31% of multinationals plan to send staff on overseas assignments next year, survey finds

Employers now offer enhanced well-being benefits and the option to work from anywhere, according to Willis Towers Watson

Seventy-four per cent of overseas employee assignments next year are expected to last between one and five years, according to Willis Towers Watson. Photo: AP
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About 31 per cent of multinational companies are willing to send their employees on international assignments in 2022 while only 15 per cent plan to reduce such trips, signalling a gradual return to normality for businesses, according to a new survey.

Seventy-four per cent of those overseas assignments are expected to last between one and five years, with only 9 per cent set to be for shorter terms, between six and 12 months, the survey by global advisory firm Willis Towers Watson, which polled 107 multinationals in 15 countries in July this year, showed.

“Big businesses have found it an immense challenge to move their workforce around during the pandemic, but as conditions improve they are rediscovering the importance of keeping their talent globally mobile,” said Steve Clements, head of integrated and global solutions in the Middle East, Willis Towers Watson.

As confidence returns, companies are now more willing to move staff overseas for longer placements
Steve Clements, Willis Towers Watson

“As confidence returns, companies are now more willing to move staff overseas for longer placements, which is a positive sign for the UAE labour market and the broader economy.”

Cost of living is a major factor that companies have to consider when negotiating salary packages for employees being transferred to other countries, according to global consultancy Mercer, which released its global Cost of Living survey in June.

Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, Hong Kong and Beirut are the three most expensive cities in the world for overseas workers in 2021, the survey found.

The cost of living in Dubai and Abu Dhabi fell owing to the diversification of the UAE’s economy, Mercer said. Dubai was ranked 42nd in the Mercer survey, down from 23rd place last year, while Abu Dhabi fell from 39th place to 56th, making the cities more attractive to expats.

Recent government initiatives such as remote working visas and the expansion of the 10-year golden visa programme have encouraged foreign professionals to settle in the UAE.

“The UAE’s recent visa changes means it also stands to gain from those companies freeing their staff to work anywhere in the region or the world, though employers need to be wary of tax and legal implications,” Mr Clements said.

Half of the respondents to the Willis Towers Watson survey are rethinking their global mobility strategy, with one in five offering employees the opportunity to “work from anywhere”, the research found.

Flexible perks and incentives are increasingly commonplace in workplaces globally as companies adapt to changing dynamics after nearly two years since the onset of the pandemic. Employees are increasingly insisting on flexible hours, enhanced benefits and better treatment.

About 42 per cent of remote workers said if their company does not continue to offer options to work from home in the long term, they will look for a job that does, according to a March 2021 survey by financial services company Prudential.

Multinationals are also offering enhanced telehealth services and employee assistance programmes (EAPs) to their staff based overseas after the pandemic, the Willis Towers Watson survey revealed.

Seventy one per cent of companies now offer EAPs to their internationally mobile employees, up from 53 per cent in 2019. Additionally, 44 per cent expanded their well-being benefits this year, up from 30 per cent in 2019, the research found.

“Employers have become more focused on giving their expat staff and business travellers an expanded level of coverage and support,” Mr Clements said.

“In the early days of the pandemic, many employees were stranded in countries that were not their normal base, and so telehealth and mental well-being services went from being nice-to-haves to essential. Those benefits are here to stay and will continue to evolve.”

Global business travel is expected to reach two-thirds of pre-pandemic levels by the end of next year, with the revival led by Asia and the Middle East, the World Travel & Tourism Council said in a report in collaboration with McKinsey last month.

Updated: December 22, 2021, 3:30 AM