Global mobility & retention: is your talent strategy at risk?

10 September 2018

It has always been believed that global mobility is positive for talent retention. A 2018 survey by Allianz Care stated that 70% of organizations believe that “offering expat assignments increases staff loyalty”.

It is also frequently mentioned that millennials, more than any previous working generation, expect global mobility to be part of their career. So it is natural for organizations to look to their global mobility department as having a key role in the nurturing of their brightest young talent.

Global mobility professionals, however, should be careful about leaping to such conclusions – and perhaps take steps to ensure it doesn’t in fact have the opposite effect.

How priorities shift before & after assignments

Michael Dickmann, professor of international human resource management at Cranfield University, quotes recent research that suggests that expat priorities change over time.

When assignees were asked for their main reasons for relocating, they mainly cited the opportunity to develop themselves, rather than to earn more money. However, when returning expats were similarly canvassed, they showed a different set of priorities, putting emphasis on their marketability to competitor organisations.

Dickmann concluded: “It seems that money is more important on returning than when going overseas.”

A life-changing professional experience

We have commented before on how global assignments have a lasting effect on individuals. They experience new sights, new sounds, they meet new people, they broaden their horizons. In so doing, expats grow and mature. In principle, this is a positive thing for organizations who want to develop and improve their best people.

Dickman’s comments confirm our fears that global assignments may work against our talent retention strategies. What’s the point of sending people abroad if it turns them into people who are more difficult to retain?

Global mobility’s answer?

Faced with research like this, global mobility departments need to manage these changing priorities. Most obviously, there are two solutions:

  1. Improve the expat experience
    A well-managed, problem-free assignment will enhance your “employer brand” – and thus encourage returning assignees to believe that their current employers are better than anyone else. This can include anything from an appropriate and well-administered financial package to using the right partners to ensure the physical relocation (the use of FAIM-accredited movers might help).
  2. Take steps to reduce repatriation problems
    We have addressed this phenomenon in greater detail elsewhere, but it chiefly involves better communication, planning and expectation management throughout the duration of the assignment – not just the weeks leading up to repatriation.

A better experience leads to better figures

Better experiences can in fact create a virtuous circle, where increased assignment success rates (combined, of course, with loyalty upon repatriation) leads to greater investment in global mobility. But only if we are all aware of the pitfalls and work to avoid them.

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