Global HR Hot Topic - July 2013: Structuring Expatriate Postings

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Multinationals inevitably post expatriates abroad. But in setting up expat postings, employers too often either ignore the question of how best to structure the expat assignment or else they struggle with the expat structuring issue. The reflexive or default approach to structuring expat assignments is simply to grab whatever expat assignment package got used for the last expat posting, change the names, make some tweaks and move on. (“Hey, last year we sent Carlos to Brazil — let’s use Carlos’s assignment package as a template now, for posting Susan to Paris.”) But this approach is dangerous. When posting an expatriate, focus instead on the most ideal structure for this particular assignment. (“You know, while we ‘seconded’ Carlos to our Brazilian partner last year, now we need to ‘localize’ Susan to our affiliate in Paris. So Carlos’s expat assignment package would be a dangerous model to use here. For Susan, let’s find a form for documenting an overseas ‘localization.’”)

Expatriate assignments traditionally came about when a multinational tapped an employee and assigned him to go off to work abroad for one of three reasons: to support a foreign affiliate, as a broadening assignment, or to serve as a “foreign correspondent” performing tasks overseas for the benefit of the home-country employer. But multinationals these days increasingly see these “traditional expatriate assignments” as “less effective”; multinationals are now turning to new structures like “commuter assignments, extended business travel, rotational assignments,…‘local plus’ approaches…and other alternatives.” (Eric Krell, “Easy Come, Easy Go: Weigh Alternatives to Long-Term International Expatriate Assignment,” SHRM HR Magazine, March 2013, at 59.) Further, in today’s global environment we are seeing more self-driven expats who ask to move overseas for personal reasons — think of a “trailing spouse” married to another company’s expatriate or an employee returning to his home country to nurse an ailing family member.

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