to Corporate. In this case, the Customer Department of the Operations Division coordinates the shipping.

No payments will be allocated for the storage of freight in the host or home country for a period exceeding that required to release the container from Customs.

Special Vacation Days for Arrangement (Host Country).

The Ex-pat is eligible for 5 days vacation leave, in addition to the annual leave for arranging his personal matters, before departing to his/her home country or before going on his/her next Ex-pat assignment.

Temporary Housing and Rental Car (Host Country)

The company will pay for car rental and hotel accommodations for a period of up to 12 days if needed, at the employee’s regular location, prior to the Ex-pat departure from the host country. The host country HR manager is responsible for the coordination of these arrangements.

Benefits for Employees Returning to Work at Company in Home Country

The employee is eligible for 5 days vacation leave, in addition to the annual leave, to assist with his/her settling-in arrangements.

Repatriation Grant

The company will reimburse the employee for up to $1,000 (US), as per receipts, to help with repatriation expenses. “Repatriation Expenses” include such expenses as temporary accommodations, rental cars and tutoring.

Responsibility

This procedure may be changed occasionally. All changes require the approval of the Corporate VP Human Resources.

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international assignments create expatriates

  • WorldPrism™

international assignments create expatriates

10 tips for managing successful international assignments (2023 update)

Published on July 19th, 2023

Table of Contents

10 tips for managing successful international assignments blog image

Embarking on international assignments brings both excitement and challenges. As businesses have been extending their global presence for years, the effective management of international assignments has always been extremely important. These assignments require collaboration and coordination among team members from different countries and cultures, demanding a unique set of skills and strategies. In this article, we will explore ten invaluable tips to help you navigate the complexities of international assignments and achieve success. 

The world has become a global village, with teams spanning continents and cultures. In this interconnected landscape, effective management of international assignments is essential for organizations to thrive. Whether you are a team leader or a team member, understanding the intricacies of international collaboration is key to overcoming obstacles and achieving exceptional results. 

Our ten tips for managing successful international assignments cover a range of factors that influence the outcome of these endeavors. From communication and cultural sensitivity to logistical considerations and fostering team cohesion, each tip provides actionable insights to enhance your approach. By implementing these strategies, you can strengthen your team’s collaboration, optimize productivity, and cultivate a harmonious work environment that transcends borders. 

Here are 10 tips for managing successful international assignments:

1. Effective communication 

Effective communication serves as a cornerstone for success in international assignments. Understanding the diverse communication styles of team members is essential, as it allows for clearer and more meaningful interactions. Different cultures have their own ways of expressing ideas and collaborating, so being attentive to these styles fosters better rapport and mutual understanding. 

Bridging language and cultural barriers is another vital aspect of effective communication in international assignments. Cultivating cultural sensitivity and embracing inclusivity create an environment where everyone feels respected and valued. Being mindful of cultural norms, customs, and social etiquette enhances cross-cultural interactions. Additionally, utilizing interpreters, translation tools, and language training programs can facilitate communication across language barriers. 

2. Cultural sensitivity and adaptability 

Embracing cultural diversity as a strength is essential. Each team member brings a unique perspective shaped by their cultural background, which can lead to a wealth of ideas and innovation. By recognizing and appreciating these differences, teams can create a collaborative environment that celebrates diverse viewpoints and enhances problem-solving capabilities. 

Developing cultural intelligence and awareness is key to navigating cultural differences.  

This involves cultivating the right attitude, developing awareness, acquiring knowledge, and honing the necessary skills to understand diverse cultures, including their customs, traditions, and values. 

By doing so, team members can navigate potential misunderstandings, promote effective communication, and build strong relationships based on mutual respect and understanding. 

Effective leadership in international assignments requires flexibility and an understanding of diverse work styles and cultural preferences. That is why adapting leadership and work styles to accommodate cultural differences is crucial. Leaders who adapt their approach can foster trust, engagement, and collaboration within the team. By demonstrating respect for the values and practices of team members, leaders create a harmonious and inclusive work environment. 

3. Logistical planning and coordination 

Dealing with time zone differences and scheduling challenges is a primary concern in the realm of international assignments. With team members located across different regions, finding mutually convenient meeting times and synchronizing schedules becomes crucial. By considering time zones and accommodating various working hours, teams can establish effective communication and seamless collaboration. 

Leveraging technology plays a vital role in facilitating efficient coordination. Collaboration tools, project management software, and communication platforms enable real-time updates, document sharing, and instant communication irrespective of geographical distances. Harnessing these technological solutions enhances productivity and streamlines workflows for international teams. 

To ensure smoother operations, streamlining processes is imperative. By establishing clear protocols and workflows, teams can minimize delays, miscommunications, and redundancies. Standardizing documentation, establishing effective communication channels, and defining roles and responsibilities maintain clarity and efficiency throughout the project. Regular evaluation and improvement of processes further enhance productivity and mitigate challenges. 

4. Building trust and collaboration  

Trust forms the foundation of effective teamwork. In international assignments, team members may come from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and work environments. Establishing trust is essential to foster collaboration, promote open communication, and ensure the success of the project. 

Building trust begins with setting clear expectations and goals. Team members should have a shared understanding of the project’s objectives, milestones, and deliverables. Clearly defining roles and responsibilities helps to avoid confusion and promotes accountability. Regularly communicating progress, addressing challenges, and providing feedback fosters transparency and trust among team members. 

Promoting collaboration is also crucial in international assignments. Encouraging open dialogue and creating platforms for sharing ideas and insights allows team members to contribute their expertise and perspectives. Virtual team-building activities, such as icebreaker sessions, virtual coffee chats, or online forums, can help strengthen relationships and enhance collaboration. Additionally, facilitating cross-cultural training and workshops enables teams to develop a shared understanding and appreciation of each other’s cultures, further fostering collaboration. 

5. Flexibility and adaptation 

Flexibility and adaptability are key attributes for success in international assignments. As the business landscape continues to evolve, teams must be prepared to adapt to changing circumstances, new technologies, and unforeseen challenges. 

Being open to new ideas and approaches is crucial. International assignments provide an opportunity to learn from diverse perspectives and innovative practices. Embracing new methodologies, tools, and processes can lead to improved efficiency and effectiveness. By encouraging a culture of continuous learning and adaptation, teams can remain agile and responsive to the demands of the project. 

Flexibility also extends to accommodating personal and cultural differences. Recognizing that team members may have different working styles, preferences, and needs helps create an inclusive and supportive work environment. Providing flexible work arrangements, considering cultural holidays and celebrations, and accommodating individual time zones and schedules demonstrates a commitment to valuing diversity and promoting work-life balance. 

6. Conflict resolution and mediation 

In international assignments, conflicts and disagreements are bound to arise due to differences in perspectives, cultural norms, or communication styles. Effectively addressing and resolving conflicts is crucial to maintaining team cohesion and productivity. 

