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Suitcases replace briefcases

May 13, 2014
Long-term placements, where executives are encouraged to build a new life abroad for the good of their company, are being rejected in favour of short-term foreign assignments, with staff expected to uproot themselves regularly.

According to a KPMG survey, designed to explore attitudes towards global mobility, just one in four senior executives believe that the typical three-year posting is still a business necessity.  They also argue that a mere 15 per cent of new, younger, entrants to the workplace view long-term international redeployments as a good career move.

“Increasingly the perks of long-term overseas placements are being replaced by shorter ‘parachute style’ projects, with employers expecting their key staff and future leaders to switch geographies without a second thought, said Marc Burrows, Partner and Head of International Executive Services at KPMG.  “Where once the briefcase was a symbol of business, the suitcase is gradually becoming the accepted sign of career success.”

The survey goes on to reveal that 58 per cent of executives believe that the length of foreign assignments could be reduced.  Although a large majority (75 percent) expect to increase the proportion of staff they send abroad in the next five years, one in five of those questioned say that the combination of ease of travel and advances in video conferencing mean that long-term placements are no longer necessary.

It is also clear from the survey that organisations are fearful about losing their most talented staff as a result of overseas roles.  Asked whether their employees felt engaged whilst abroad, just 33 per cent said ‘yes’.  A significant proportion admitted that extended time away from the ‘home base’ is something that comes up in exit interviews (15 per cent).  Perhaps of greater concern is the discovery that more than half admitted that they simply don’t know.

The survey results suggest that this clearly has a significant impact on an organisations’ ability to plan for the future.  For example, 44 per cent of survey respondents admitted they lose up to 40 per cent of their staff within two years of an assignment ending. It seems employers can no longer be certain who will remain loyal to the company and, therefore, who to include in succession plans.

Additionally, the full cost of sending people abroad is, in many cases, not fully appreciated, with 33 per cent accepting they need to improve understanding of the investments that are required, so that appropriate decisions can be made about who to send abroad, where, when and for how long.

“Employees want to show that they are serious about the company they work for and will tolerate less enticing deals than those on offer a few years ago in return for future benefits and long-term career prospects,” said Marc. “However whilst international movement can open the door to a successful career, with senior jobs back at HQ the reward for individuals who have undertaken four or five overseas postings, there is a word of caution. Put simply, it is that companies switching to short-term, consecutive, assignment strategies risk creating nomadic workforces.  Unintentionally, these individuals may become all but invisible to HR and line management.  Unless properly managed, the result could be disaffected staff who feel the need to move elsewhere to be appreciated and to develop their careers. Clearly for the employer this means wasted costs, increased risk and hindered succession plans.”


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