Home HR rely too heavily on email for engaging assignees

The 2014 Global Mobility Survey identified that 82.7% of businesses rely heavily on email to maintain communication with their employees whilst on assignment, with a high proportion solely reliant on the medium.

International Communication Strategy Critical to Assignee Engagement and Retention

With the current focus on talent retention, concerns over assignee retention and the effectiveness of email for employee engagement, shouldn’t businesses be looking at improving how they communicate with their employees on assignment?

Whilst on assignment overseas, it is easy for an employee to become disengaged from their home business. A company’s communication strategy with its international assignees is therefore critical to the success of its global mobility programme, maintaining the employee’s engagement with the company and ultimately retaining talent.

Strategies for Communicating with your Assignees

The web portal www.globalmobilitysurvey.com enables us to review in more detail the communication techniques used by HR and Global Mobility departments to communicate and engage with their assignees. It reveals that programmes managed from different countries and industry sectors vary considerably in terms of the level of communication and types of communication used. For example, programmes managed from the UK performed the worst in terms of levels of communication. UK managed Global Mobility programmes often “left their assignees in the cold”, with 10% of UK managed programmes having no assignee communication programme in place at all. Indian managed programmes on the other hand indicated the highest level of communication and assignee engagement. Characteristically, they provide mobile devices to their assignees (41%) in order that they can stay in touch more easily.

At an industry level the Utilities & Energy industry, are notably better at keeping in contact with their assignees than any of the other major industries , and 96% of these professionals saying they regularly use email to keep in contact with their assignees. Similarly, their figure for communication provided via the company-provided intranet is also high, at 64%. 

Email, Local Offices and Intranet 

Unsurprisingly traditional communication strategies lead the way. Email tops the charts when it comes to communication methods with almost all companies using email to communicate. This is in part due to the type of content being exchanged by the business with the assignee and the confidential nature of the information. However, there are now better ways to share confidential information and better ways to engage.

Half of companies (49.7%) also rely heavily on their local HR representative to fulfil the communication with their employees on assignment. This has the benefit of maintaining a level of human contact with the assignee and their family but it cannot be relied upon solely. Culture can vary between offices and it is advisable that there needs to be a connection with the location to where they will be returning to eventually. Simply handing over responsibility to the local office may not be the optimal solution to ensure up to date knowledge of policies, home and host career opportunities and organisational re-organisations. However, personal communication may remain the best way if your assignments are happening in places with limited technology links.

Intranets featured in over a third of companies’ communication plans. This has the benefit of keeping them connected with the company operationally, access to job boards and company news. Effectiveness of this medium relates to domains and is may be suitable for today’s way of working using mobile devices. 

Social Media

Social Media (SoMe) has become the default method for many assignees to stay in contact with their family and friends whilst on assignment, but so far this medium is slow to be adopted as part of a Global Mobility assignee communication programme with only 4.5% of programmes using dedicated social media groups. Perhaps companies feel it is difficult to take social media seriously in a business context, but it is hard to ignore the opportunities that social media presents.

Unsurprisingly, the media industry leads the way in communicating with its assignees using social media, using social media 10 per cent of the time, although this is admittedly a relatively low number. In contrast, many industries are yet to grasp it as a concept and so far have not begun to use it at all. 

Once again, India managed programmes outshone the rest of the world with 12% of these programmes adopting dedicated social media groups to maintain assignee engagement.

Whereas social media may not be appropriate for compliant operational transactions such as the transferring of company documents, it does provide a more personalised method of engaging with the assignee. It removes the formality that is sometimes present in communication via email and intranet. It is a ready-made tool for companies to achieve a balance between the personable and the professional. In terms of ensuring the assignee has adapted culturally, if they are encouraged to regularly update their social media channels it can provide the company with a more rounded picture of how they are doing in all aspects of their life on assignment.

The Global Mobility Survey provides an excellent opportunity for HR professionals to gain an invaluable insight into the field. With reports of an expected 29 per cent net growth in Employee Global Mobility over the next 12 months, now is the perfect time to find out how your company can get ahead.


The message is simple; companies need to communicate to improve engagement with their assignees remotely. Ultimately this can be expected to improve the retention of employees on overseas assignment.

A company’s assignee communication strategy needs to consider the various options at its disposal and select the correct mix based on who needs to be communicated with, the sensitivity of what is being communicated and select the communication channels that work best. It is worth noting that for assignee engagement to be effective companies need to go further than simply sending formal documentation. An effort should be made to ensure that assignees remain connected to the company’s culture, news and what is happening in the home business.

About the Global Mobility Survey

Used by leading HR, Compensation & Benefits and in-house Global Mobility professionals, the Global Mobility Survey is a pivotal data source for corporates seeking to benchmark and enhance their own employee transfer programmes. The global mobility survey is commissioned by the Santa Fe Group www.thesantafegroup.comand conducted by Circle Research an independent and ISO20252 certified research company. See www.globalmobilitysurvey.com for more information and to take part in the 2015 survey.


About Santa Fe Relocation

Santa Fe is a full service global relocation services company with own offices in 56 countries across 6 continents.  Key global mobility services provided by Santa Fe are Mobility Consulting, Assignment Management, Immigration, Moving, Relocation DSP and Expense Management.