International Assignments Expected to Increase in 2013

By Roy Maurer May 14, 2013

More than 70 percent of responding companies expect to increase short-term assignments in 2013, according to a recent report on expatriate practices by Mercer, a global consultancy.

Mercer’s Worldwide International Assignments Policies and Practices report found that, in addition to the expected increase in short-term assignments, 55 percent of responding companies are looking to increase long-term assignments. Respondents also indicated there has been an increase in the overall number of international assignments over the past two years.

According to the report, the top five reasons cited for international assignment programs are to provide specific technical skills not available locally (47 percent), to provide career management/leadership development (43 percent), to ensure knowledge transfer (41 percent), to fulfill specific project needs (39 percent) and to provide specific managerial skills not available locally (38 percent).

Close to half of North American (45 percent) and European (46 percent) companies responding to the survey list career management/leadership development as one of the main reasons they start international assignments. In the future, worldwide, 62 percent of participating companies anticipate an increase in the number of technical-related short-term assignments, 55 percent anticipate an increase in talent development assignments, and 50 percent anticipate an increase in key strategic assignments.

“International assignments have become diverse in order to meet evolving business and global workforce needs,” said Anne Rossier-Renaud, principal in Mercer’s global mobility business.

“Relatively low pay increases in some regions and pressure on companies to attract and retain talent have spurred many to embrace a wider range of global mobility strategies to incentivize high performers,” she said in a news release.

Major destinations for expatriate assignments are Australia, Brazil, China, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Multinational companies continue to source most (57 percent) of their international assignees from the country in which they are headquartered and assign them to foreign subsidiaries.

However, there has been an increase in the percentage of subsidiary company transfers (51 percent) indicating that subsidiary-to-subsidiary transfers, as opposed to headquarters-to-subsidiary transfers, have increased since 2010.

The report is based on responses from more than 700 companies worldwide across sectors such as energy, engineering, financial services, manufacturing, mining, retail trade and telecommunications.

Long-Term Assignment Durations Trending Down

The duration of long-term assignments is trending down, according to the report. The average duration of a long-term assignment is now slightly less than three years (two years, 10 months). The average minimum duration is one year, five months, and the average maximum duration is five years, four months. For short-term assignments, the minimum, average and maximum durations worldwide stand at, respectively, four, eight and 13 months.

Obstacles to Working Overseas

Not everyone is excited to be offered an international assignment.

Family issues, such as concerns over children’s education in a new location, and partners and spouses not wanting to compromise their own careers remain major obstacles to employee mobility.

For European companies, another major hurdle is the attractiveness of the package. Generous expatriate packages are becoming a rarity as employers can no longer afford to pay high salaries and perks such as school fees and large housing subsidies to entice staff overseas, the report said.

Expat Demographics

The average age of long-term assignees is between 35 and 55. The average age of short-term assignees tends to be younger, with a similar proportion of expatriates in the under-35 bracket and in the 35-to-55 bracket.

The report also looked into the gender breakdown of employees on assignment and found the likelihood of expatriates being female has marginally increased, with the average percentage of female assignees at 13 percent, just 3 percent higher than in 2010. The report found that North American and European companies were more likely to have female expatriates working overseas than Latin American and Asian companies.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him at @SHRMRoy

Quick Links:

SHRM Online Global HR page

Keep up with the latest Global HR news

Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You
Search Jobs

Discover what’s trending in HR

Search and download FREE white papers from industry experts.

Search and download FREE white papers from industry experts.



Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies

Search & Connect

HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.