How the Pandemic Impacted Expat Outlook

Expats are, no doubt, one of the most affected workers by the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s hard enough when local authorities mandate lockdowns and travel restrictions in your native country, but when one is working abroad, it can get even more difficult. However, according to HSBC Expat Explorer, a comprehensive survey of its kind, explains that most expats feel optimistic about the next months.

Eighty percent of expats are not looking to go back to their home countries amid an ongoing pandemic at least for the next year. They mentioned hope for the future is their main reason for staying abroad. The optimism these expats share is rooted in the sense of stability in their adopted country. 

A staggering 92% of expats in Australia and Switzerland foresee their respective locations associated with stability in the next year. Moreover, 71% of expats from the MENAT region (Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey) recommend their respective adoptive countries for their quality of life.

Despite what seems to be a ceaseless pandemic, expats view working abroad as means to acquaint themselves with different cultures and achieve a higher quality of life. They consider their relocation as the easier path to better career progression than what their homeland can provide.

Though career-related drivers for relocation such as career development and widening of the professional network are observed scoring 34% and 31% respectively among the respondents, personal lifestyle options are found to be more prevalent.

Expats in the survey identified their top 5 goals in the coming year as follows:

  • Getting to know the local area (50%)
  • Traveling (47%)
  • Understanding and exploring local culture (47%)
  • Making new friends (45%)
  • Going out more (41%)

While there is global confidence revolving around expatriates, the pandemic has brought in challenges as well. The study highlights that 90% were unable to see family or friends and 63% were stopped from travelling for business-related trips.

All things considered, Cameron Senior, head of HSBC Expat is encouraged to see expats thriving in what many would consider less than ideal circumstances for an assignee to work in.

Global mobility perspective: the embeddedness of assignees

GLOMO, an international research initiative, examines the situational, organizational, and individual factors that affect global expatriates’ embeddedness. Local lockdowns and health protocols have greatly affected assignees’ immersion in their organizations and even in their local communities. Moreover, an assignee’s embeddedness is impacted when physically meeting locals, managers, and colleagues is nearly impossible with the restrictions placed in their cities. 

Global mobility professionals desire assignees to achieve relevant business and cultural understanding in their adoptive countries, but social isolation measures warranted by local authorities stop this from happening. In addition, it was also observed that assignees who are situated with their families found less time in participating in activities set by global mobility teams to promote embeddedness. 

While it seems immersion to local communities and company teams is not looking too bright, the successful vaccine rollouts have loosened health measures and social isolation directives in many countries. This will be the perfect time for global mobility professionals to prepare activities that were held back to ensure assignees experience integration within their communities and their organizations.

Treating assignees as humans

As the opportunity to physically connect with people becomes more probable, it’s essential for talent managers to re-examine the way they handle their workforce. Mark Burrows, the head of global mobility at KPMG, pointed out that the workforce isn’t the way it was. Besides climbing up the corporate ladder, employees now view purpose, meaning, and engagement important as factors in working in a company. To avoid repelling key talents, it’s important to focus on their evolving demands.

An article by Global People Transitions, recommends that global mobility professionals include Employee Experience as a focal point in crafting timely and relevant mobility programs for assignees. It further suggests they emphasize these four aspects:

  • Operational Support
  • Financial Welfare
  • Professional Engagement
  • Expat well-being

The optimistic outlook from expats around the globe should signal companies that they still have the option to deploy international assignments even in the middle of a health crisis. They even can opt to deploy virtual assignments for those employees who wish to remain in their home countries for safety reasons. 

The pandemic has certainly changed the way global mobility strategies are formulated, but the advantage of adaptability hasn’t.