Stephanie Phizackerley: Top tips for managing a global workforce

A mobile workforce is a cornerstone of any global business’s development and success.

If you read nothing else, read this…

  • Mobile employees are typically managed by specialist teams.
  • Planning, communications and effective processes are key to successful mobility management.
  • Employers that fail to track global compensation data accurately can face penalties for payroll non-compliance.

Employers must be able to place the right staff in the right location, at the right time and at the right cost. Global appointments may be due to a specific business need, moving an employee or function into a new country, or focused on giving a future business leader appropriate international experience.

Large global organisations that are most successful in managing global mobility generally have a workforce that welcomes overseas moves, recognising these opportunities as highly beneficial to both the employee and the business.

Mobility is typically managed by specialist teams, which may be located in key hubs around the world, using integrated global policies and processes, enabled by technology.

These global mobility teams partner closely with their external providers to ensure their activities are closely aligned to the needs of the business and of assignees. They are also responsible for ensuring that business satisfaction and the return on investment in global moves are high, that moves are tracked, policies benchmarked and kept fit for purpose, costs are well managed, management information is relevant and timely, and compliance with tax and immigration regulations is controlled.

Smaller employers will typically have less in-house resource, but can develop specialists and partner an adviser or provider to deliver world-class mobility management.

Key considerations

Planning, communications and effective processes are the keys to successful mobility management, recognising that it involves multiple complex considerations apart from the physical move itself.

Cost projections will help employers ensure effective budgetary control and flexible, up-to-date policies that recognise the changing needs of the business and the expectations of the modern workforce are also important. These may include international local hires, employment under the local country’s terms, rotations between home and the host country, and even commuter policies.

But global moves are time-sensitive. Businesses must anticipate the time needed to comply with ever-changing visa and immigration procedures to ensure employees’ smooth passage through host countries’ immigration.

Home and host tax and social security matters should be considered upfront, and assignment costs should be properly accrued and tracked, to minimise costs and avoid unplanned expense, which can sometimes materialise long after an assignment has ended.

Staff issues

Employers must also address the staff issues surrounding a global move. Proper discussions should be held with employees to manage their expectations, including the impact on their family. Ongoing career mentoring and management of staff while overseas must also be considered. 

EY’s Global mobility effectiveness survey 2013, Your talent in motion, published in October 2013, shows that 65% of failed assignments or early repatriations are due to employees’ personal or family issues, and that 16% of globally mobile staff leave within two years of repatriation. Given the high costs involved in global mobility, these figures reveal a significant wasted investment.

Organisations such as the International Dual Career Network, formed to facilitate the careers of trailing spouses, are one way of meeting this challenge.

Common mistakes

The growing phenomenon of ’accidental expatriates’, business travellers who unknowingly create a tax liability or visa or work permit requirements, can no longer be ignored. These employees need to be tracked and managed.

EY’s survey showed that 64% of employers incurred avoidable penalties relating to global non-compliance during 2013, so this needs to remain a key focus.

Employers must accurately track global compensation data from all sources, because failure in complete or timely reporting can lead to additional costs or penalties for payroll non-compliance, and cause damage to brand and reputation.

Some employers use expatriate assignments inappropriately, or stick with outdated policies. This can lead to excessive policy exceptions, escalating costs and or dissatisfaction for employees and the business.

Competitive advantage

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World-class management of a global workforce can support an organisation’s growth and add significant value to the business, but it involves complex processes. Managing these is a considerable challenge, but employers that succeed in doing so will have a real competitive advantage.

Stephanie Phizackerley is a human capital partner at EY