First and foremost, creating an open and safe environment for addressing conflicts is essential. Encouraging team members to express their concerns, opinions, and ideas fosters open communication and prevents conflicts from escalating. Active listening and empathy play a significant role in understanding different viewpoints and finding common ground. 

When conflicts arise, mediation and conflict resolution techniques can be employed. Facilitating constructive discussions, encouraging compromise, and seeking win-win solutions can help resolve conflicts amicably. In situations where cultural differences contribute to conflicts, cultural mediators or intercultural experts can provide valuable insights and guidance. 

7. Knowledge sharing and learning 

International assignments provide an excellent opportunity for knowledge sharing and learning. Each team member brings unique skills, expertise, and experiences to the table, which can enrich the project and promote professional growth. 

Encouraging knowledge sharing ensures that valuable insights and best practices are disseminated throughout the team. Regular meetings, virtual workshops, and collaborative platforms can be utilized to share knowledge, discuss challenges, and learn from each other’s expertise. Implementing mentoring programs or buddy systems can further facilitate knowledge transfer and create a supportive learning environment. 

Additionally, fostering a culture of continuous learning enhances the team’s adaptability and innovation. Encouraging team members to pursue professional development opportunities, attend relevant training programs or webinars, and stay updated on industry trends strengthens their skills and knowledge base. Providing resources and support for learning initiatives demonstrates the organization’s commitment to personal and professional growth. 

8. Respect for diversity and inclusion  

International assignments bring together individuals from various cultural backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, and perspectives. Promoting diversity and inclusion is not only ethically important but also contributes to the success of the project by harnessing the power of different ideas and experiences. 

Respecting diversity means creating an inclusive environment where all team members feel valued, respected, and empowered to contribute. This includes embracing different cultural practices, beliefs, and perspectives. Avoiding stereotypes, biases, and discriminatory behavior is crucial in fostering an inclusive work environment. 

Leadership plays a vital role in promoting diversity and inclusion. Leaders should lead by example and demonstrate a commitment to diversity and inclusion through their actions and decisions. By actively seeking diverse perspectives, creating opportunities for underrepresented individuals, and ensuring equitable access to resources and opportunities, leaders can foster a culture of inclusivity. 

9. Cross-cultural training and education 

To navigate the complexities of international assignments successfully, investing in cross-cultural training and education is invaluable. Understanding cultural differences and acquiring intercultural competence enhances communication, collaboration, and overall project outcomes. 

Cross-cultural training programs provide team members with insights into different cultural norms, values, communication styles, and business practices. These programs help build cultural intelligence, enabling team members to adapt their behavior, communication, and work styles to effectively interact with colleagues from different cultures. 

Beyond basic cultural awareness, cross-cultural training should also include education on specific cultural nuances relevant to the project. This may involve learning about local customs, etiquette, and business protocols of the countries involved. By equipping team members with this knowledge, they can navigate cultural differences with sensitivity and respect. 

10. Recognize and celebrate achievements 

Recognizing and celebrating achievements is essential for boosting morale, fostering team spirit, and reinforcing a positive work environment. In international assignments, it is important to acknowledge the accomplishments of team members from different cultures and countries. 

Take the time to acknowledge individual and team achievements, both big and small. This can be done through public recognition, appreciation emails, virtual celebrations, or awards. Celebrating cultural diversity by incorporating elements of different cultures into the recognition process further enhances inclusivity. 

Regularly highlighting and celebrating achievements not only motivates team members but also reinforces a sense of belonging and pride in the project. It creates a positive work culture where everyone feels valued and appreciated for their contributions, regardless of their cultural background. 

In conclusion, managing successful international assignments requires a combination of effective communication, cultural sensitivity, adaptability, and collaboration. By embracing diversity, investing in cross-cultural training, and fostering an inclusive work environment, teams can overcome challenges, maximize productivity, and achieve outstanding results. With the right strategies and a commitment to cultural understanding, international assignments can become transformative opportunities for growth, learning, and global success. 

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Sustainable Expatriate Management: Rethinking International Assignments

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This article explores the concept of sustainable expatriate management, which incorporates environmental, social, and economic factors, and how it can be implemented in a corporate context. We argue that with increasing societal and environmental issues, it is crucial to revisit the overall global philosophy and policies, including the expatriate life cycle. We apply the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework to examine how businesses can remodel their practices to become more resilient. Furthermore, based on a systematic literature review, we identified gaps in research on the integration of environmental factors into sustainable expatriate management. Lastly, this article presents a model for understanding the three layers of sustainability in expatriate management, which can assist practitioners in identifying blind spots and material topics.

Introduction

According to Ghauri, Strange and Cooke (2021) , the global business environment has improved awareness of sustainability as a ‘new reality’. Furthermore, addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a corporate context is becoming increasingly popular (Liou & Rao—Nicholson , 2021; Montiel , Cuervo—Cazurra , Park , Antolín—López , & Husted , 2021; van Tulder , Rodrigues , Mirza , & Sexsmith , 2021) . Although “sustainable” and “green” global mobility are widely discussed concepts, they have not yet been widely integrated into sustainable expatriate management.

However, due to its nature, expatriate management is exposed to various societal and environmental issues that are forcing the field to move towards more sustainability-oriented practices. This implies that decision- and policy-makers should revisit the overall global philosophy, including policies and practices. Therefore, stakeholders should reevaluate topics like business trip policies, health, and equality, as well as other facets of the international assignment cycle (Fan , Zhu , Huang , & Kumar , 2021) . Consequently, in this paper, we will outline how practitioners can rethink expatriate management using a sustainable development lens and how this shift in perspective provides fertile ground to redesign the expatriate life cycle.

Inspired by the “strong sustainability” or embedded systems view (Giddings , Hopwood , & O’Brien , 2002) , we define sustainable expatriate management as any employee-related cross-border (work) activity, which, by its design, considers planetary and societal boundaries and acknowledges the embeddedness of economic impacts within this larger framework (see Figure 1 for clarification).

Figure 1

Source: Own illustration based on Giddings et al. (2002) , p. 192.

Theoretical Framework: Sustainable Development Goals

According to Finaccord’s (2019) latest research, in 2017, there were 66.2 million expatriates working abroad globally, and forecasts for 2021 expect 87.5 million in total. Therefore, this topic affects a relatively large amount of people moving across borders. Nowadays, increasing environmental, social, and economic crises are challenging global business practices. According to the World Economic Forum Global Risks Report, the risks that are most likely and will have the most impact are predominantly environmental risks (e.g., climate action failure, human environmental damage, biodiversity loss, natural degradation, extreme weather, natural resources crises) (World Economic Forum , 2022) . These are expected to affect multinational enterprises’ (MNEs) activities on a global scale.

