Exceptions are becoming the rule in global mobility – and that’s a good thing

14 January 2020

As a rule, people don’t like change – especially when it means more work. So when an assignee knocks on your door (or appears in your inbox) requesting something that other assignees have quite happily gone without for years, it may seem like a problem.

The bad news is that such exceptions are becoming more frequent. The good news is that many companies now see it as an opportunity rather than a problem.   

Learn to accept exceptions

It’s a volatile world out there. It seems that there has never been greater political or economic uncertainty. There are trade wars in full swing between the US and China, and Brexit has cast a shadow of uncertainty over the legal status of UK expats abroad or foreign nationals working in the UK for years.

There are places in the world where political turmoil can suddenly escalate into a real and physical threat to expat safety. Couple that with the fact that global mobility departments are hyper-conscious of their duty of care towards assignees, and we realise we are working in a quite unpredictable situation. It is, therefore, to be expected that our assignees may demand something non-standard to suit their unprecedented and uncertain situation.  

Exceptions are becoming the rule in global mobility

Expats are changing

It is not just the expat situation that is liable to change. Expats are also far more diverse in nature. As a result, the one-size-fits-all approach is becoming less and less viable. This is an encouraging trend.

Global mobility departments are keen to encourage diversity, and the world’s biggest employers want to show the world’s hottest talent that they are progressive in their employment policies. Inclusion is good news – but it does lead to exceptions.

A fashion for different formats

In parallel with the fast-changing expat profile, there’s a new flexibility from global employers to vary the assignment format. Assignments can be long-term, short-term or any term for that matter, and different compensation methods are gaining acceptance. This greater variability of format is one of the key trends foreseen for 2020 and is likely to prompt an increased likelihood of exceptions.

The options are multiplying, and global mobility departments are tasked with handling an increasing number of non-standard requests as a result.

There is a first time for everything

Many things that we now take for granted were once strange and unusual. Every innovation has to start somewhere – and this is as true of the world of employment as anywhere.

Employment packages now routinely include benefits such as pension provision and healthcare – but there must have been a time when it was exceptional.

Equally, there must have been an expat who first asked for a couple of days (paid, of course) to go house-hunting. And another who was the first to think that it was reasonable to include a car with a driver in their package. 

These can be seen as exceptions. Or they can be seen as early indicators of a trend.

What’s your process?

But why don’t we always pick up on these trends? The problem lies in the process. Typically, the request comes in via the assignee’s counselor or manager, and the GM department either decides for itself or escalates the request to a suitable authority, such as the hiring manager. Once the exception has been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, the book is closed.

The problem is that no one learns from the experience, and that means that a similar request in another part of the company may get an entirely different answer. This raises the risk of dissatisfaction and resentment as employees realize they are being dealt with differently. The worst-case scenario is that action is taken against the employer for unfair treatment. He got that, so why didn’t I?

A first amongst employers

Employers are not deliberately unfair to assignees. But they are often reluctant to learn as they go. Companies that log exceptions in a structured, centralized process will find that similar exceptions can be dealt with fairly – by following, or at least observing, precedent. But not only will they treat all assignees equally – they will also be the first to spot new trends amongst assignees.

This puts them in a position to offer innovative, enlightened and forward-thinking packages to would-be expats, helping the company to attract new talent. They will do things no other employer has thought to do. They will become an exception to the rule themselves. And someone always has to be first...

Ready to accept exceptions?

Find out more about the skills and strategies required to achieve success in global mobility by reading: Global mobility skills: what kind of GM manager are you?

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