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Caroline Walmsley, Global Head of HR, AXA - Global Healthcare

Employee lifestyle ambitions: a bigger priority

PUBLISHED: 16 September 2021 | LAST UPDATED: 4 December 2023

Working abroad presents a whole new world of possibilities. Often it is seen as a plus for your career. However, our research on HR decision-makers' attitudes towards international working has highlighted that assignees’ lifestyle ambitions are an increasingly popular reason for sending employees abroad. In fact, the importance of lifestyle ambition has increased by 14% in the past three years, making it a priority for over one-third of businesses. It’s no longer just about improving overseas operations.

So, the motivations driving assignees to spend time abroad has changed, and as such, the way they are managed has also changed. This could be because the people managing employees on international assignments often have personal experience of living and working abroad. We actually found that as many as nine-in-ten HR decision makers overseeing international assignments have personal experience of international working – they know first-hand what it's like and what the focus should be on.

But the prioritisation of employees’ lifestyle ambitions poses a challenge for Global Mobility Managers: developing healthcare packages for international workers that are sensitive to the variety of scenarios they’ll face across the globe. 

Half of the HR managers surveyed felt that one of the biggest challenges they faced was producing a healthcare package consistent across different geographies and employee types (52% in 2020 compared with 45% in 2017). Half (51%) have also said they struggle to meet demands for a wide-ranging healthcare and wellbeing service.

So how can organisations create global ways of working whilst meeting the demands of their employees’ lifestyle ambitions? The answer lies in developing a healthcare package that puts flexibility and previous knowledge at the forefront. 

Here’s where we think is a good place to start.

Focus on flexibility 

When it comes to mental wellness, we all take care of ourselves in different ways. Whether it’s practicing mindfulness or doing some exercise, the need for go-to comforts is naturally amplified and relied upon when away from home. As an employer, you can care and cater for each international assignee’s needs by supplying a healthcare benefits package that is customisable. One Global Mobility Director explained how they didn’t feel ready to move to a full menu-based system yet, but it is definitely something they’re starting to put more energy into setting up. Could this be the change that makes the difference for your assignees?

Prepare assignees as much as possible for ‘culture shock’

Adapting to the culture of a new country is the most common reason as to why assignments fail or terminate early. As Global Mobility Managers have recognised, the feeling of picking up and starting your life afresh can be daunting. Making sure that assignees are as prepared as possible for these challenges and know how to tackle them will help make settling in as smooth as possible.

For instance, cultural preparation classes and regular communication can do wonders to make this an easier transition. 

Consider who’s being sent on assignment

The pandemic has added a different dimension to pretty much everything, so in terms of placements, the length might be shorter with a greater focus on picking the right person who will get the job done in the best way. We also found out that family considerations are the next biggest reason after culture shock as to why assignments fail. Can you offer family support group services to better prepare the assignee and their family

At every stage of the assignment process, voices that have asked for change are being heard. Healthcare packages used to focus on managing costs but now try to meet a wider range of demands, which can only benefit employees. Likewise, with over half of HR decision makers viewing international assignments as a route to career progression and promotion, the accompanying focus on an improved healthcare package is essential to ensuring success for whoever wants it. Ultimately, employers’ bigger focus on the lifestyle ambitions of their assignees has had a positive ripple effect across businesses as a whole. 

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