As the complex, or so-called wicked, problems of our time are interconnected, it is crucial to avoid a siloed perspective of these risk categories. Therefore, we provide a holistic, SDG-focused perspective that addresses the question of how MNEs’ business practices need to be remodeled to become more resilient. We view business sustainability in terms of environmental, social, and economic systems and consequently apply the UN Sustainable Development Goals “wedding cake” framework (Stockholm Resilience Centre , 2018) . This model implies that the environmental, social, and economic layers are interdependent, as well as their respective sublevel SDGs, as indicated in Figure 2 .

Figure 2

Source: Own illustration based on Stockholm Resilience Centre , 2018

Based on Figure 2 , the biosphere/environment represents the foundation of economies and societies and, therefore, the general context in which all other SDGs must be placed. Society cannot survive without the environment, which is why society must pay attention to resources and the preservation of habitats. Such a conceptualization adopts an integrated and interconnected view of social, economic, and ecological development to ensure the future viability of the planet and its living species.

Three Layers of Sustainability in Expatriate Management: Identifying Blind Spots

Based on a systematic literature review of 238 articles clustered according to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and their respective layers, environment/biosphere, society, and economy, it is evident that research in this field has been increasing in recent years. Furthermore, it shows that the expatriate management literature is dominated by social issues (80%), followed by economic literature (19%), and work that focuses on the environment/biosphere (1%) (Ommen , Schmitz , & Karlshaus , 2022) . Considering that expatriate management is a part of international HRM literature, it is unsurprising that the social category dominates; however given the growing importance of the climate crisis discourse, it is surprising that this has not yet been addressed in research and practice.

This social literature is dominated by articles addressing SDG 5 “Gender Equality” and SDG 3 “Good Health and Well-being” as well as limited literature focused on SDG 16 “Peace, Justice, Strong Institutions”. In the economic category, the literature most often addresses SDG 10 “Reduced Inequalities” and SDG 8 “Decent Work and Economic Growth”, followed by SDG 17 “Partnership for the Goals” as an overarching category. Finally, the ecological category is only represented in one article addressing SDG 13 “Climate Action”, which has only recently been published (Ommen et al. , 2022) (see Table 1 for an overview).

Source: Own illustration; for a full list of references, see Ommen et al. , 2022 , and the Appendix to the article. *“–” indicates SDG cases for which blind spots were not identified in this study

What Is Material for Sustainability in Expatriate Management?

In the sustainability reporting discourse, understanding materiality (i.e., identifying elements of utmost importance to a company’s sustainability challenges) has become increasingly important as part of the international ESG factors: environment, society, and governance. Furthermore, organizations attribute different levels of importance to specific environmental or social factors based on the sectors they operate in.

Considering the essential or material topics, MNEs need to first reduce or avoid their negative impacts (e.g., CO 2 emissions etc.) and also increase their positive impacts (e.g., fostering intercultural ties). By doing so, MNEs can significantly reduce the respective risks to which they are exposed.

The emission of greenhouse gases (GHG) is among expatriate management’s negative material environmental impacts, due to flights, shipments, hotel stays, and local transportation (SDG 13). These also include water and land use due to construction activities (SDG 6, 15), and waste management that should be reconsidered from an environmental perspective.

From a social perspective, negative impacts on equal opportunities can be caused by disparities in pay and promotion opportunities (SDG 5), working conditions, and health issues related to increasing travel activities and continuous readjustment (SDG 3). Furthermore, expatriates working in hostile environments or dangerous locations need adequate protection mechanisms and respective codes of conduct (SDG 16). Finally, integration into local communities during long-term stays might become relevant for some expatriates and their families (SDG 11).

From an economic perspective, a positive impact could be generated by supporting the local economy (SDG 8). However, negative impacts can arise through unequal opportunities because of the different treatment of expatriates and locals (SDG 10). To reduce this, companies should ensure responsible local consumption and circular use of respective household appliances or furniture in apartments (SDG 12).

In sum, MNEs should consider the following Sustainable Development Goals to reduce their negative impact and increase their positive impact:

Environmental : SDG 13 Climate Action

Social : SDG 3 Good Health and Well-being, SDG 5 Gender Equality, SDG 16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, SDG 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities

Economic : SDG 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth, SDG 10 Reduced Inequalities, SDG 12 Responsible Consumption and Production

Sustainable Expatriate Management: Actionable Recommendations

The above discussion suggests that companies can derive a specific prioritized agenda. Inspired by the SDG Compass (Global Reporting Initiative , United Nations Global Compact , & WBCSD , 2015) , we advance these considerations by sharing how MNEs can best address the SDGs in sustainable expatriate management. For an overview of selected ideas for each of the SDGs, please also see Table 2 .

Source: Own illustration; based on selected measures of the SDG Compass Business Indicators; Note: Not all themes will apply to all types of MNEs or all sectors equally. As expatriates are usually relatively privileged, we suggest that they should use their privileged status to support disadvantaged groups and individuals to meet SDGs.

Defining Priorities

First, each of the material topics needs to be evaluated for each company. Certain topics may be more or less relevant in a corporate context, depending on the respective sector. Taking the example of GHG emissions (SDG 13), most emissions come from consultants on regular short-term assignments or business commuting trips if the company is in the service delivery sector. Therefore, these emissions play a more significant role for the company.

In terms of gender equality (SDG 5), a company should first investigate the share of women in their overall assignee population, including management positions. Based on a materiality matrix approach, respective stakeholders should evaluate their priorities alongside considering the judgment of material topics to attain a holistic perspective. By taking this approach for all topics associated with each SDG, MNEs can prioritize different materiality topics.

Setting Strategic Goals

To transform international assignments at the company level, MNEs need strategic concepts, including tools, to impact the defined materiality topics discussed above. There are different levers available to create change, including international assignment policy, processes, and culture. A policy can be designed so that assignees are nudged to not take air shipments, which cause significant GHG emissions (SDG 13). Further, by working with stakeholders across the supply chain, MNEs should implement key performance indicators (KPIs) to reduce negative impacts. To be effective, these should align with scientific facts and goals, such as the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting warming to 1.5°C.

Integrating the Goals

After defining their strategy and goals, MNEs should next address their implementation needs. This should particularly consider the sustainable consumption of mobility-related benefits (SDG 12), where there may need to be a mindset shift. Therefore, in the preparation phase, assignees need to be made aware of their choices. To do this effectively, departments taking care of international assignments may need to be trained on related topics while they consult assignees. Besides policy changes, MNEs should also implement profound changes, for example in terms of gender equality (SDG 5). Managers should be aware of equal selection principles and provide women with support mechanisms to ensure equity if they become the main caregiver for their children.

Measuring and Evaluating

Finally, MNEs need to track whether the implemented measures have been effective. This means measuring an international assignment program’s GHG emissions (SDG 13), environmental impact, gender share (SDG 5), and other measures. If the result does not meet the initial targets, the previous phases (strategy development, implementation) should be analyzed to see if adjustments are necessary. To better integrate the respective measurement indicators with those already existing in the corporate context, the SDG Compass website provides respective input categorized by SDG: https://sdgcompass.org/business-indicators/ .

