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Caroline Walmsley, Global Head of HR, AXA Global Healthcare

How to increase successful international assignments

PUBLISHED: 16 September 2021 | LAST UPDATED: 5 October 2021

An international assignment is often a life-changing time for any employee, that will impact not only their working life, but their personal lives too. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that we found a fifth (21%) of assignments are cancelled or terminated earlier than planned. The reason for this? Often, it’s lack of support, isolation and not fitting in. 

A healthy benefits package can not only entice employees to take up international assignments, but can leave the employee feeling supported and more confident in their new role and surroundings. 

Yet research we commissioned on international assignments has found that there is a communication gap between those creating these packages and the employees who receive them. This lack of communication of the full range of benefits on offer to those on assignment, from healthcare, to travel expenses, to accommodation, left assignees uncertain what exactly was available to them. As well as this, there was a difference in opinion as to what benefits an employee would value.

We’ve already touched upon the issues that international working can create for employees, and these can range from being away from loved ones to adapting to an entirely new culture - all whilst trying to perform in a new role.

So how can HR decision makers ensure that these benefits are being communicated effectively, in a way which could, ultimately, work towards the success of assignments? 

Involve employees from the offset 

Every overseas assignment is different, and employees will have different needs and expectations of the benefits they’re provided. Planning and prioritising these alongside employees will ensure they are aware of all that is on offer and choose elements that are most important to them. We need to move away from the days of selecting benefits from a pre-set list, and global mobility solutions need to be reviewed often, to be certain they’re working effectively in this ever-changing landscape. 

Whilst the need for fair allocation might reduce the amount of room to manoeuvre, offering some level of flexibility will encourage the buy-in of your employees and will result in them feeling supported and up to speed on the benefits available to them.

Check in with your employees during their assignments 

We know that a fifth of expatriate assignments are either cancelled or terminated earlier than planned, so keeping regular communication with employees on assignment will ensure there is a direct line of communication to discuss any issues that may arise – and will also allow for opportunities to remind the assignee of what support is available for them. 

With so much change in the landscape of globally mobile business, it’s more important than ever to keep this line of communication open, and for HR decision makers to be pushing the benefits available as often as possible. 

Listen to what assignees truly value 

We also found a gap between the benefits valued by those on international assignment and those offered by HR decision makers building the packages. For example, the most commonly offered benefits were travel insurance, accommodation costs and international health insurance. Yet, assignees prioritised international health insurance, income protection and accommodation costs. 

Taking these preferences on board will not only provide employees with the support they need the most, but shows that as a business, you’re willing to adapt and listen to the true needs of your assignees. This doesn’t just make them feel supported when they’re so far away from home, but will also help ensure the success of their assignment. 

Terminating an assignment earlier than planned is expensive, time-consuming and frustrating for everyone involved, so it makes sense that as a business, you’re doing everything possible to support those working abroad. Benefits can make a significant difference, so making sure they’re meeting the assignee’s needs is crucial.