The World of Work – lifestyle ambitions of employees now a bigger priority

PUBLISHED: 24 February 2021 | LAST UPDATED: 19 June 2024

A major new piece of research* undertaken by AXA Global Healthcare, in which 543 HR Decision Makers were surveyed, has highlighted changes in international working and global mobility, with the main beneficiary being the assignees themselves. 

The World of Work research, an in-depth view on international working and global mobility, compares trends from 2017 and 2020, highlighting significant changes in the process of establishing and supporting international assignments.  

Since 2017, there has been a notable change in the rationale for sending employees to work abroad. In 2017, the main reason for companies to place employees abroad was to improve business operations (51%), but in 2020, the priority was instead to build a global way of working and approach to business. In a positive change for the employee, the number of businesses prioritising sending employees abroad to meet lifestyle ambitions of the workforce had increased to 37% in 2020’s research from 23% in 2017. 

Another significant change was the increased challenge facing Global Mobility Managers in developing healthcare packages for international workers. Half of the HR managers surveyed stated that some of the biggest challenges facing their organisation were developing benefit packages that are consistent across different employee types and geographies (52% in 2020 compared with 45% in 2017) and meeting demands for a wide range of healthcare and wellbeing services (51% up from 34%). 

However, the HR decision-makers surveyed indicated that, compared to other benefits, managing the cost of providing a comprehensive package was considerably less challenging than in previous years, falling from 52% in 2017 to 39% in 2020. Which is positive when you consider that, before the impact of Covid-19, the average cost of placing an assignment had increased from $50,000 in 2017 to $69,000 in 2020. 

Andy Edwards, Global Head of International Healthcare, AXA Global Healthcare, commented: “The need for international working has not gone away since our initial report in 2017. If anything, the appetite for it has grown. Undoubtedly, the Covid-19 pandemic, which began as this research was being undertaken, will bring a new perspective to international assignments. But of those Global Mobility Managers we interviewed some weeks into the pandemic, many suggested that it wouldn’t necessarily change their business need for international assignments to take place. Instead, it appeared to be the nature of the assignments that might evolve, with shorter-term assignments and focus on choosing the right person to send becoming even more prevalent. We might even see this evolution unfold differently in individual sectors, depending on their ability to deploy skills and resources when needed.

We were particularly pleased to see a change in the challenges in developing healthcare packages. Emphasis is now less on managing cost and more on developing a package that meets a wider range of employee demand. This can only be of benefit for employees, as they look for more support from their employer. The concept of offering more specific benefits for individuals with different needs, while challenging for the manager to deliver, will support the specific needs of the employee wherever they are in the world.” 

At every stage of the assignment process, changes have been noted. Support available following an assignment’s completion has also improved. A full repatriation package was made available by 54% of managers (up from 43% in 2017), which can include career coaching or preparing for a new role. In addition, over half of Mobility Managers now see international assignments as a route to career progression, with an assignment often ending in a promotion for the employee (up to 53% from 42% in 2017).  

Andy Edwards concluded: “International working has no doubt been hit hard by the pandemic, creating huge uncertainty for those on assignment and those managing the process. As we move forward into 2021, and a new normal is established, we expect more focus to be upon who takes assignments and an increase in specific support to maximise the likelihood of the placement’s success.” 

The information in this article is correct at the time of publishing.

*Research conducted in April 2020 by Savanta. A total of 543 HR decision makers (108 in North America, 105 in the UK, 51 in France, 54 in Germany, 111 in China, 55 in Hong Kong and 59 in Singapore) and 568 non-native assignees (107 in North America, 113 in the UK, 57 in France, 57 in Germany, 116 in China, 60 in Hong Kong and 65 in Singapore) were surveyed.