Benefits vital as international assignments double

The number of employees on international assignments has doubled over the last three years as part of the continuing trends towards globalisation, forcing employers to rethink their benefits provision.

Mercer’s 2008/2009 Benefits Survey for Expatriates and Globally Mobile Employees found that 47% of firms have increased deployment of staff on traditional expatriate assignments, and 38% had increased numbers of staff on ‘nomadic’ assignments.

It found that the growing expatriate culture has led 86% of respondents to consider their benefits package for expatriate staff as a medium or high business priority, with only 26% of organisations admitting to having no overarching policy for providing expatriate benefits.

Robert Lockley, principal in Mercer’s international business, said: “Establishing an international policy is essential to stay competitive, maintain geographical consistency and control costs. Even against a backdrop of economic uncertainty there is still competition for the best talent. Companies that are lax in this area will loose out.”

In terms of benefits on offer, the majority (68%) of companies surveyed keep their expatriates in host or home country retirement schemes. However, 32 percent of companies offer international retirement plans – an increase from 23 percent in 2005. Close to three-quarters (73 percent) of companies with an international plan restrict eligibility to certain expatriates who cannot be kept in the home or host plan.

The survey found that although most firms offer medical benefits for expatriates via international or home or host country plans (98%), more than 80% do not consider local security provision when providing this.

Success factors for their expatriate benefits scheme, include supporting the company’s business and HR strategies (63%). Being valued by employees and remaining cost effective were also deemed important factors (both 59 %).
However, nearly two thirds of companies (64%) have no specific procedures in place to measure the success of their expatriate benefit programmes.

Lockley said: “Creating and maintaining benefit plans for expatriates is an expensive and complicated endeavour. By failing to assess the value of these programmes to the company or the employees themselves, many organisations miss the opportunity to improve their benefit offering and sharpen their competitive edge.”