UPfront Out of sight, out of mind

Employees working in foreign markets – and particularly the global expatriate – are often one of the most forgotten aspects of globalisation, even for HR managers, according to DBM Asia Pacific’s regional marketing manager Jacqueline Allen. It’s case of being “out of sight and out of mind” of head office. But the needs of the expatriate, and the manner in which organisations respond to them are, she says, changing.
Employees were once attracted to expatriate assignments as fast track up the corporate ladder and for the generous pay packages that went with the job. Those days are gone.
In job market dominated by multinationals, expat positions now tend to be taken by younger employees looking to acquire international experience to enhance their career prospects. Alternatively, they attract employees seeking career that provides lifestyle options not found at home. For others, the incentive remains purely financial. But the primary change in motivation is driven by how organisations deal with succession planning, remuneration and repatriated employees.
For the past two decades employees repatriated to home base invariably found themselves in talent holding pool assigned to ‘special projects’. Equipped with entrepreneurial and general management abilities gained while on assignment, readjustment to head office bureaucracy was difficult and usually short lived. Expats wanted to return to job where autonomy, risk taking and decisive action were the order of the day and so left the organisation.
Now, corporate cost cutting has slashed pay packets in favour of local packages. Global trends for setting remuneration now include limiting the amount of time an employee can spend overseas, and fixing the length of time before conversion to local package once the initial contract period has expired.
Organisations now think standardised benefits package (housing, cars, school fees, phone rental, etc) for all expatriates, regardless of the country they are posted to, is inappropriate.
The trend now is for retrenched expatriates not to return home but to remain in their adopted country or work in another city in the region. And, according to Allen, HR managers too often fail to understand or properly manage the complex process of separating posted expatriate from an organisation. It is too often delegated to local HR officer who is usually inexperienced in dealing with this type of employee.
Allen thinks more organisations should employ talented expats. “In some instances, they can avoid or reduce relocation costs. Induction periods can be fast-tracked as the time period required to settle into expatriate life and adjust to new culture – both personally and professionally – tends to be less than that of an employee undergoing first-time posting. Intervention coaching to address cross-cultural issues is also less likely, particularly if an expatriate remains in particular region,” she adds.
When it comes to expatriate assignments organisations either get it right or get it dramatically wrong. To manage the expat process HR managers need to take more of holistic, forward thinking, proactive approach than they have in the past and help this new but rapidly growing breed of executive feel at home – wherever that might be.

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