Traveling abroad is one of the most rewarding and enlightening experiences for people around the world. It’s a way to meet new people, enjoy beautiful scenery and amazing cuisine, and get acquainted with diverse cultures.
Traditionally, the travel paradox that has faced most outside the very wealthy is that when they have time to travel—i.e., college years, early 20s—they can’t afford it, and when they can afford it—established career—they don’t have the time.
One solution pursued by many workers in the younger Millennial and Gen Z generations is to seek employment opportunities that afford options for international postings. Constantly changing demographics mean that companies are now dealing with much younger workforces in many cases.
As companies strive to meet the needs of these young workers, they’re finding a common request emerging—the opportunity to experience overseas assignments. In fact, according to data from PwC, 72% of Millennial workers in the financial services industry are eager for overseas assignments.
In addition, recent data from Deloitte show that 61% of Gen Z workers plan to leave their jobs within 2 years; only 12% plan to stay longer than 5. That threatens to leave companies with major retention problems.
Accommodating a Demand for Global Experiences
The challenge for many companies is how exactly to accommodate requests for global assignments. Not all companies have overseas offices, let alone specific staff needs in foreign offices.
A company recruiting locally likely has a need to fill a position physically located in the geographic area in which it’s recruiting. So how can companies address the need to attract and retain the highest-quality staff in the face of this demographic shift and younger workers’ desire to work overseas?
One expert we spoke to advised that companies can create professional development opportunities for younger employees driven by new cultures and learning experiences.
Richard Burke, CEO at Envoy Global, a company that helps immigrants get jobs in the United States and globally, discussed how companies can improve retention by offering global experiences to younger employees.
Global Assignments as a Retention Tool
“Short-term global assignments are trending up in popularity because of the flexibility, targeted focus and cost efficiencies that short-term mobility enables,” says Burke. “Especially among millennial workers, we’re seeing an increased interest in global opportunities for professional and personal development, as they expect their employers to invest in their growth.”
Burke pointed to the data discussed above about younger workers’ desire to work abroad. He also pointed out the risk of turnover for employees who feel like they aren’t gaining the growth and development they’re looking for. He notes that 58% of Millennials say they will leave their jobs within 6 months, with the main reason being the lack of learning and growth opportunities.
Who Should Be Offered Overseas Assignments?
Obviously, companies can’t send all of their staff overseas. Indeed, many staff members may not even be interested in such positions, whether due to disdain for or disinterest in traveling, family commitments, or a variety of other reasons.
But those who are interested in such opportunities could be deployed in a variety of business functions and spread throughout the organization. International opportunities aren’t solely the interest of those in the marketing function, finance, or operations, after all.
“When organizations select candidates for global opportunities, they should consider employees across all teams, backgrounds, ages and so on,” says Burke. But he adds that special attention should be given to high achievers and those with the most potential.
After all, the goal is to attract and retain the best talent. “For most global assignments, criteria for selecting candidates will be chosen on a case-by-case basis. That said, highly productive and versatile employees make for great overseas assignees because they’re able to adapt quickly to travel, remote work, new challenges, colleagues and more.”
“With retention challenges continuing to intensify for early-tenure talent, these employees make great candidates for the retention boost a company can see when they invest in global experiences for their employees,” he adds.Overseas Assignment Logistics
Staffing employees overseas needs careful consideration from an administrative and a logistical standpoint. Think of overseas placement like a more complicated form of an overseas vacation. In addition to considering lodging, food, transportation, visas, etc., companies need to consider work permits, work spaces, and other factors.
“Support required before, during and after these global assignments also varies case-by-case,” says Burke. “For short-term assignments that are within the 30-90 day timeframe, there’s less administrative work required. Depending on the jurisdiction where the employee is being globally assigned, tax and V&I [verification and intelligence] considerations might be simplified. Additionally, for short-term assignments, housing and travel is more straightforward for employees. In the case of a long-term assignment, more planning is needed on both the employer and employee’s end.”Benefits Beyond Retention
While we started by touting the potential retention benefits of overseas placements, it’s also important to consider the personal growth and development of the staff members who take part in those placements. These are benefits they wouldn’t necessarily otherwise see doing the same work from their local offices.
“Overall, organizations should keep in mind that short-term mobility deploys high-productivity talent to in-need projects, while also giving the employee a chance to work globally and develop new skills,” says Burke. “When organizations are able to do this, business units not only get the talent they need, but have a more engaging relationship with their employer.”
A generation ago, companies and managers might have scoffed at requests for overseas work assignments as the requests of spoiled, self-entitled employees with little true commitment to the company.
But younger workers are increasingly seeking such opportunities, and as more companies embrace flexibility, and as increasingly advanced technology makes such opportunities more feasible, companies of all sizes need to consider overseas placements as an important tool in the retention and employee development toolbox.