Global assignments take a lot of planning

Oct 10 2007 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Instant communications may have made the world feel like a global village, but managers need to think long and hard about the ramifications of posting their best and brightest talent overseas if they don't want to end up losing them at a later date.

Passport, tickets, the number of the embassy Ė sending a high-flying member of your team overseas used to be easy. But the growth of new, far-flung destinations as business hubs and heightened unrest around the world has made the global assignment a much more challenging prospect.

According to HR News, the publication of the Society for Human Resource Management in the U.S, the need to carry out extensive due diligence before waving an employee off at the airport is becoming increasingly important., yet most employers fall at the first hurdle.

More than half of internationally assigned workers do not think their employers do a good job of communicating about what to do in a safety or security crisis, an SHRM conference in Arlington, Virginia has heard

Workers had the same complaint when it came to finding quality health care locally and many said they were never told what to do or who to contact in a medical emergency.

Clear communication was therefore crucial for preparing globally mobile employees for their assignments, said Allen Koski, director of international sales for CIGNA International Expatriate Benefits.

Employees needed to know how to deal with various "what if" scenarios, including what to do if they needed medical advice or found themselves in an urgent or emergency care situation, he stressed.

It was also a good idea to have plans in place and communicate those plans openly, thoroughly and often.

The sort of far-flung destinations attracting business travellers were changing, Koski pointed out.

Libya, once an international pariah, was now a growing destination for oil companies, for instance.

And the Czech Republic was now a hot destination for consulting firms while China was an increasingly important market for the tobacco industry.

Heightened unrest around the world was another factor making it imperative that employers conduct extensive due diligence before sending employees off on overseas assignments, said Koski.

"It's almost like a perfect storm of issues that have come together," he told delegates.

For example, the fact Beijing has poor air quality was something a global employee assigned there would want to know Ė particularly if he or she was likely to be accompanied by an asthmatic child.

HR's role, Koski said, was to help the employer understand the implications and special needs of employees travelling to or assigned overseas and to help the employer find solutions.

The employer's duty of care now covered a myriad of issues, ranging from counselling global employees to wear brown shoes as a way to appear more European and less of a target to advising those with medical needs to have a copy of their prescription or making sure their health needs could be met in the assignment area.

Other common considerations included the need to understand local medical practices.

For instance, getting a second medical opinion was not a worldwide practice and could be frowned on in some parts of the world.

Similarly, it was important to recognise that medical standards varied within a country.

In developing countries, the best medical care usually was concentrated in the capital or a major city.

Employees also needed clear guidance on the challenges of driving in a new environment, including signage, directions, language issues and traffic patterns, such as driving on the left versus the right side of the road.

It was a similar issue around water consumption, including whether it was safe to put ice to your drink or to brush your teeth using tap water.

Other common issues to watch out for included simply knowing the employee's itinerary, providing them with a local contact number for the area they are travelling to and recognising that 1-800 numbers for health providers won't help employees outside the U.S.

Having a procedure to follow in the event of a natural disaster, war, terrorist act, medical emergency or epidemic was also a good idea, said Koski.