20 Jun Assignees’ Age Can Be Issue Depending on Relocating Country
“What is the right age to recruit someone or send them for an international assignment?” If you ask that question in the United States, you’ll get into heaps of trouble. For global mobility managers, that’s the question they have been asking themselves. Age, when it comes to professional competence and corporate inclusion, is an issue that is acquiring the sensitivity of gender and gender orientation, for example.
Employers and global mobility managers do not want to discriminate against an assignee because of their age. Nor do they want to be perceived as discriminatory, for obvious legal and ethical reasons.
However, the issue of age cannot supposedly be avoided in Asia because of very practical concerns. For example, if the company is about to establish linkages with an Asian partner that values hierarchy and the elderly, a more pragmatic approach would be to send as the liaison a 50-something experienced expatriate rather than an enthusiastic but young twentysomething millennial.
On the other hand, if the expatriate assignment entails a trek through thick forests and high mountains as part of the cultural immersion, would it not make more sense to send the same healthy millennial with a clean bill of health, instead of their more mature colleague who is beginning to wrestle with cardiovascular problems?
As Sta. Fe Relocation points out, “For this reason, it has become more important to understand the impact of age on Global Mobility and if there is a right or most appropriate time in the life of an employee for different types of assignments.”.
From another perspective, it might be advisable for global mobility managers to see the aspect of age, not as a challenge to be hurdled, but as a strength that can be tapped. Each generation has its own respective strengths, and yes, weaknesses. Each has star players and renegades who break traditional boundaries and exceed expectations.
Going back to the example above, in the case of the tradition-loving Asian company, a young Asian-American expatriate who is properly deferential and shows visible respect for their shared cultural roots might be able to lower the older executives’ defenses and make a headway in a way that a senior executive might not. On the other hand, there have been cases of middle-aged but physically active expatriates who can outrun, outswim, outhike, outclimb and outwork their younger colleagues.
Assessing the assignees according to age would require having a clear picture of the three prevailing generations of talents in the workforce today: baby boomers, Generation X, and the millennials.
Baby boomers are the current crop of more mature talents who were born from the ages of 1946 to 1964, says Investopedia. Aged 54 to 72, they still compose 20 percent of the American public. While many of them have retired, a lot more are still creating a “second life” by learning new skills and putting up their own businesses.
One key to understanding baby boomers is that they have been called as the frontrunners of the “longevity economy.” If today’s generation have to be agile and adapt to the changing times, baby boomers work and live with the future in mind. They have been trained to build things that last. Their attention span is probably the longest of all three generations, and they can look past cursory information and surface behavior to dig deep and get to the heat of the issue.
Baby boomers can be an asset in the field because they are innately hard-working and do not stop until the work is done. They also tend to become loyal and identify with the company’s success. As the IESE Business School describes it, they genuinely want their employer to succeed. Expatriate baby boomers also have enough experience overseas and they tend to see the bigger picture in dealing with foreign partners.
Global mobility managers will appreciate the work ethic of the baby boomers. The challenges lie in two things. First is that baby boomers allegedly do not have an easy time adapting to today’s technology. While many of them are still on social media, for example, they prefer a good-old fashioned classroom-style training than a webinar. The second thing to consider is that Baby Boomer expatriates, while open to relocation, will always have a partner with them as they fly off to their next assignment.
Generation X-ers, the talents born from 1965 to 1983, are more technologically savvy than their predecessors. They are also more fluid and were the first to ask for work-life balance in their workplace, long before it became a lifestyle in places like Northern California.
Now aged 35 to 53 years old, they are always on the cusp of learning new things while keeping themselves grounded on the fundamentals that the baby boomers had been weaned on. If baby boomers work hard to succeed and millennials hunger for significance, the Gen-Xers were the first to introduce the concept of working hard and then partying hard.
Gen-Xers also excel when it comes to socialization, an essential part of networking. They can connect with potential clients and partners online and offline. Technology or the lack of it is not a hurdle when it comes to opening doors and building linkages.
An excellent compensation package and a career track toward professional ascendancy are solid factors that can motivate Gen-Xers. Unlike baby boomers, though, they are always on the lookout for the next big promotion — and this may not necessarily come from within. One way that global mobility managers can keep their Gen-X talent from jumping ship is to offer them training that can keep them on the cutting edge, a more stable career trajectory, and a generous educational package for their kids, many of whom would be in their teens to young adulthood by now.
Then there are the millennials, born from 1984 onward, and ages 20 – 34 by now. What makes them stand out above their predecessors is that they are the most mobile, the most techie, the most flexible, and the most global of the lot. As BGRS puts it, they embrace change and ride its crest. They are open to new experiences and hungry for knowledge. An international stint for them is a must, and not an option.
The challenge for global mobility managers when it comes to millennials is keeping them interested and engaged. It means attracting them to the next assignment despite the number of offers they are getting. It also means creating learning programs that will not only harness their skills but keep them focused and productive.
What is the right age to recruit an assignee or send an employee to an expatriate assignment? Age shouldn’t be a factor if you’re working in the US. For other countries still age-conscious, it depends on what the company and the assignment needs at that point—and then finding the suitable generation that can best succeed in it.