Global talent on the move: Key mobility trends to watch out for

Published 28 June 2018

This year is deemed by many to have both strong economic growth and geopolitical uncertainty, affecting businesses globally.

Talent has arguably never been more globally mobile than it is today. A continuation of rapid evolution for the industry is anticipated. Global mobility is becoming an increasingly mature, strategic area that aligns more than ever before with global business and people strategies.

Cross-Border move from mainland China to Hong Kong

Despite being one of the most expensive cities in the world for expats, Hong Kong has always been a key hub for global organisations, who needs to bring talent from all around the world to the city. More specifically, we have seen a recent upward trend of cross-border moves from mainland China to Hong Kong, which is happening in companies from entry level jobs to senior and executive roles.

This fascinating dynamic is largely caused by more Greater China business hubs being established in Hong Kong, as it is a relatively less complicated market for international business to access. Whether it is international firms entering the region or Chinese companies hoping to go global, both are looking to hire Chinese people who can fluently speak in Mandarin and English to run their Greater China operations, thereby explaining the influx of mainland Chinese in Hong Kong’s workforce.

In comparison, the trend of cross-border moves from Hong Kong to the mainland is not as prominent. Companies that are able to set up entities or engage in a successful joint venture in the mainland will often look to bring in international talents with specific skill sets, which can be replaced with mainland Chinese talents in the long term, therefore lessening the demand for Hong Kong talent to cross the border for work.

International businesses want to build robust strategies for mainland China. To build a successful business plan for the region, companies must hire people with country-specific knowledge. As a result, senior-level roles are beginning to be filled with mainland Chinese talent who can demonstrate deep experience in the Chinese market. This is very different from, where in the past, mainland Chinese talent were brought over much more at a junior level because of cost efficiencies.

Embracing diversity and inclusion

With this recent development in mind, it is most probable that other countries and cities in Asia are either experiencing the same mobility trend, or are likely to soon follow suit. Adding to this global trend, companies everywhere are now embracing diversity and inclusion (D&I) in their hiring practices and talent strategies. Organisations with strong D&I cultures are putting more emphasis on diversity in mobility, and are predicted to expand eligibility and flexibility in policies to meet diversity goals, such as making split-family policies more robust to supporting same-sex couples. To minimize the barrier to assignments, we have also seen the expansion of assignment eligibility to include the parents of employees as recognition that the definition of “family” varies across the employee population. This is particularly true in some Asian cultures.

Dual-career couples, which are commonly seen in Hong Kong, are increasingly the norm globally. Due to an upsurge of women in senior roles, males are accompanying their partners on international assignments more than in the past. As a result, businesses need to review support programs historically in place for female accompanying partners and creatively design new solutions such as offering local job opportunities and diverse peer-networking communities tailored for males.

Millennials as globetrotting employees

Millennials are also found to be hungrier for international experiences. Low-cost adventure moves are becoming more popular, and more than half (52%) of companies now have employee-initiated move policies. More and more employers are now also using ‘core-flex’ policies, creatively approaching the development of business-aligned policies and offering alternatives to traditional relocation support, such as household goods shipments for long-term assignments, in order to strike a balance between cost savings and employee satisfaction.

Another key trend to watch is the proliferation of online marketplace travel options such as Airbnb, Uber, or Kayak. While companies typically require employees to use corporate systems for travel and relocation, DIY travel is on the rise and millennials may be more likely to view these online options as attractive or lower-cost options. As a result, employers now need to update their mobility policy and employee communications to mitigate risks associated with unregulated choices.

Emphasis on mobility ROI

A company’s return on investment (ROI) is like the Holy Grail of mobility management – everyone knows about it and wants to find a way to achieve it, but no one does so successfully.

Although ROI is traditionally defined as a financial benefit, in the case of mobility and bringing in talent from overseas, the returns are not purely financial. Among the situations regarding mobility that need to be addressed and considered are employee retention, development and leadership ability; employee satisfaction in terms of mobility assistance received, for example, or fast mobilization timeframes, minimal time out of the office during relocation process; or the employee’s enhanced skills, international savvy and expertise, resulting in higher performing employee and a more productive global company. Even though it may be obvious when a company is getting it right, the benefits are impossible to measure as they are intangible and unquantifiable – which is probably why mobility teams feel defeated from the start. Nevertheless, achieving these goals are significant for success in mobility.

Often, mobility teams do not have much time to devote time and effort for in depth studies to achieve results. Furthermore, there are also a lot of other factors at play. If the company lacks the right technology in place to capture, for example, attrition data, mobility then has to liaise with HR in order to set up the right tracking processes. They may need to develop closer ties with talent management or L&D team regarding leadership pipelines and promotions. They may need to talk to various leadership teams to understand if mobility is resulting in a beneficial cultural shift within the company. To achieve results, the answers lie in completely new, cross-cultural interactions.

It is important to reflect on world events and shifts that influence the business environment, and how employees, employers and tools will change to meet new and evolving challenges. With CWM’s annual Global Mobility Trends report, we’re committed to inspiring innovative thinking and creative solutions in the global mobility industry and to other businesses that benefit from global talent and people strategies.

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