Although there is awareness of pressing contemporary challenges in the field of expatriate management, action is still needed to decrease the negative impact on society, the economy, and the environment. Many concepts aim to address sustainability across borders. However, research has not yet produced a hands-on and integrated SDG framework for expatriate management. In this work, we aim to inspire and motivate practitioners to take action and further their sustainability ambitions. Although our paper is labeled rethinking expatriate management, the challenges outlined equally apply to inpatriates, repatriates, and other forms of cross-border assignments.

Companies need to be more aware of the environmental and social impacts of their programs and need to monitor processes to increase transparency across their vast service portfolios and associated supply chains. This is not only necessary because of sustainability but also to comply with legislative requirements (e.g., EU Taxonomy). However, corporate departments dealing with international assignments are not facing these challenges alone. They need to form partnerships (SDG 17) and collaborate with their vendors and internal stakeholders (enabling functions, corporate sustainability, procurements, etc.) to drive the much-needed change toward sustainable development.

About the Authors

Marina A. Schmitz serves as a Researcher and Lecturer at the Coca-Cola Chair of Sustainable Development at IEDC-Bled School of Management in Bled, Slovenia as well as CSR Expert/Senior Consultant at Polymundo AG in Heilbronn, Germany. She has worked as a Lecturer, Research Associate, and Project Manager at the Center for Advanced Sustainable Management (CASM) at the CBS International Business School in Cologne and the Chair of HRM and Asian Business at University of Goettingen. Enno Ommen is working in Bayer AG’s Sustainability Excellence Office at CropScience Division. He had previously worked in the area of Global Mobility for about 10 years, which equipped him with profound knowledge in the field of expatriate management. He studied International Business (BA) at CBS International Business School and International Human Resource Management (MSc) at Manchester Business School. Further, as one of Bayer AG’s Sustainability Champions, Enno is supporting the sustainable transformation of the company. Anja Karlshaus studied at the University of Cologne, Santa Clara University (USA), and the European Business School. In 2009, she took over the HRM professorship at CBS International Business School, later assumed the role of dean of the Business Administration faculty, before being appointed president. Moreover, she was previously employed at Dresdner Bank, Allianz and Commerzbank – being now member of various committees (Chamber of Industry and Commerce, City of Cologne, State of NRW). She researches sustainability, diversity, and agile HR.

Submitted : September 30, 2022 EDT

Accepted : April 06, 2023 EDT

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international assignments create expatriates

Managing International Assignments: Compensation Approaches

A new international assignment landscape is challenging traditional compensation approaches

For many years, expatriate compensation has been focused on a dilemma: having assignees on expensive home-based expatriate package versus localization - which is about replacing expatriates with locals or at least transition expatriates from an expatriate package to a local salary. Many predicted that the traditional home-based balance sheet approach would gradually disappear. The predictions of the demise of the typical expatriate approach have been greatly exaggerated. We are witnessing the emergence of new compensation challenges instead, due to the complexity of having to manage multiple types of assignments and assignee categories.

The home-based approach still retains its utility for certain kinds of moves (e.g. business-critical assignments or moves to hardship locations). Local strategies are becoming more common but, due to the difficulty of applying them consistently in all transfer destinations, they are used only in some cases (moves between similar countries, developmental moves) and take multiple forms as “purely local” or local-plus approaches. Additional approaches like international compensation structures have emerged to address issues of global nomads.

The challenge for HR managers is, therefore, not so much to find the best approach applicable for all assignments as to deal with individual assignment complexity, envisage greater mobility policy segmentation and, if relevant for the company, map each compensation approach to a particular assignment in a consistent way.

The increasingly complex international assignment landscape: One size does not fit all anymore

Expatriates vs. Locals

One size fits all?

Let's localize assignees as soon as possible!

Expatriates

Rise of the third-country nationals

Need to add a cost efficient category for junior employees/developmental moves?

Traditional expatriates

Global nomads

Permanent transfers

Employee-initiated moves

Local or local plus?

Foreigners hired locally

Commuters (cross-border or regional

Multiple types of short-term/project/rotational assignments

Increasing number of home locations

Reviewing international assignment approaches in three steps:

Step 1: Understand the options available

Approaches linked to the host country (local or local-plus)

While these approaches sound logical and natural (when relocating assignees to a new country, they will be paid according to the local salary structure in that destination country) their practical implementation is often tricky. Few employees accept a salary decrease when moving to a low-paying country. It is often difficult to reintegrate assignees relocated to a high-paying country into their original salary structure due to their inflated base salary.

The host approach was historically not the most common for assignees on long-term assignments. However, we have witnessed a growing interest in recent years in host-based approaches – either a host approach or local-plus approach (host salary plus selected benefits or premiums) – as companies are trying to contain costs and as significant salary increases in many emerging markets make host strategies more attractive.

Approaches linked to the home country ("balance sheets")

Home-based approaches have been traditionally the most commonly used to compensate international assignees. Assignees on a home-based approach retain their home-country salary and receive a suite of allowances and premiums designed to cover the costs linked to expatriation. The equalization logic behind the balance sheet approach (no gain/no loss) encourages mobility by removing obstacles. Retaining the home-country salary facilitates repatriation. The balance sheet approach can, however, be costly. Many companies either look for alternatives or try to reduce the benefits and premiums included for less significant moves.

Other Solutions

Hybrid approaches attempt to combine the advantages of the home and host-based approaches. These often mean running a balance sheet calculation and comparing the results with the host market salary to determine what solution would make sense. A hybrid approach can work well for a small assignee population but it can generate inconsistencies when companies expand globally, and the assignee population grows significantly.

Finally, some companies rely on international compensation structures that do not use the host and the home structures at all. These might utilize the average salary in a selected group of high-paying countries where the companies operate. This approach facilitates mobility for global nomads and highly mobile employees. It is, however, often very expensive and doesn’t solve all assignment-related issues (e.g., currency issues, pension, taxation). It is typically used in specific industry sectors (e.g., energy and engineering) and for a few assignees (top level managers and global nomads.)

Step 2: Assessing assignment patterNs and business objectives

Assignment patterns

Are assignees moving between countries with similar salary levels, which would make the use of local or local plus easier or, on the contrary, are expatriates sent to host countries with different pay and benefits structures (low-paying to high-paying, or high-paying to low-paying country moves)? Are moves for a fixed duration – e.g., assignments lasting one to five years – or will the company rely on permanent transfers with no guarantee of repatriation?

Assignee Population

Are assignees coming mainly from the headquarter countries (typical for early stages of globalization) or is the number of third-country nationals already significant? A growing number of multinational companies report that the number of moves between emerging markets (“lateral moves”) is catching up with or exceeding the number from the headquarters, prompting a review of compensation approaches.

Are some assignees becoming true global nomads who move from country to country without returning home during their career? Employees, and especially the younger generations, are becoming much more mobile, but only a minority would be global nomads. These assignees are usually top-level managers, experts with unique skills, or globally mobile talent sourced from small or emerging countries where the absence of career opportunities perspective would preclude repatriation perspectives.

