Global mobility: it’s time to stop neglecting your approach to extended business travel assignments

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In the first of this two part article series, Professor Dickmann looked at the issues around ensuring the success of the short-term assignment (STA) in global mobility. In this second part, he looks at the much neglected topic of extended business travel assignments/assignees (EBT).

Frequent business flying and extended business travel (EBT) – usually for periods of up to three months – is increasingly common in many companies. And with burgeoning numbers of senior managers having international roles, this is something that is set to continue to grow.

With this in mind, it is astonishing how little we know about the different forms, lengths and assignment objectives associated with EBT, the management of business travellers and the risks that working abroad for various (short) periods pose for employers and staff.

The RES Forum’s 2018 Annual Report into global mobility trends (which is based on research amongst the Forum’s 1600+ members from over 750 multinational organisations in 40+ countries), highlights this neglected assignment type and has produced some recommendations for SAFE (smart, agile, flawless and efficient) global mobility using EBTs.

The data shows that over the past three years there has been a substantial growth in EBTs: 29% of firms have seen the overall number of their EBTs increase by 11% or more, and a further 26% have experienced growth of up to 10%. Only 3% of multinationals have experienced a decline.

Tightening immigration laws and EBTs

This growth pattern is predicted to endure. Thus, EBTs are expected to become numerically more important just at a time when it is perceived that some governments are strengthening the implementation of their immigration, work and social security laws.

At times, organisations run the risk that some of their staff who, say, work longer than two weeks in a particular country, are actually not compliant with all the social security and work permit regulations in that destination country.

Why do organisations use EBTs?

In a similar vein to short-term assignments, EBTs are predominantly driven by the desire of three quarters of organisations to fill a project position.

Two-thirds of firms have a primary aim to transfer knowledge through EBTs. However, frequently it is simply that international travel is part of the normal work of the assignee or that organisations use their business travellers to control the host team.

Interestingly, only about a quarter of multinationals have the primary goal to develop individual talent through EBTs. This may clash with the interests and drivers of many individuals, documented consistently in many studies on short-term, long-term and self-initiated assignees.

A large majority of multinationals have no formal EBT approach, which increases their compliance risks.

There is much variety among multinationals with respect to the management of EBTs. In less than half of companies EBTs are managed by the global mobility team, and in a quarter they are managed by their own departments.

Interestingly, a substantial number (28%) of respondents to the RES Forum survey indicated that EBTs in their organisation are not sufficiently managed in terms of legal and regulatory compliance and oversight.

It fits that only one in five organisations have a formal EBT policy. The compliance risks for both individuals – who could find themselves, in extreme cases, in prison – and organisations are obvious.

Five ways to improve your EBT management

While the likely importance of business travel increases, the RES Forum’s findings clearly demonstrate that the availability of good data and the management of EBTs could be substantially improved.

Global mobility and HR departments need to become more holistically linked to other functions and increase their agility. Here are our five recommendations to help with this:  

1. Develop an EBT strategy and policy and implement formal EBT tracking

A large majority of multinationals have no formal EBT approach, which increases their compliance risks. Be sure to link your approach to your business and HR strategy.

A substantial number of firms currently experience EBT tax problems, immigration challenges, payroll issues and social security concerns. To avoid these problems, part of the EBT policy must be to implement a formal tracking approach for EBTs.

More than half of organisations do not track their EBTs formally, which exposes them to legal, taxation and social security risks. Mobility and HR departments need to work towards having high-quality tracking information access in order to refine their compliance approaches and to manage and reduce the personal risks to their employees.

This would counter the threat to individuals of imprisonment, but should also come in handy when there are natural disasters or terrorist activities. The first step would be to know which company staff could be affected simply by being in the vicinity.

2. Improve selection and objective setting for EBTs

Be clear about objectives and the competencies that EBTs need to be successful. Most often EBTs are filling a project position, aiming for knowledge transfer, fulfilling the normal duties of their position or instigating better control of the host team.

Distinguish in the selection for general positions that include EBT whether the key goal is inherent in the post (projects/normal work) or whether special competencies are needed (knowledge transfer/control). Set the selection criteria accordingly.

3. Understand and manage EBTs more holistically

Motivational challenges and health issues such as stress, burnout and long working hours – as well as broader health and welfare issues that include stress, loneliness and work/private life spill-over – are hardly ever managed, but represent an opportunity to add value to the global mobility department.

Thus, we urge leaders in organisations to manage the arena of EBTs more holistically, including the interfaces to line management.

Multinationals will benefit substantially if they can become more agile, if they can refine their EBT approaches and if they can start to consciously better manage these global staff.

This should include improving the understanding of staff on EBTs. Only about one in 20 companies assesses EBT satisfaction. Yet, exploring the thoughts, drivers, experiences and satisfaction of EBTs may give useful information to develop and refine the overall global mobility and specific EBT approach in the firm.

4. Develop an understanding of the value of EBTs and their return on investment

Many firms simply concentrate on compliance and we would urge them to refine information gathering on EBT issues.

Only a minority of organisations collect information to improve the HR and people management of international workers, ensuring fairness and improving reward structures. Without improved information and better EBT management, the goal to develop better EBT planning and improve ROI may remain elusive.

5. Increase the number of EBTs

The performance of EBTs is either similar to or better than other forms of local or international workers. Of course, we would add a note of caution. Only where the above issues of developing and implementing agile, holistic and well-thought through EBT approaches are mastered, will increasing the number of EBTS be promising.

This could lead to a win-win situation in that EBTs, on average, experience more positive career effects than domestic workers.

Reevaluate your EBT approach

Through the research into EBTs it has become clear that these international workers represent neglected assignees. Not addressing this imbalance when compared with other global mobility areas is a missed opportunity to enhance the quality of mobility work.

Multinationals will benefit substantially if they can become more agile, if they can refine their EBT approaches and if they can start to consciously better manage these global staff.

 

About Michael Dickmann

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