As more countries across the Asia-Pacific region loosen Covid-19 restrictions and reopen their borders, governments are ramping up efforts to attract visitors as consumer confidence in travel gradually recovers. Various studies have forecasted both leisure and corporate travel to make a steady recovery over the coming months amid significant pent up demand, as the world looks to transition to post-pandemic life.
Similarly, in the realm of global talent mobility, international moves are likewise expected to gradually regain momentum. Nevertheless, the ongoing challenges posed by the pandemic have presented a new set of complications for talent mobility teams around the world.
Markets across the world are experiencing the worst inflation in decades, prompting fears of an upcoming recession. Regional governments have begun to implement policies aimed at prioritising local workforces, leaving the stability of some expatriate positions unsettled. At the same time, major shifts in employee priorities have presented new considerations around talent retention, particularly for companies looking to kick start overseas assignments once again.
In the face of these challenges, how then may employers better prepare themselves for the challenges of cross-border mobility and talent retention in our gradually reopening world?
Managing macroeconomic challenges through regular compensation package reviews
While global travel continues to pick up around the world, it remains hard to say if we are truly on the path towards an economic recovery. Headlines in recent times have largely been dominated by warnings of rising inflation rates driven by supply chain imbalances, which have threatened to set the global financial market into a major recession. This has been corroborated by ECA International’s latest Cost of Living research, which saw a global year-on-year median rate of inflation of 5.8%, up from 1% a year ago. This has driven up the cost of living for expatriates around the world, particularly across factors like rental costs, utilities, and petrol.
To combat this, companies can look to incorporate wage adjustments and policies aimed at mitigating the impact of inflation and exchange rate fluctuations, which would work to protect their employees’ purchasing power in the current economic climate. This is particularly crucial at present, given how inflation rates in many countries are at levels that many have never experienced, and countries like Singapore are adopting exchange rate policies to curb inflation.
As inflation and exchange rate movements can directly impact both the real and perceived value of compensation packages for staff working outside of their home countries, companies should set in place clear and consistent policies that allow for fair and timely reviews of their staff’s compensation packages as needed, which will help to account for further bumps along the road ahead.
Balancing the needs of a foreign and local workforce
Unemployment has remained a contentious topic since the beginning of the pandemic, with millions of people across the region losing their jobs following the initial economic fallout in 2020. Consequently, governments have been facing mounting pressure to protect the jobs and livelihoods of local employees, and resultant policies have inevitably presented unwanted complications for global mobility teams. For instance, expatriates working in Singapore will need to meet a minimum score under a revamped points system to qualify for a visa from September 2023 onwards. Their minimum salary threshold has also been increased, making it more costly for multinational companies to deploy staff to the country.
While such measures are typically relaxed as economies return to health, companies looking to work around them in the meantime must look to balance their need for foreign talent with those of a recovering local workforce.
One way to achieve this is by promoting an organisational structure where foreign talent complements and enhances the local manpower, rather than competes with it. For instance, foreign workers can play a role in companies’ talent development programmes by training local employees on skills and knowledge which may be lacking. Knowledge sharing also creates opportunities for cross-cultural collaboration, heightening employee productivity in the long run, while simultaneously promoting healthy working relationships that will ultimately benefit the company’s morale and culture.
Supporting renewed employee priorities in an increasingly unpredictable world
The pandemic has changed the relationship that many of us have with our work. Employees today have begun to prioritise factors such as their health, well-being, and time with family above conventional job benefits, and this is no different for expatriates. On the contrary, to help alleviate the additional stress that can arise from being in a foreign environment, employers should look to revisit their benefit plans and recalibrate their overseas operations in a manner that can best support their expatriate employees in today’s unpredictable world.
While the physical health concerns posed by COVID-19 have undoubtedly taken centre stage over the last two years, mental health and wellbeing have also emerged as key priorities of employees, with many even considering them the top challenge stemming from the pandemic.
Around the world, government-mandated lockdowns had driven many to involuntary isolation for extended periods of time, resulting in increased feelings of loneliness and depression. For expatriates who have been away from their families and friends for an extended period, this has only increased the pull of homesickness. The consequences of this have manifested in an exodus of foreign workers from long-standing expatriate hubs, particularly across cities in China and Hong Kong, which are maintaining strict lockdown and travel restrictions.
In times like these, an expatriate’s need for their company’s support has perhaps never been greater, and talent mobility teams must rise to meet this challenge. From providing access to mental health resources and programmes to conducting regular employee check-ins, the focus should be on ensuring that staff feel seen, heard, and remembered.
The rise of flexible remote working arrangements has also allowed for staff in certain roles to carry out their duties from locations around the world. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that employees will be able to carry out all their duties from their home countries, it does open up the possibilities of having them relocate to nearby countries (such as from Hong Kong to Singapore) on a temporary basis to wait out restrictions, or being deployed on a long-term basis to a reopened regional hub. In addition to offering employees more freedom of movement, this will also allow them to leverage regional support and resources while managing multiple markets from a single location.
With cross-border mobility becoming ever more complex amid the myriad of macroeconomic issues, tightening foreign manpower measures, and concerns around employee wellbeing, today’s talent mobility teams are facing more challenges than ever as they look to get their staff back overseas into a gradually reopening world. While it remains to be seen how the pandemic will continue to play out in the coming months, it is crucial for companies to bear in mind that the needs of their expatriate staff will remain ever-evolving amidst the highly uncertain and volatile situation. Conscious effort and flexible policies should be put in place to help employees feel supported and looked out for, so that together, all parties can look to emerge on the other side stronger.