Company's philosophy and sector

Some industry sectors like services and finances relocate employees between major regional and financial hubs which facilitate the use of local approach, whereas energy and engineering companies transferred employees to hardship locations are a key feature of the business – and requires comprehensive expatriation packages often based on balance sheets and international salary structures.

Step 3: Assess segmentation needs

An increasing number of companies rely on expatriate policy segmentation to reconcile the cost control versus international expansion dilemma – how to have the same number of assignments or more without increasing the budget dedicated to international mobility. Segmentation means reallocating part of the budget to business critical assignees and limits the costs of non-essential moves.

Some of the commonly used assignment categories include strategic moves (business-critical), developmental moves (which benefit both the company and the employee), and self-requested move (requested by the employee but not essential to the business).

A consistent policy segmentation approach allows HR teams to present business cases or assignment options to management and provide a clearer understanding of the cost and business implications of relocation for different assignees.

It could also help manage exceptions into a well-defined framework based on a consistent talent management approach, as opposed to ad hoc deals.

Example of segmented compensation approach: the four-box model

Chart showing segmented compensation approach: the four-box model

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Whom to send where? International assignments and multinationals

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In multinationals with subsidiaries scattered around the world, communication is key — and complex. So what's the best way to get firm knowledge flowing in the right directions?

One of the greatest changes to global staffing practices over the past two decades has been the dramatic rise of international assignments as a means to transfer knowledge where it needs to go.

Sending a trusted manager from headquarters to a foreign subsidiary is the most common kind of international job assignments. These are your traditional "expatriates." Next to them, researchers have observed an even more significant surge in the number of "inpatriates" — i.e., managers who are local to the subsidiary site and have been sent to HQ. Mirroring the expat logic, these inpats are meant to help knowledge flow between multinational offices and HQ.

So, does it work? Research published in Human Resource Management , co-authored by Anne-Wil Harzing, Markus Pudelko and IESE's B. Sebastian Reiche , says yes and reveals quirks specific to certain international posts. The large-scale survey of more than 800 majority-owned subsidiaries across Asia, Europe and North America reveals both the benefits and the limitations of international assignments for managers as a means to better transfer knowledge within multinationals.

The role of the manager sent abroad

The international assignee arrives from another country, either to headquarters or to a subsidiary unit, with the goal of promoting knowledge transfer. But what does that mean on the ground?

Staff members may transfer knowledge directly — by sharing information on HQ culture and management practices with their colleagues and relaying learning outcomes back to the home unit. Knowledge is often complex and tacit and requires direct personal contact to impart.

Employees may also transfer knowledge indirectly — by acting as bridges to link home and host-unit staff, developing social capital between units and acting as facilitators and connecters. The survey developed and updated by Harzing et al. captures both types of knowledge flows.

Where you come from and where you're going

Expats are old news. What's novel in the 2015 research is that inpats are almost as easy to find at a multinational. In fact, in this extensive survey, the co-authors find that for every 100 employees at a subsidiary, on average, 1.22 are expatriates from HQ and 1.16 are former inpatriates (i.e., back from an assignment at HQ).

Granted, different countries continue to approach staffing in different ways, the study reveals. Japanese multinationals, for example, are still more prone to post parent-company nationals to manage subsidiaries, as are Korean and Chinese companies. Meanwhile, multinationals based in Northern European countries are most likely to hire local managers or third-country nationals to manage their foreign offices, which has its advantages.

When expats are found in subsidiaries, they are likely to take the top spot (managing director). In fact, 33 percent of subsidiaries in the survey have expats on top. Meanwhile, local R&D and marketing departments are also relatively likely to be led by expats (weighing in at 18 and 16 percent, respectively). While conventional wisdom might suggest a local hire to best understand local market needs, tapping expats to direct the marketing department is still surprisingly common, the co-authors find. At the same time, expats head up fewer than 10 percent of manufacturing departments and 6 percent of human resources departments.

Knowledge flows

The research finds the presence of expats and former inpats in subsidiaries usually helps knowledge flows — but not always.

More specifically, the presence of an expat manager at a subsidiary helps knowledge transfer from HQ to that subsidiary in all functions studied except marketing. Benefits are especially visible when there's an expat heading a subsidiary's manufacturing department, where HQ's technical knowledge may help not only manufacturing, but HQ understanding in other units, too.

Summing up detailed analyses presented for different cases, the co-authors conclude that expatriates are more effective transferring knowledge from HQ than doing the reverse. To achieve knowledge flows to HQ, it makes more sense to inpatriate local hires (i.e., send them from subsidiaries to HQ) and then send them back home again. It's an office shuffle that may make multinationals grow wiser on the whole.

Is knowledge transfer a challenge in your company? The first question to ask yourself might be which direction you need the knowledge to flow in. It could make all the difference as to which company employees pack their bags.

  • globalization

international assignments create expatriates

How to prepare employees for international assignment success

To help boost your international assignment success rates and post-assignment staff retention, we discuss the key reasons for assignment failure, the problems with repatriation and what you as an organisation can do to prepare your employees.

Assignment failure

The number of international assignments being terminated early is on the rise. ECA’s latest Managing Mobility Survey revealed that the number of assignments cut short had increased by 50% compared to the figure seen in our 2012 survey.

Two main causes of assignment failure

What is happening here? The main issue seems to be a mismatch between expectations and reality. Nearly three in five companies report that assignments terminate early or fail to meet objectives due to assignees underperforming in their new role; the firm may initiate termination to cut their losses. On the other hand, the second most common explanation given for assignment failure, as reported by nearly 50% of employers, is dissatisfaction with the new role on the part of the assignee.

Assignee disillusionment is also common outside of work. A substantial number of employers – more than two in every five – report that when assignments break down they often or sometimes do so when an employee, or their family, finds themselves unable to adapt to their change in living circumstances. In almost half of cases when assignees fail to settle in, cultural issues play a significant role. Other common challenges that arise are feelings of isolation, difficulties with language, accommodation or children’s schooling arrangements and concerns about security and welfare.

Problems with repatriation

Post-assignment retention of employees is also a problem for many companies. One in eight repatriating assignees leave the company within two years, taking with them valuable skills and experience and other benefits gained from the costly assignment. Some regions fare worse than others in this area; European headquartered companies, for example, reported losing three employees for every 20 returning from assignment within two years and Australian and American companies reported higher attrition rates still. These sobering figures may even be underestimates, given that only three companies in five track post-assignment retention and career outcomes.

While relocating for an assignment is recognised to be substantially disruptive for assignees and their families, it is common for both employers and assignees to underestimate the upheaval of repatriating. Assignees and their families are not unaltered by their experiences living abroad, and neither does time stand still in the country left behind; hence the relocating assignee might find that their former workplace and colleagues, their social circles, and even the cultural and societal norms all feel unfamiliar.

