30 April 2018

3 Ways the Modern Assignee is Changing Beyond All Recognition

Global Mobility / Globalization
modern assignee



How have your colleagues and workplace changed in the past 10 or 20 years? The rate of technology growth doubles every two years according to Moore’s law. This could also be applied to the rate of change in an employee’s attitudes, approaches, and work styles. The world of Global Mobility is not immune with the modern assignee equally unrecognizable to the expats of some 10-20 years ago.

So, what is bringing about this change in the modern assignee? It can all be summarized as follows:

  1. Career expectations
  2. Knowledge
  3. Roles

Career expectations

In 1998, one of the most common points of discussion during a job interview was whether a candidate showed disloyalty or instability by having too many job changes.

Although the concept of a “job for life” was still mythical, most people expected to only have two or maybe three employers in a lifetime. A sideways move outside the company was definitely a sign of a disruptive employee.

In global mobility terms, the majority of moves were long-term, at least three years. It was possible to become a “career expat” moving from one country to another without ever coming home. More importantly, expats expected to have a significant financial benefit from the lifestyle.

Why Global Mobility Needs to Help Shape an Organization's Talent
Why Global Mobility Needs to Help Shape an Organization's Talent

This kind of expat is now as extinct as the dinosaurs.

In 2018, we are much more comfortable changing jobs every couple of years or less. In fact, it shows flexibility and that we are not institutionalized. Interviewers often consider the breadth of experience a distinct advantage, and some people look for a sideways move to increase their employability.

This flexibility is reflected in global mobility policies. Despite every survey reporting that the number of assignments continues to grow, the duration of the average assignment is much shorter. Not only do we have six-week assignments, or three-month assignments, Global Mobility is dealing with “short-term business visitors” – in effect a two-day assignment.

The advances in connectivity are not just digital – the cost of international travel has changed the way we do international business completely.


In 1998, finding out information involved going to a specialist library and requesting a whole load of books and articles in the hope that one of them had something relevant. If you were lucky, you could convince your manager to hire a researcher for you. The process could take weeks.

The best way to transfer documents was by fax, albeit not cheap. Most official documentation was still done in hard copy, possibly delivered in person. It was still not possible to call every country directly by phone.

The 21st Century so far has been the century of Google. If you want to see the temperature in any city in the world or know what’s going on you can just google it and get instant answers.

In employment terms, you can compare your package to that of employees in a similar role in a different company or country; you can find out the cost of living, link up with other expat groups – all on the way home from work.

Arguably we have too much information, but the nature of work is unrecognizable to a 20th-century office worker. The modern assignee can access all kinds of data on their host country and research conditions without any effort.

More importantly, we expect everything to be online. Questionnaires, forms, resources all need to be done digitally, accessible 24/7 and we want to be able to get support when it’s convenient to us – at the weekend, late in the evening – whenever.


An assignee in 1998 was a senior leader. Someone who was there as much to bring the corporate orthodoxy to a distant office as to have a technical role. They were people managers and firefighters, whose authority was huge, giving them a wide remit. Sometimes expats were sent to impose new processes, to train up new teams, and then manage them.

While these roles still exist in 2018, the range of additional assignment types and assignment functions are almost endless.

More frequently, modern assignees go to another experience for their own developmental benefit. They go as technical experts and even when they are introducing new processes, often they are learning from the implementation and taking lessons back to the wider organization.

Building local capacity is a priority – and not just a one-off, but a sustainable talent base.

How should Global Mobility react to the Modern Assignee?

These trends are only going to continue. As Global Mobility attempts to standardize policies, and suppliers rationalize offerings, the modern assignee is going to be pulling in a different direction. He/she will demand flexibility.

Career expectations

There needs to be more transparency about expectations after the assignment. How does this fit into the longer corporate strategy and the individual’s development?

There needs to be a longer-term view – the retention plan or the succession plan – even the best repatriation approach may not keep the assignee in the company.


If it’s not online or digital, it doesn’t exist! The modern assignee needs to have data accessible on their phones and tablets in any country in the world.

Global Mobility professionals need to be able to access and report data in real time and in a variety of formats. Country and cultural information need to be up to the minute relevant, not last month.

Further reading


Global Mobility teams need to be much more closely aligned with talent at a strategic level to ensure the right person with the right skills is sent. Taking a strategic approach will minimize the impact of assignees who are looking to increase their experience with a change of company or role after the assignment.

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that change in the 21st century is all about Millennials. Of course, they have a large impact on the workforce, but the digital revolution has changed the expectations of all workers across the globe.

Global Mobility in the past was a reactive function, responding to demands. In 2018, it is time to become proactive, showing the business value of an agile, flexible and digital Global Mobility function that can support the modern assignee.

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