Expats are becoming more demanding of their employers

A recent survey by Cigna and National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) has shown that expats are proving to be harder to satisfy and that this is causing a drop in employers’ return on investment in them.

The Expatriate Trends Study was originally run in 2001 and comparing the results has shown some interesting trends.

  1. Today’s expat is older with only 17% of respondents being aged 25 to 34 in comparison to 35% in 2001.
  2. Shorter assignments seem to be more popular with the number of year long or shorter postings doubling since 2001.
  3. In 2001 8% of expats left their spouse or partner at home, this has risen to 23% in 2013.
  4. 44% of expats have already done 1 to 3 assignments with 50% stating that they’re likely to take further assignments in the future.

In general it seems that employers are providing good resources to their employees when it comes to general relocation services, settling in services and medical preparedness. However 59% of respondents stated they were unaware of the employer’s repatriation assistance and felt a lack of interest once their assignment had ended.

The access of family members to health care was of highest importance with 78% of respondents stating that a family member had accessed medical care whilst on assignment. Younger expatriates were considerably less informed about what could or couldn’t be claimed for with a large number of expats only accessing medical care when back home rather than locally.

Whilst it’s often thought that the most difficult countries to move to can be one of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China or South Africa) the survey also shows other parts of the world can be equally difficult.

Middle East

There seems to be a high degree of dissatisfaction from expatriates with higher importance ratings regarding several components (including services provided by employers, such as cultural training and health benefits)

Sub-Saharan Africa

In addition to South Africa, there are a number of other countries in the lower half of Africa where medical preparedness is a great concern and the need for school assistance is more critical

North America

The complexities of a number of issues (ease of finding a doctor, language issues, knowledge of the health care system, understanding of financial and tax consequences) have led to much lower satisfaction scores than other regions – especially in the United States – which remains the most frequent country for expatriate assignments.

These differences have shown that customising the expat contract by country is very important with respondents noting the following different priorities between different locations:

  • Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa – Medical preparedness tops the list
  • North and South America – Consultation regarding financial and tax consequences ranks much higher in importance in these regions
  • Central America and Sub-Saharan Africa – Assistance with schools is more critical
  • Asia and Middle East – Cross-cultural training ranks slightly higher

It seems that HR departments still have a lot of catching-up to do when it comes to keeping expats both happy and informed about their postings, among the concerns raised were the following examples:

  1. A lack of understanding – expatriates state that many HR personal have never lived abroad therefore don’t fully understand the challenges they might be facing.
  2. There is often a lack of clear information about the relocation process.
  3. Accommodation differences between markets lead to vastly different expectation of what will be available and affordable.
  4. Response times to questions can be slow which can be especially frustrating when it comes to sorting out work permits.

Sheldon Kenton, Senior Vice President for Global Employer Sales at Cigna stated ‘While many industry surveys illustrate the job employers feel they’ve been doing to prepare and support their corporate expats, little has been heard from the expats themselves in the last decade. This survey allows us to examine disconnects between employees and employers – and sheds light on how to better support the globally mobile workforce, and in turn, the companies who appreciate their valued assets around the world’.