Difficulties with settling into a new role or career upon return to the home location is certainly a commonly reported problem; 70% of companies find this is either sometimes or often behind an employee’s decision to leave. If assignees are ill-prepared for the potential hitches that can occur when returning to the home entity, they may be susceptible to overly high expectations.

The impact of repatriation on a returning assignee’s home life is also not to be underestimated. According to one in three companies, it is sometimes or often the case that family concerns – i.e. with regard to a partner’s career, children’s education or relocation issues – are the reason for post-assignment staff turnover.

What can be done to address these challenges?

The key to improving an employee’s ability to adapt to assignment and, later, post-assignment life is making sure they are well prepared for what is to come. 

In the 21st century, anyone can of course undertake a little online research at the click of a button. But the sheer number of search results returned, unreliable sources and a lack of resources geared towards the unique experience of being an assignee can result in confusion and misinformation, rather than genuinely useful knowledge and awareness.

Self-preparation tools that are tailor-made for the assignee experience are a more effective way to inform and guide employees about the realities of a potential move abroad and help to make the process less overwhelming. ECA’s three International Assignment Guides cover the main scenarios expatriating families face:

Planning to Work Abroad? is full of relevant and useful guidance about what to expect when going to live and work in another country and ensures that families really do consider all the pros and cons of such a move. This puts candidates in a better position to assess whether or not an assignment abroad is for them – rather than finding out the hard way during the assignment.

Together on Assignment enables assignees’ partners to weigh up the implications of accompanying them on assignment against those of remaining behind; it also sends a reassuring signal that the company is sensitive to the welfare of the family as a whole, not just the assignee.

Returning Home prepares returning families for the potential challenges they may encounter when trying to slot back into home country life. It also ensures assignees have realistic expectations for their post-assignment career. Greater pragmatism about this process can help reduce the number of returned assignees exiting the company, taking their valuable international experience and skills with them.

Each of the International Assignment Guides combines anecdotal advice and worksheets with real-life case studies to raise awareness of issues that should be considered, discussed and resolved before committing to an assignment. Quotes from former assignees provide practical tips that can only come from first-hand experience, while comprehensive checklists and questionnaires lay out all the decisions that an expatriating family face, and outline the potential pros and cons to be considered.

The International Assignment Guides can be provided directly to your mobile population through your company intranet for ease of access. ECA also provides location-specific Country Profiles to brief assignees with essential information about the location where they are preparing to live and work. For more information about how ECA can assist you with assignee preparation, please contact us .

Allianz Partners

How to prepare expats for foreign assignment

Return on investment (roi) is key  for a global hr team managing expat employees on international assignment. rates of expat failure can be as high as 40% , depending on the industry. as investment in an assignment can be more than $300,000, failure is expensive in both financially and timewise. , choose the right person.

Preparing expatriates for foreign assignment begins as early as the selection process. Research by Cut-e shows the ability to excel at a role may not be enough for expat success . The most accomplished new expats have a range of soft skills including:

  • Emotional stability
  • Sensitivity to other cultures
  • Better than average interpersonal skills
  • Demonstrated flexibility

Ensure candidates demonstrate these and similar traits with practical examples at interview stage.  

Pre-assignment training

Preparation is key when any employee is moving abroad to work. Global HR can support the employee by developing thorough pre-assignment training . This should help:

  • Anticipate potential challenges
  • Develop strategies to overcome them
  • Better understand societal and business norms
  • Understand the overarching goal of their overseas assignment

This is particularly useful for those working abroad for the first time. Ideally pre-departure training covers topics like:

  • Cultural training
  • Local language skills
  • Information on the host country  

Home and host mentors

Support on the ground.

One of the leading causes of expat failure is the unhappiness of an expat’s spouse or family. Ensure the expat and their family has practical support from HR in the destination country. This should cover elements like:

  • Finding a place to live
  • Setting up a bank account
  • International Health Insurance
  • Enrolling children in school
  • How the tax system works  

Interviews with expats in Personnel Today highlighted the importance of information, contacts, and processes fitting together, so settling in is easy.  

Stay in contact

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Delivering A Successful International Assignment

  • Anne Morris
  • 9 October 2019

IN THIS SECTION

  • 8 minute read
  • Last updated: 9th October 2019

Organisations deploy personnel on international assignment for many reasons. Whether you are addressing an internal skills gaps, supporting leadership development or looking to improve working relations across borders, for any international assignment to be successful, there will be a multitude of legal, immigration, tax and pensions risks to manage when sending employees overseas.

This article covers:

International assignment objectives, international assignment structures, employment law.

  • Immigration options 

Assignee remuneration

Professional support for international assignments.

Global mobility programmes have traditionally been developed with a uniform approach, driven largely by cost management and operational efficiencies. However, organisations are increasingly taking a more flexible and bespoke approach to overseas assignments in order to attain advantage in areas such as compliance and talent development and retention.

While a one-size-fits-all approach to the fundamentals of mobility management may be a commercial reality, overlaying this should be areas of specific consideration and capability that can be adapted to the specific needs and risks of each international assignment. This allows for greater focus on the assignment’s commercial objectives and the agility to respond to the organisation’s changing global mobility needs .

From the outset of any successful assignment project, there should be clarity of objectives. Why as an organisation is the decision being made to invest in sending an employee to perform services in a different country?

International assignments can offer value in many areas, many of which typically present in the longer-term.

Internal knowledge transfer is a common assignment objective to address talent or skills shortages within overseas regions. Deploying key talent with specialist knowledge and skills to train and upskill local team members can help to resolve local labour or skill supply issues. The cost/benefit analysis can explore potential missed opportunities or delays resulting from shortages in the local talent market.

International assignments are also highly effective in building relationships and improving intercultural working. This could be relationships within an organisation, with local clients and intermediaries or local authorities. Face to face interaction remains highly effective and valuable in building influence on the ground and can offer significant potential for advantage over competitors.

Beyond relationships, value is also created in the knowledge gained by assignees working overseas, from insight into local customs and culture, improved language capability and a general understanding of how business is ‘done’ within the region and helping to adapt organisational protocol to suit the local environment. Combined with the assignee’s existing market and organisational knowledge, they can offer a global perspective with local details, bringing considerable potential to build competitive differentiation.

With clarity of objective, you can then consider whether an international assignment is the most appropriate solution . Is it possible to hire or promote locally? Would multiple, shorter trips be as effective in performance terms but with lower cost implications? International assignments demand significant investment and it will be important to assess cost projections against expected return and value to the organisation.

As well as clarity of objectives, a successful international assignment also requires clarity of contractual terms, both to manage the expectations and understanding of the assignee, and also for the mobility team to identify support needs and potential risks. 

Now more than ever, organisations are developing portfolios of mobility programmes to enable an agile approach to global mobility that responds to the organisation’s changing needs for international personnel mobility. Assignments come in increasingly different shapes and sizes, from permanent relocations or temporary exchanges, secondments or transfers to a different region or to a different organisation.

