There is quite a bit that goes into planning and facilitating a successful international relocation. Beyond the logistical details like tax compliance and tariffs, considerable attention should be paid toward the employee selected for the assignment and what they’ll need to be successful while on the job. It takes time and resources, but it’s tremendously important to think through the differences among your existing and potential international assignees and what each of them needs to feel supported and empowered.
When segmenting employees, one of the most common differentiators is generation. The Baby Boomer vs. Gen X vs. Millennial discussion is well-worn territory at this point. With each passing year, Millennials continue to make up a larger share of the U.S. workforce, according to the Pew Research Center, followed by Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.
Countless studies have shown pronounced generational differences in the workplace, such as work styles and personal needs among these generations, many of which can be accentuated when combined with the added stress that an international assignment can bring. Below are several chief concerns and needs among these three generations that should be considered while selecting and supporting international transferees.
International Relocation Considerations for Baby Boomers
At this point, even the youngest Baby Boomer is 55. Naturally, saving for retirement is paramount for this age group. However, working abroad can pose some unique challenges when it comes to retirement savings. Should they be working for a company not formally based in the United States, they will not have the option of contributing to a 401(k) or 403(b).
Alternatively, they may have the option of the destination country’s retirement plan, but those won’t include any benefits regarding their U.S. tax burden. Each company and destination is different, making it difficult to provide a comprehensive answer to this issue. It is important that your organization provide tax and retirement savings advice and resources for those working abroad, particularly those closest to retirement age.
Similar to retirement savings, virtually every employee cares about their health care coverage, but older employees, who often face more health issues, are more likely to have questions and concerns about the care options in their destination country. And like retirement saving, the available options and quality of care change significantly from country to country. Some destinations’ health care systems rival the United States, but others may be a source of concern for employees. One solution is to invest in private care that meets the needs of your employees working abroad. Another option is to provide routine trips back to the United States for check-ups and other medical needs.
International Relocation Considerations for Gen Xers
Gen Xers traditionally are the most independent, flexible workers – making them ideal candidates for international assignments. While this may be true, they also are the employees most likely to have school-aged children. Understandably so, they’ll need support for finding schools and related services for their children while living abroad. You can help this process by researching available schools in the destination city that provide similar or better education to the schools the children currently attend in the United States.
Additionally, Gen Xers generally need more space to accommodate their family while working in a foreign country. For some destinations, this isn’t a problem. But in others, like western Europe or Japan, real estate is at a high premium, and finding a home that meets their expectations can prove difficult. If your organization is expected to have a long-term presence in the country, it can be a worthwhile investment to buy a property where transferees can stay while on assignment. If that is too much of a cost-burden, find a real estate agent at the destination who has experience helping U.S. families find housing while working abroad.
International Relocation Considerations for Millennials
One of the most discussed characteristics for millennial workers is their preference for routine, one-on-one feedback. Depending on the size of your international operation, they quickly may feel isolated if there isn’t an on-site mentor or supervisor who can offer regular feedback and support. If there isn’t sufficient personnel there, set up video conference calls with managers at your headquarters to provide routine check-ins to ensure morale and engagement remain high.
Certainly, employees of all ages own pets – Millennials just happen to make up the largest share of pet owners. Consider developing a plan for moving not just an assignee, but also their pet. Quarantine regulations vary from country to country, but fortunately for pet owners, many countries have relaxed their policies in recent years. For example, until 2012, England mandated a three-month quarantine stay before pets could be sent to their new home. Australia still requires all pets entering the country be quarantined for 10 days to ensure they are healthy and disease-free. Be sure to help your employees with pets understand what they’ll need to do to safely and quickly get their furry friend through customs.
Don’t forget about repatriating international transferees
One of the biggest perks of an international assignment is the experience. Employees not only get to bolster their resume with new responsibilities and tasks, there are a number of ancillary benefits like proving they can handle new and potentially stressful situations. Your organization might not be the only one that sees the potential in an employee who’s fresh off an international assignment.
Even before they return home, it’s important to discuss their career path within your organization. Giving the employee a clear road map of life beyond the assignment can help stave off thoughts about other potential opportunities. If you’re thinking this is primarily a concern for millennial transferees, think again.
For years, Millennials have been labeled as the worst “job hopping” offenders. However, recent data shows that is not the case. It’s not necessarily that Millennials have higher job-turnover rates, it’s that more junior workers – those in their 20s and 30s – are more likely to seek out a better position. According to the data, both Gen Xers and Baby Boomers had comparable turnover rates when they were at similar points in their careers. Regardless of your employee’s age and seniority, it’s important to invest in a strong international repatriation program for once they return.
According to FIDI, studies have shown that assignment failure can cost an employer as much as $400,000, especially when you factor in all the direct and indirect expenses. Part of avoiding a failed assignment begins with thinking through how your organization can proactively meet the needs and concerns your employees might encounter while working abroad. Let us know if your organization needs help preparing an employee for an international assignment; we’d love to help however we can with our relocation services!