- Employers are focused on the well-being of international employees as they reassess expatriate programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a June 9 report by HR consulting firm Mercer.
- Specifically, employers with international operations are leveraging new work arrangements, changing technology and considering alternate forms of international assignments, Mercer said in a statement. This "new approach to global mobility" may include re-relocating employees who were repatriated in the short term, while realigning workforces with economic models focused on shorter supply chains and regional moves.
- Hong Kong is the most expensive city for expatriates in 2020, followed by Ashgabat, Turkmenistan; Tokyo; Zurich; and Singapore, according to Mercer data. Border closings, flight interruptions, mandatory confinements and other disruptions have impacted the costs of goods and services as well as assignees' quality of living, Ilya Bonic, career president and head of Mercer Strategy, said in the statement.
Expatriate employees are subject to myriad challenges during the pandemic. In Singapore, expatriate employees face layoffs and pay cuts, while local government efforts to provide fiscal relief may only directly impact citizens and permanent residents of the country, the South China Morning Post reported.
The situation has disrupted the mobile nature of the pre-pandemic economy, when global mobility provided an edge in the competition for talent, by some accounts. An October 2019 study by Metlife found that globally mobile employees who worked for employers that offered expatriate benefits packages were more likely than other employees to be satisfied with their jobs and committed to organizations' goals.
In the immediate rush to respond to COVID-19, some global organizations opted to standardize their transition to remote work flexibility. Google, for example, told all employees in North America, Africa and the Middle East to work from home in mid-March. The company later announced, as did competitor Facebook, that employees who could do their jobs remotely should plan to do so until 2021, The Washington Post reported.
For other companies, initial responses at international offices later informed their COVID-19 response strategies in the U.S. and elsewhere. Verizon officials previously told HR Dive that, after standing up response teams in the Asia-Pacific, Europe, Middle East and Africa areas, it used the lessons learned to create a playbook for business continuity across the organization.
As employers reformulate international strategies, travel policy — for both work-related and personal travel — has emerged as a potential compliance concern, sources previously told HR Dive. And even before the onset of the pandemic, HR consultants generally recommended that international companies develop clear communication strategies that include involvement from top executives and implementation by managers.