While organisations demand greater flexibility and agility from their global mobility programmes, underpinning the activity should be an appropriate assignment structure with a supporting contractual agreement that enables compliance with regulatory and legal duties.

When considering which structure to adopt, organisations will need to consider a range of factors including the type of assignment and the relevant environmental context such as regulatory, immigration, employment law, tax, pension implications. 

For international assignments, where the employee is moving from the home country employer to a host country employer, the employer could consider a number of assignment structures, including:

  • The employee continues to be employed solely by the home employer.
  • The employment contract with the home employer is suspended for the duration of the assignment while the employee enters into a new employment contract with the host employer .
  • The employment contract with the home employer is terminated with a promise of re-employment at the end of the assignment while the employee enters into a new employment contract with the host employer .
  • The employment contract with the home employer is suspended and the employee enters into a contract with an international assignment company (IAC) within the employer group
  • The employment contract with the home employer is suspended and the employee enters into a contract with both an IAC and the host country employer.
  • The employee remains resident in the home country and works in a host country under a commuter assignment.  

Each type of assignment structure offers advantages and disadvantages which should be considered in light of the individual assignment. For example: 

  • Do employment laws in the host country require the assignee to be employed by a local entity? 
  • Would the assignee be agreeable to ending their home country contract and starting a new agreement with a new entity in the host country? 
  • Are there terms in the home country contract that would need protecting in any new agreement, such as restrictive covenants? 
  • Which jurisdiction would prevail, the host or home country? 
  • How would local laws interpret a situation where there is no contract of employment with the employer in the host country? 
  • Issues such as income and corporate tax, pension and employment rights and responsibilities will need to be identified and assessed against the specific assignment objectives and budget and the assignee profile and circumstances. 

Employment law implications come hand-in-hand with selecting an appropriate assignment structure.

Home-country employment contracts for employees on assignment from the UK to an overseas jurisdiction should generally be interpreted under the laws of England and Wales. If a host country contract is used, there should be specific provision in the agreement to determine which jurisdiction would prevail. However, neither position is guaranteed, for example where issues of domicile arise which may supersede any contractual provisions. Again the need is to assess on an individual assignment basis.

As well as explicit contractual considerations, employers should also be aware of any statutory rights or implied terms under UK law that may continue to apply even in the host country.

Specific provisions may also need to be made to ensure confidentiality and appropriate handling of commercial and sensitive information. While this may be standard or expected for senior employees, those on assignment should also be considered for such terms relevant to the type of assignment and the commercial objectives of the project.

Immigration options

Successful international assignments will invariably require careful consideration of the immigration requirements. Governments across the globe are adopting increasingly protectionist stances towards economic migrants, as policies seek to favour domestic workers. This means business travellers and visa holders are now facing greater scrutiny when applying for work visas and when trying to gain entry at the border. 

Visa options and criteria vary between countries and are subject to frequent change. Where permission is required for the assignee to work in the host country, it will be important to ensure the assignee applies for the most appropriate route to meet the assignment need, whether that is a work permit or a business visitor visa. The immigration requirements and options will be determined in most part by the rules of the home and host countries, the nationality of the assignee (and any of their dependants who will be joining them overseas) and the nature of the activities the assignee intends to perform during their time in the host country. 

For example, a British citizen may be eligible to travel to the US to attend sales meetings and work conferences for up to 90 days  without having to apply for a visa but to conduct ‘gainful employment’ they would need to look at a specific work visa, such as the L-1 visa for intracompany  transfers. 

A further factor will be the specific requirements of the visa or permit. Work visas, for example, may require sponsorship of the employee by a local entity with valid sponsor status. The application process for work visas are typically resource-intensive and in many cases will require the employer to provide compelling evidence as to why the role or work cannot be performed by a worker resident in the host country. 

Preparation will, therefore, be critical, ensuring there is sufficient time to consider the relevant immigration options in light of local rules, and to then make the required application. Complications may also arise where the employee does not meet certain requirements under the local rules, for example if they have a past criminal conviction or negative immigration record. This will require careful handling and, depending on the host country’s rules, may require submission of a visa waiver to explain the issue and provide assurances of the employee’s eligibility by requesting a discretionary decision on the application.

Relocation packages are typically the biggest expense associated with an international assignment. While cost control will remain a concern, it is important for employers to ensure they are offering packages that are competitive within the market and that the package will support both the commercial objective of the assignment and compliance with associated legal and tax risks.

Home-based packages remain common, including those which may be markedly above local market compensation levels, particularly in circumstanecs where the assignment need is business-critical.

It may be possible however to look at offering a lower package than the home-based option, by either localising the package to harmonise with host nation levels or to develop a ‘local-plus’ offering that maintains a degree of competition, but this can be challenging to apply consistently across all assignment types and locations.

Again, consideration should be given to the individual assignment and the assignee. Millennial workers for example are generally understood to value international experience and the remuneration package may not be their primary concern where the opportunity for overseas exposure is available.

For organisations with a substantial cohort of international assignees and travellers, it may be more appropriate to build a compensation scheme specifically for globally-mobile personnel.

Importantly, assignees who will remain under an employment contract in their home country may continue to be subject to home country payroll while on assignment. This will also enable pension and benefits to be offered in the same way through the home country. Taxation, however, raises more complex issues, for example where withholding rules apply in the host country. This will require specialist guidance to ensure tax liabilities in the home and host country are correctly managed and met withiin the appropriate timeframes.

International assignments are demanding on the employer and the employee, but have become critical given the business imperatives to meet talent and development needs and achieve competitive advantage . 

Employers should not lose sight of the need to understand the specific risks of each individual assignment, which increasingly demand bespoke solutions. While compliance , efficiencies and cost control should be underpinned by a solid global mobility infrastructure of policies, systems and procedures, the current shift is away from a uniform approach to assignment management, instead moving towards more agile management of each assignment, shaped by the specific assignment objectives, budget and risks in relation to immigration, tax, remuneration and employment law.

DavidsonMorris’ specialist global mobility consultants provide expert guidance to employers on all aspects of international assignments, from programme management and implementation to strategic consultancy to ensure value and return on the mobility investment. We understand the commercial drivers behind mobilising workers and the need to ensure compliance without impacting return on mobility investment.

We work with senior management teams, HR and mobility professionals to develop strategies that ensure effective compliance risk management while supporting delivery of the organisation’s global mobility objectives. For advice on making the most of international assignments, speak to us .

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility .

