Recruiting, Talent

Tapping into the Globally Mobile Workforce: How Companies Can Leverage Expat Talent

The world’s globally mobile population—expatriate (expat) employees who live and work abroad for at least 6 months—is on the rise. In fact, it’s estimated that there are now as many as 66 million people currently working in globally mobile positions, and that number could reach 87 million by 2021, according to a recent report. But with the rising global cost of living and tightening visa requirements, it’s hard not to ask the obvious question: Why are so many people working abroad?

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Recent insights from MetLife’s 17th annual U.S. Employee Benefits Trends Survey, “Engaged and Driven: Challenges and Opportunities for Expatriate Employees,” may provide some much-needed insight into the meteoric rise of the expat.

Indeed, with 67% of American employees stating that they’re interested in accepting a global assignment, it’s clear that the demand for globally mobile work isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. For employers, understanding the needs and desires of this emerging employee population will be critical to developing benefits packages that attract, engage, and support the modern workforce.

Understanding Expat Professionals

Before we take a closer look at “how” companies can utilize this emerging group of professionals, it’s first important to know “who” these people are and what they’re looking for. On average, globally mobile employees skew younger (under 40) than their nonmobile counterparts (over 40), with 29% classified as “rising talent,” or individuals under the age of 45 in executive leadership roles. What does this tell us? It’s clear that expat employees are typically younger and highly motivated—and primed for roles that transcend both borders and boundaries.

While these statistics certainly help paint a picture of the modern expat, what’s more fascinating about this emerging group is that they’re overwhelmingly happy with their jobs. In fact, 91% of globally mobile employees state that they enjoy working for their employer—a stark increase from the 73% of nonglobally mobile employees who share the same sentiment. This happiness, in many ways, translates to commitment, with 90% of expat employees stating that they intend to still be working for their company in 12 months, as opposed to the 77% of nonmobile employees.

Adapting Expat Benefits

Despite the clear benefits to supporting this highly committed, highly productive workforce, only about 16% of employers offer expat-focused benefits packages. While this group primarily represents smaller businesses, employers both large and small would be wise to take a concerted look at their benefits packages and find ways to adapt existing policies to appeal to shifting sentiments and avoid missing out on this largely untapped pool of talent.

For example, while two-thirds of globally mobile employees have expressed interest in receiving local healthcare support, only 42% actually receive it. And while 61% of nonglobally mobile employees stated that they’re not interested in ancillary benefits (e.g., financial planning, travel expenses, and family care), more than 65% of globally mobile employees believe these benefit options are important to them.

In truth, benefit preferences aren’t “one size fits all.” Expats have unique requirements that are shaped by where they live, and employers need to recognize this if they hope to meet their needs.

Getting the Message Across

One easy, and relatively painless, way that employers can seek to engage with expat professionals is through improved internal communications processes. In fact, at present, 78% of globally mobile employees state that they’d like to receive year-round communications about their benefits, not just during open enrollment, with 63% stating that they regularly feel “stressed” or “confused” by their benefits.

For many globally mobile employees, benefits packages can be a “safety net” or “lifeline” to their lives back home, which is why employers should do whatever they can to make the election process as transparent as possible.

To achieve this, companies should consider creating avenues for regular dialogue whenever updates or changes are made to their benefits packages. Whether it’s through a weekly newsletter or even through a benefits hotline, internal communication tools can help make expats feel engaged and united behind their short- and long-term objectives. It’s a low-cost, high-reward solution that ultimately pays dividends in long-term talent retention.

It’s undeniable: The world is going global. With two-thirds of senior executives anticipating that their companies will increase their global footprint in the future, it’s safe to say that major multinationals need globally mobile employees now more than ever before.

In anticipation for this new, globally focused future, modern business leaders must do whatever they can to make expat employees—who travel across oceans and continents to represent their companies—feel more comfortable doing what they do best: their jobs.

Ann Deugo is Vice President of MetLife’s Worldwide Benefits business and is responsible for overall global business growth. Deugo began her career at MetLife in Canada as a health services consultant. She later moved to the employee benefits area and assumed responsibility for the life and disability operations, including oversight of a major process re-engineering effort to drive business growth.

Deugo holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physiology from the University of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. She was selected to attend the Smith College Consortium for executive women, as well as the MetLife Senior Leadership program at the Harvard Business School.