Despite the unstable economic climate, unexpected political change and the impact of technology on societies the world’s biggest companies still view a flexible and globally-mobile workforce as key when it comes to building a successful business, according to new research from AXA’s global health insurance specialists.

The study reveals that 98 per cent of employers see a globally mobile workforce as important to achieving their objectives with a third believing it to be critical.

More than half of the businesses questioned said sending staff on global assignments has improved the performance of their international operations and 44 per cent said it improved employees’ skill level.

However, the research, conducted among 250 multi-national firms headquartered in eight different countries and 372 expatriate workers across 11 markets, reveals that while employers see international working as key, their staff don’t necessarily want to move permanently to another country. Three-quarters of employers surveyed said there is a trend for staff to accept jobs based abroad while they continue to live at home: They become international commuters.

More than a third of firms said staff increasingly want to work abroad on short-term contracts and commute from their home country, with 27 per cent saying that staff don’t want to relocate permanently.

The rewards for working internationally do, however, appear to make the commute or relocation worth the effort. The majority (51 per cent) of staff working on international assignments said they took global placements to gain higher pay and benefits with 47 per cent saying they took roles to gain accelerated career development and improve their skills.

Two-fifths (42 per cent) of companies surveyed said they tend to promote staff at the end of their assignments and 40 per cent said they work with staff to find a new role within the country they are working in which utilises the local knowledge they have built up.

However, companies are having to work hard to get the right talent with 46 per cent of HR directors saying finding the right people is the key challenge they face.

Tom Wilkinson, CEO of AXA’s global healthcare team stated:

“Having an international workforce is critical for businesses that want to capitalise on the huge opportunities available in our global economy.

“While we read much about economic and political uncertainty in some countries, the reality is that businesses that take a global outlook are able to flex their operations to take advantage of growth markets wherever they may be.

“While the Internet and improved communications technology has made it easier for businesses to work globally, the key differentiator remains the talent of the people that organisations employ.

“Our study highlights that taking a flexible approach to pay and benefits that allows staff to remain connected to family and home while also accelerating their careers and creating commercial value for their employers is vital if international assignments are to succeed.”

The need to get the right people for international assignments may partly explain why big businesses are willing to be more flexible with staff around how they structure international assignments and pay and benefits packages but the survey reveals that these postings come at a price for employers.

On average, the firms surveyed said it cost them $50,267 over and above an employee’s base salary for each staff member they have working abroad, with three-fifths (61 per cent) of employers saying pressure to manage international assignment costs has increased in the past five years.

When it comes to pay and benefits the survey reveals that staff most want to have accommodation paid for followed by international health insurance (covering more than one country) and income protection.

Three-quarters of the international workers questioned said they get health insurance paid for by their company, with more than two thirds (67 per cent) of ex-pat workers saying they rely on health insurance to cover their health needs while they are abroad.





Rebecca joined the HRreview editorial team in January 2016. After graduating from the University of Sheffield Hallam in 2013 with a BA in English Literature, Rebecca has spent five years working in print and online journalism in Manchester and London. In the past she has been part of the editorial teams at Sleeper and Dezeen and has founded her own arts collective.