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners , we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Contact DavidsonMorris

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Managing Expatriates on International Assignments

Profile image of Theyagarajan Gothandapani

Related Papers

International Business

Marie-France Waxin

International managers constitute valuable resources that organizations do not always use to the best of their potential. Further, senior managers assigned to positions in foreign subsidiaries do not always live up to their bosses’ expectations. When they succeed in their international assignments, they often leave the organization upon returning to their country of origin. Organizations can reverse this trend by encouraging managers’ international mobility, through better planning of assignments, better recruitment and selection practices for international assignments, better pre-departure preparation, better performance management, and better management of the return of their international managers. The following challenges are associated with the strategic management of international assignments: • Assigning the right kind of international manager to the right position, at the right time • Designing international HR practices for balancing generic and local needs on the one hand, and control, coordination, and autonomy needs on the other • Establishing balance between global competitiveness and reactiveness to the local environment’s peculiarities • Identifying the needs for international personnel with a high degree of precision • Strategic management of international assignments and of international personnel at the lowest cost: what type of international employee must be chosen, and to fulfill which position? Which type of contract must be drafted? In the following sections, we will first look at the different approaches to international staffing, the reasons for using international assignments, and the different types of international employees. Then, we will propose a model for the strategic management of international assignments. Finally, we will look at the role played by women in the global arena.

international assignments create expatriates

International Business, Elsevier

Journal of World Business

Rosalie Tung

Buddika Lushantha Peiris

The International Journal of Human Resource Management

Markus Pudelko

Ana Claudia Silveira

Ismail Akar

QUEST JOURNALS

IHRM is set of organizational activities aimed at effectively managing and directing human resources/labour towards achieving organizational goals. Typical functions performed by HRM staff would be recruitment, selection, training and development, performance appraisal, dismissal, managing promotions and so on. IHRM can be defined as set of activities aimed managing organizational human resources at international level to achieve organizational objectives and achieve competitive advantage over competitors at national and international level. IHRM includes typical HRM functions such as recruitment, selection, training and development, performance appraisal and dismissal done at international level and additional activities such as global skills management, expatriate management and so on. In simple terms, IHRM is concerned about managing human resources at Multinational Companies (MNC) and it involves managing 03 types of employees namely,

International Journal of Management Reviews

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COMMENTS

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  2. How to Prepare Expatriates for Foreign Assignments

    Here are eight tips for preparing expatriates for foreign assignments in a successful mobility project. Pre-Move Training. Sourcing Immigration Support. Ensure Continued Communication. Provide Support On The Ground. Undertake Project Alignment Meetings. Invest in Knowledge Management. Provide Home and Host Sponsorship.

  3. Managing International Assignments

    An international assignment agreement that outlines the specifics of the assignment and documents agreement by the employer and the expatriate is necessary. Topics typically covered include ...

  4. Preparing Expatriates for Successful Foreign Assignments

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  5. Expatriate Management (Best Practice Tips)

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  6. Expatriate Selection: How to Choose International Employees

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  7. International Assignment Management: Expatriate Policy and Procedure

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  8. 10 tips for managing successful international assignments

    Knowledge sharing and learning 8. Respect for diversity and inclusion 9. Cross-cultural training and education 10. Recognize and celebrate achievements. Embarking on international assignments brings both excitement and challenges. As businesses have been extending their global presence for years, the effective management of international ...

  9. Sustainable Expatriate Management: Rethinking International Assignments

    How can expatriates create policies and practices that promote economic inclusion when selecting suppliers for the local business? ... To transform international assignments at the company level, MNEs need strategic concepts, including tools, to impact the defined materiality topics discussed above. There are different levers available to ...

  10. Developing Global Leaders: Structuring Expatriate Assignments

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  11. Managing International Assignments & Compensation

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  12. Whom to send where? International assignments and multinationals

    Sending a trusted manager from headquarters to a foreign subsidiary is the most common kind of international job assignments. These are your traditional "expatriates." Next to them, researchers have observed an even more significant surge in the number of "inpatriates" — i.e., managers who are local to the subsidiary site and have been sent ...

  13. How to prepare employees for international assignment success

    The number of international assignments being terminated early is on the rise. ECA's latest Managing Mobility Survey revealed that the number of assignments cut short had increased by 50% compared to the figure seen in our 2012 survey. The failure rate is highest among companies with more than 10 000 employees, for whom almost one in twelve ...

  14. International Assignments: Managing Benefits and Taxes for Expatriate

    Assignment duration may vary anywhere from six months to several years. Employees must obtain a work visa, and—depending upon the host country—may be eligible for certain benefits offered by that country while working abroad. U.S. citizens, green card holders, and their employers should understand that expatriates will still have an income ...

  15. Preparing expats for foreign assignment

    August 1, 2019. Return on Investment (ROI) is key for a Global HR team managing expat employees on international assignment. Rates of expat failure can be as high as 40%, depending on the industry. As investment in an assignment can be more than $300,000, failure is expensive in both financially and timewise. An expat assignment is particularly ...

  16. Delivering A Successful International Assignment

    As well as clarity of objectives, a successful international assignment also requires clarity of contractual terms, both to manage the expectations and understanding of the assignee, and also for the mobility team to identify support needs and potential risks. Now more than ever, organisations are developing portfolios of mobility programmes to ...

  17. Managing expats on international assignments: AXA

    Struggling to fit in is a concern that expats are most likely to grapple with before they actually take the plunge and embark on their new life overseas. Fortunately, it's one that doesn't end up ringing true in many cases. Nearly two-fifths (37%) of the expats that we spoke to said they integrated easily with other families, and just 15% ...

  18. Life Cycle of an International Assignment: Supporting Employees Before

    Employers spend a significant amount of financial and human resources on planning and coordinating international assignments. In fact, cost of international assignments is the one of the top mobility-related concerns of global employers, and 70% of respondents to a 2016 survey say that there is considerable pressure to reduce costs. 1 About half of those survey respondents are planning to ...

  19. PDF Measuring the value of international assignments

    the context of an organisation's expatriate policy and objectives for international assignees, will provide a powerful tool both for internal strategic management and external benchmarking. Introduction Measuring the value of international assignments The current mantra seems to be that international assignments are expensive but worth it.

  20. Expat Assignment Evolution

    Of course, international assignments often include air travel, but the turbulence doesn't only happen 36,000 feet up. Turbulent situations on the ground can lead to assignment failure — a result that comes with steep financial and emotional costs. Understanding the expat lifecycle is an important first step in assignment success.

  21. International assignment

    An international assignment is an overseas task set by a company to an employee. Companies that engage in international assignments are mainly multinational corporations (MNCs). MNCs send employees from the home country to a different country for business operations at overseas offices or subsidiaries. [1] These employees are called expatriates.

  22. Expatriate Assignments, And Employees Are on the Rise

    Expatriate Assignments Are on the Rise. The number of employees on international assignments has doubled over the last three years as part of the continuing trends toward globalization, according to a new survey conducted by Mercer. Mercer's 2008/2009 Benefits Survey for Expatriates and Globally Mobile Employees covers 243 multinational ...

  23. Managing Expatriates on International Assignments

    The process of managing expatriates of global assignments includes several stages. This paper examined selection and training before the international assignment, adjustment and integration during the international assignment and repatriation after the international assignment. Much research has been done in the field of managing expatriates ...