Are Longer Assignments Really A Good Idea?

10/14/2014

Historically, many companies believed the only option to advance a manager’s global acumen was by an extended-duration (two-to-three-year) overseas assignment.

Long-term assignments are often very expensive and sometimes not appreciated by people in the local operation or by the host government that is trying to preserve jobs for its citizens. Additionally, these two-to-three-year assignments are more logistically complex since they frequently involve the relocation of a working spouse and school age children who may require private education. Handling such complications can be disruptive to the family and a frequent distraction to the manager while he or she is on assignment.

  • Fifty percent of expatriates say they had a hard time adjusting to life in the host country
  • Forty percent of expatriates end their international assignments before the targeted completion date because of family or other difficulties
  • Around 50 percent of expatriates report they never use the skills or experience they developed through their international assignment*

Make no mistake, the longer-term (two-to-three-year) international assignments still take place, but due to cost and other complexities, many organizations want to use them less often and yet still enhance global acumen within the enterprise. As an example of the scope of the challenge, in Moscow the annual costs to the company to support an expatriate and his or her family can total $750,000.

Senior enterprise managers have recognized that without a carefully crafted and rigorous selection process, agreement to carefully defined goals, and reasonable expectations on behalf of the organization, the odds are against successful long-term expatriate assignments.

*Jassawalla & Sashittal, Sept. 2009. Jack & Stage, ASTD, T&D, Sept. 2005. Ramsey, 1999.

Ken Belanger ­