Mobility’s 10-Year Journey

A PricewaterhouseCoopers study, the 2012 Survey of Global Mobility Policies, recently confirmed a trend experts have long been telling us: Global companies have been replacing longer-term assignments with non-traditional workforce mobility programs, such as commuter and short-term assignments.Perhaps even to a greater extent than some previously might have thought.

The PwC report (exploring developments over the past 10 years and echoing some of the findings of a Cartus study I reported on earlier this year) also found that these programs tend to be much broader in reach, affecting more than 10 percent of employees, compared to traditional short- and long-term programs that impact only 1 percent.

Often, companies will launch an HR program and then forget about it. But for one of every two respondents in this PwC study, that hasn’t been the case for mobility.  Exactly 50 percent reported they’re focused on refining their policies. (Of course, the word focused is open to interpretation.)

No doubt cost is a key driver here. “Two or three years ago, there was huge pressure to take out costs,” says William Sheridan, vice president at the National Foreign Trade Council in New York. Because of this, he adds, employers have paid a lot closer attention to selecting the right people to send and the length of their assignments.

I suspect this greater scrutiny is also behind some of the study’s other findings:

  • Forty-six percent offered permanent transfer policies, compared with 29 percent in 2002;
  • Thirty-seven percent had localization policies, compared with 20 percent in 2002
  • Twenty-one percent offered commuter policies, compared with 8 percent in 2002; and
  • Seventy-one percent had extended business travel policies, compared with 30 percent in 2002.

At the end of the day, says PwC Principal Eileen Mullaney, it’s all about choice. Choice for both the employer and the employee. “Mobility packages,” she says, “should offer multiple options so business leaders as well as the employees can choose what works best for their specific situations or interests.”

In the coming years, that advice could certainly prove useful for those expanding into growing markets facing talent shortages. As examples, Sheridan points to the energy sector in Africa. Or perhaps slightly a bit closer to home (for me, that is): remote areas like North Dakota, where energy exploration is booming today.