International Assignments Remain on the Upswing

December 4, 2008 ( - Concerns over business costs and the weaker global economy aren't holding back international assignments, according to the results of KPMG's 2008 Global Assignment Policies and Practices Survey.

Of the 430 human resources executives surveyed by the International Executive Services (IES) practice of KPMG LLP, 83% said they expect the number of international assignees from their organizations to remain the same or increase over the next five years, according to a press release.

The survey found that companies have been using a broader range of assignment types. Short-term assignments (STAs) — assignments less than 12 months — continue to increase, with 81% of companies using this option. Commuter assignments — assignments where employees work in a different country then where they reside — were utilized by 22% of the companies surveyed.

In addition, developmental or training assignments — assignments where companies send employees on assignments to gain valuable expertise and experience — have held steady at use by 36% of companies over the last two years.

Costs and Administration

The KPMG press release said nearly half (49%) of the HR execs it surveyed said that international assignments take too much time and effort to administer, and 38% believe that assignees are overcompensated. Because of this, organizations are implementing techniques to achieve greater cost efficiency. For example, to help determine the cost of living adjustment (COLA) calculation, 31% of the organizations surveyed are now using an “efficient purchaser index” — a measurement of the ratio of the cost-of-living between the home and host locations, which assumes that an assignee is a “smart shopper” and is able to purchase goods and services more economically than the average (newly arrived) assignee, the announcement said.

While costs are a concern, just 13% of survey participants indicate that a primary goal of their international assignment program is to achieve an appropriate recovery of their costs. More than one-quarter (27%) of companies either do not estimate costs related to international assignments or only prepare cost estimates when requested.

Just four percent of respondents to KPMG's 2008 Global Assignment Policies and Practices Survey agree that they handle the repatriation process well, and only 12% offer a formal mentoring/career coaching plan for their assignees.

One-quarter of executives surveyed said they do not know if assignees have left the organization within 12 months of returning from international assignment, according to the KPMG press release. For repatriated assignees that are tracked as leaving the organization soon after returning from assignment, the overriding reason cited is the lack of an appropriate job after repatriation; however, 30% of organizations do not know why their assignees leave the organization within 12 months of returning from their assignment.

Mid-sized companies are less likely to provide repatriation counseling, internal career planning/job placement toward the end of the assignment and pre-repatriation visits to the home country, KPMG found.

The entire survey can be accessed at . Registration is required.