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The changing face of international workers

Global access to healthcare

PUBLISHED: 15 June 2020 | LAST UPDATED: 4 October 2023

Millennials (born 1981 to 1996) and Generation Zs (born after 1997) now make up over half of the workforce. They have different priorities to generations before them and development both personally and professionally is important to them. They tend to prefer experiences over material things, and have a desire to continue learning throughout their lives. 

Making time for travel 

Young people today are traveling more often and further afield than ever before. An annual two-week break lying by a pool in the Costa del Sol is a thing of the past, and now young people are mixing short city breaks with long-haul travel. 

Millennials see time abroad as a life experience. They’ll take opportunities to enrich their personal experience whether it means taking an overseas assignment, leaving work to travel, or putting it off altogether, taking time to see the world, or starting an entirely new job in a new country. 

A study by PWC reported that 80% of millennials they spoke to said that they wanted to work abroad, which is something that many businesses will need to adjust to and accommodate in the coming years.

There are many benefits of living and working abroad. From learning a new language, to experiencing a different culture – millennials are picking up skills that are valuable to employers. Not to mention the human connections they’re making all around the world – travel takes us out of our comfort zone and builds our confidence. 

How does the millennial state of mind translate into the world of work? 

Although most millennials work in full-time positions, the idea of a clear cut 9-5 is fading. Work and home life is merging together as they forge lives that cater for both at the same time.

Millennials expect flexibility and the ability to work remotely from their employers, allowing them to fit work in with the other commitments in their lives, and they’re much more prepared to move on if the work, or their employer, isn’t as flexible as they need them to be. Some employees are even travelling while working at the same time. According to a survey by Buffer, 44% of remote workers travel between one week and one month a year while working and only 7% never travel while working at all. 

The emergence of technology and the way it’s shaping business in all industries has meant that jobs are available now that just didn’t exist a decade or two ago. This has allowed millennials to take up work that they enjoy and find enriching, often turning their hobbies into careers. They’re driven by personal development, and this has led to ‘career waves’, rather than a career ladder.

The idea of career waves fits in well with the millennial drive for travel. They ‘re embracing challenges and are happy being outside their comfort zones. Businesses can harness this confidence and sense of adventure when choosing candidates for assignments. 

Insight from overseas

We asked AXA employee, Wahedur, who’s moved from the UK to Hong Kong for an international work assignment, about his experience working abroad.

What was your main motivation to work abroad? 

Taking an opportunity abroad was an exciting new challenge for me; both in terms of career progression and also the ability to experience a vibrant lifestyle in Hong Kong. Hong Kong offers around 100 beaches and many more hiking trails in its rich and diverse environment. They’re very convenient to visit, which supports a great work/ life balance. The culture over here is all about being out and about – discovering new landmarks, eating new foods and meeting new people. 

What are some of your favourite things about working and living abroad? 

Hong Kong is melting pot of cultures and nationalities and I love being able to work with such amazing and diverse people. Additionally, Hong Kong with its centralised location makes a great base for travelling to other parts of Asia, which is great because it complements my curiosity to experience different countries and cultures. The weather’s usually much more pleasant compared to the UK, with temperatures typically above 20 degrees for around ten months of the year. 

Are there any things you don’t like about working and living abroad? 

Being far away from my friends and family for sure, as moving to the other side of the world means going from seeing them almost every week to only a few weeks of the year- although the accessibility of modern technology like video calling and social media has certainly made the transition more comfortable. Adjusting to the time difference was initially a challenge, particularly with phone calls from friends in the UK coming through after midnight! 

Secondly, I would say adapting to the cost of living in Hong Kong was initially a challenge. Of course, it depends on where you’re assigned, but the cost of living in Hong Kong is generally more than in the UK – accommodation can cost 6 times as much with less space. Food staples, which I certainly took for granted in the UK, also cost a lot more here. For example, a small block of cheese in Hong Kong can cost £6 or more! Most expats and locals are always exchanging stories and experiences and sharing their local knowledge which can help alleviate the difference.

Has the experience of an international assignment changed your attitude towards your career, or your career goals? 

This assignment has definitely changed my career goals. I studied business management and marketing, although I now find myself in sales and really enjoying it! The assignment has allowed me to use the skills and knowledge accrued during my time at AXA and using it to build new and long-lasting relationships both professionally and personally. It’s certainly opened my eyes to some very different cultures and different working practices, which is vital to success when working with people from all over the world. 

What do you think are the keys to a successful move abroad for work? 

I think the key to a successful move abroad for work is a willingness to come out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself. You’ve got to be passionate about what you’re doing and proactively be looking for opportunities. 

Being in a new country not only means that you need to be open-minded and have a willingness to try new things, but you also need the ability to be patient. This experience has helped me build my resilience, and I’m sure my continued experience of working abroad will help me grow further.

What do employees need from their employer? 

Mostly flexibility, trust and patience. When you take up an assignment, you’re not just starting a new role with new people, but you’re also starting a new life in a new country and culture, and employers need to be able to support their employees as thoroughly as possible so that the employee can maximise productivity. It’s important that they’re available for employees to contact easily – maintaining a form of normality at a time of change. AXA has done an amazing job supporting me in Hong Kong, which I believe was a core factor in becoming acclimatised to working and living in Hong Kong. 

1. Embrace flexibility 
Working styles need to be flexible, complimenting the employees’ working styles, personal life commitments, as well as the employers’ business needs. Globally mobile workers are still essential, despite technology that could be used for remote working. However, three quarters of multinational employers said there was a trend for international commuting, rather than more traditional long-term assignments. 

Remote working is another option that companies could embrace to allow their employees the freedom of working from anywhere in the world. Remote working has been shown to improve productivity as less time is wasted and employees find they have a better work-life balance which reduces stress. 

  • 38% of overseas workers are on short-term commutable assignments. 
  • 27% of those working abroad said they don’t want to relocate permanently. 

2. Ditch the one-size-fits-all approach 
Benefits and support packages will need to move away from a one-size-fits-all model and become bespoke – designed allow an individual employee to choose the benefits that work for them. The idea of an online, cloud-based benefits platform is emerging. The system could allow employers to update benefit allowances, which an individual employee can then exchange for the services they need. 

These customisable benefits will put employees in control of their healthcare and allow businesses to ease some of the inevitable costs of healthcare and medicine in the future. 

3. Focus on prevention 
We’re likely to see a shift away from cure-centred healthcare, to prevention; with benefit packages supporting employees in a a number of ways. This will help to make sure they’re resilient, and equipped with the tools they need to stay healthy, both physically and mentally.

"68% of multinational organisations worry that assignments will fail due to poor mental health including stress and depression." 

Why not find out more about resilience and why it’s so important, here

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


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  7. Axa World of work report