Go executive, go north, west, east or south, if your master bids you. This is one of the uncompromising findings of an expatriate survey among major multinationals by consultants Mercer of a group of major multinationals, most of which were companies with headquarters in continental Europe or the UK.
According to Lesley Lorraine, European principal at Mercer in London, “These placements often lead to future promotion, so those that decline could find themselves falling behind other more willing candidates.”
On the other hand, nearly a third (29%) were concerned that a posting could have a detrimental effect on their career. But generally, the refusal rate is less than 5%, according to respondents.
But around 75% of companies surveyed found that their executives had refused assignments, the main reason being interference with their partner’s career and impact on their children. Concerns about the compensation and benefit packages also featured.
But the corporation generally regards expatriate assignments as important for senior managers and group leaders, since they enhance career development and the company as a global operation. The main reason given is to transfer skills to local employees (100% of responses) and to expand business overseas (82%), with a similar proportion aiming to develop career of those posted abroad.
Something over half of companies (59%) measure the costs of assignments, in all cases preassignment, but only 21%, after the assignment. These include cost comparisons of expatriates’ packages as against local hirings. These costings are in respect of the annual package and the total overall costs. These frequently are handled by tax advisers using their costing software.
But the 40% who don’t measure and monitor costs, presumably undertake the assignment regardless of cost, says Mercer. Lorraine comments: “Measuring expatriate costs gives companies far greater control over assignments and helps to ensure they obtain value for money. The cost of an expatriate can be three times that of a domestic employee and shareholders will want to see a return on the investment in these individuals.”
How people are chosen for the expatriate roster is primarily their technical expertise, followed by leadership qualities and organisational skills. And where assignments come unstuck is in the first place family difficulties, followed by “not having a international mindset”, and by “poor leadership qualities”.
But re-entry into the domestic orbit after assignment is not always smooth, according to the survey’s findings, with some people quitting after returning home. The most frequently cited reason for leaving was an inability to acclimatise back into the home environment. Some indicate lack of an obvious role since repatriation.
Around 30% of surveyed companies offer post-assignment training. One company provides “reverse cultural shock training”, but says that this has not been taken up as yet.
But only 13% of respondents measure the failure or success of an assignment.
The 23 companies covered in the survey had over 50,000 employees, with a third accounting for 30,000 employees in Europe. A third have up to 500 expatriates world-wide, while over a half employed up to 100 employees in Europe.