AGS Worldwide Movers

Why you shouldn’t tailor your international assignment policies to suit the Millennials in your workforce

Millennials: we know so much about them, don’t we?
They’re tech savvy, they want opportunities to travel and they’re young, free, and single.

Posted in: Corporate News
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Published Date: 16 September 2022


Millennials in the workforce

At the top of their list of priorities is working for an employer with a strong employer brand that offers them experiences, a great work-life balance, and job satisfaction. The ideal international assignee, they’re eager to travel and they’re used to it. After all, they grew up in the first generation where holidaying abroad was the norm, and they studied at universities abroad. In fact, they’re so keen to gain international experiences, that the experience is more important to them than the financial reward.

 

heather hughes hr mobility consultant at ags relocation
Heather Hughes
HR mobility manager at AGS Relocation

By now, the stereotypes may be making you feel uncomfortable, and rightly so. These stereotypes may well be true for many of the Millennial generation (also known as Gen Y, born between 1980 and the mid-1990s), “but,” asks Heather Hughes HR mobility manager at AGS Relocation, “are they really untrue for other generations?” Can we presume to apply yet more stereotypes – that Gen X (born between 1965 and 1980) won’t go on assignment because the kids are at school, that Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) won’t go because they’re no longer searching for adventure, and that Gen Z (or Post-Millennials, born between the late 1990s and 2010) will probably go for small reward for the same reasons as their Millennial colleagues?

 

The danger of bias

Employees are individuals, not members of a generation. They each have their own challenges, careers, and personal and family situations. Adapting a policy to suit the generation of Millennials that make up around half of the global workforce may seem like the right thing to do. But Heather cautions, “Generalisation and bias, be it conscious or unconscious, will inevitably shape the policy decisions that GM leaders make. Older or younger employees may feel that their organisation’s global mobility policies are not designed with them in mind, leading talented, willing employees to ‘de-select’ themselves because the support on offer is not designed with the needs of their generation in mind.”

 

Flexibility is the answer

So how can employers ensure that their international assignment policy supports all their potential GM candidates while staying within budget and getting the right employees to the right place at the right time?

It’s simple really; offer true flexibility. Flexibility that is so much more than what has become synonymous in the world of GM with cost cutting, offering a cash lump sum and a list of shipping and relocation companies. A truly flexible support programme can be meaningful to the multiple generations and the diverse groups that make up the workforce of any multinational organisation today.

 

What does flexibility look like?

When introducing flexibility into your GM programme, Heather says there are some things to consider:

    • It’s not just Millennials who want to travel.
      Companies have spent a lot of time creating ‘developmental’ assignment packages that satisfy the appetite of Millennials to gain international experience. But these packages are structured to exclude more senior employees. Who says that Gen X employees or Baby Boomers don’t want to move abroad for the experience too? They may be single, or their dependents may have left home, and allowing employees to self-initiate assignments isn’t necessarily bad for business, even if employee objectives and employer objectives aren’t necessarily aligned, especially in terms of location. It can be a powerful recruitment and retention tool that enhances your organisation’s Employee Value Proposition (EVP), and it doesn’t have to be costly.

 

    • Re-define the family.
      It is common for a long-term expatriate assignment policy to provide housing, cost of living allowances and education allowances for a Gen X couple and their two children. Yet the same international assignment policy may well exclude a Baby Boomer single employee from relocating with an elderly parent or may not provide support to Millennials with unmarried partners or same sex couples, particularly if they have not been together for what the company decides is ‘long enough’. Surely the ultimate goal is to relocate happy employees within a defined budget, and restrictive policies based on societal norms and traditional expat patterns can prevent this.

 

    • The trailing spouse is a thing of the past.
      When budgets are tight, spousal support is often the first thing to be cut. If we allow the stereotypes and bias to creep in, we might think that that a Millennial spouse will be so excited to travel they will sort themselves out with work, while the spouse of a Gen X will be staying at home with the kids while their partner is at work. Such inbuilt biases and assumptions can be deeply damaging for both potential assignees and their organisations, and a strong spousal support programme is often the key to assignment success. Family support can also take on other forms, and an employee moving as a single parent with children will be looking for a different type of support such as enhanced childcare.

 

    • Avoid deciding on behalf of the employee what’s important to them.
      Many policies on the one hand provide extravagant support for senior level, Gen X assignees with families. Yet the same policies exclude single Millennials from taking their dog on assignment because pet transportation is just ‘too expensive’. For many employees, a pet is family, and the cost can be managed within a flexible policy.

: Flexibility in the world of global mobility

Of course, these are just a few examples of flexibility that can be introduced. “Ultimately, what you should be aiming for is a strong mobility offering that is open to employees at all stages of their career because it’s good for employees and it’s good for business,” Heather advises “It enhances your Employer Brand and your EVP, improves talent attraction and retention rates, and provides employees with fulfilling career opportunities.”

GM programme designers have traditionally focussed on stereotypical ideas about the generations in the workforce, and have created low-cost policies which focus in particular, on Millennials who make up the largest proportion of today’s workforce. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that you know what your employees want; instead, ask them what matters to them, and design policies around their needs.

By offering true flexibility in GM policy support, organisations can make it clear that assignment opportunities are open to employees of all ages and generations within their workforce. By allowing employees to choose the support that meets their needs, costs can be managed, and employers can create a diverse international assignee workforce with a culture where employees feel truly valued.

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