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Gap-year managers

Jan 16, 2018
The number of gap-year managers is on the rise with international assignments being turned into ‘adventure moves’ to attract young talent. Lisa Johnson, Global Practice Leader (Consulting Services) from Crown World Mobility tells the story.

The era of the backpack manager is on its way according to global mobility experts as corporations turn international assignments into ‘adventure moves’. Spending six months or a year abroad used to be the preserve of middle aged business managers, who were often handed lucrative incentive packages to spend time away from home. Now, however, in a more globally-connected world and with young people more used to travelling, things are changing.

Businesses are turning old-school international assignments into something more resembling a gap year in a bid to attract young talent and reduce costs: there’s a real change in the air. All the evidence is that many younger employees see travelling abroad as a blessing, not a curse, and international assignments are increasingly in demand.

As a result of this, lower cost alternatives to the traditional long-term assignment are becoming more and more common. Branding the assignments as ‘adventure moves’ or ‘backpack moves’ gives assignees a clear indication of what they’re embarking on. Some businesses are already tweaking incentive packages to make moves more attractive to younger assignees.

One way of making the younger employee feel valued, even on a low-cost move, is to provide extras that, whilst cheap for the company, feel like a real bonus to the employee. This could be as simple as language lessons, cultural training, flying in a friend to visit, or even just an organised trip to local landmarks. These extras make the employee feel valued, but crucially don’t cost businesses too much money.

Younger assignees are looking for something fun and exciting and don’t necessarily expect the luxury which their predecessors took for granted. In fact, the challenge for businesses in future years may not be how to persuade young talent to work abroad but how to ensure they don’t do too much for themselves. Businesses are finding that young assignees are quite happy to organise much of their trip themselves – they are very used to travelling abroad and using low-cost tools such as Airbnb.

According to recent research, millennials are very open to a move abroad. In fact, it is estimated that more than 80% are willing to relocate as long as they think the position is worth the move. A separate study found 71% say they want, and expect, an overseas assignment during their career.

Turning that move into a backpack adventure can be good for everyone involved. However, an employer still has a duty of care to protect and look after staff during that time abroad. Young assignees may not realise how important cultural training is to adjusting professionally and socially in a new environment and they may not be prepared for all the challenges they face. Working abroad is very different from going on holiday and they will still need significant support.

Lisa Johnson

Lisa is Global Practice Leader, Consulting Services, at Crown World Mobility, a global company which helps corporations manage global talent. She has more than 20 years of experience in the industry and has been with Crown since 2012.

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