It’s been a strange and challenging time for most of us: our health and wellbeing threatened, our movements profoundly restricted, and our routines of work and play utterly reshaped.
Last year, as the coronavirus pandemic was taking hold across the globe, we asked expatriates why they had moved (pre-Covid-19) abroad for work. Our commissioned piece of multi-market research, conducted by Ipsos MRBI, revealed three main reasons for people going cross-seas for work: to earn more money, for personal development, and to achieve a better work-life balance.
Unsurprisingly, 49 per cent of respondents said they moved abroad for work for ‘financial reasons’/’to earn more money’. We know that expat assignments can be costly, as employers facilitate the relocation for the assignee and their family. These assignments are valuable and so too, are the positions held by those that take them. Uprooting one’s life to another country is not easy, so it makes sense that many do so for financial reward. That said, many individuals embark on their own journey abroad for work, in seek of new employment. Perhaps there are fewer opportunities in their field at home, or other markets simply have better rates of pay for a given line of work.
A better work-life balance to be found overseas
Interesting, too, that 46 per cent of international workers cited ‘personal development’ as a reason for relocation, and 40 per cent did so to achieve a better work-life balance. There is a certain sense of adventure associated with moving abroad; putting yourself out of your comfort zone and into a new place can be daunting – but also rewarding. I see employees often including temporary expat assignments into their long-term achievement plans – it isn’t unusual for us to long for something a bit different, and to push ourselves to do something exciting.
Different countries have different approaches to work life, with varying standards on worktime hours, remote working and paid holidays, among other considerations. For example, the statutory minimum amount of paid annual leave in Qatar is 15 days, but, if you relocate to France, that number increases to 25, or to 30 in the UAE. It’s not hard to see the appeal for someone from the US – where there is no federal or state statutory minimum paid vacation or paid public holidays – to move to a country within the European Union, which mandates that all employees within its member states receive a minimum of four weeks of paid vacation. Similarly, what constitutes ‘business hours’ or ‘a working week’ differs from country to country. I suspect that some expats seek to relocate to countries that better align with what their ideal working schedule would be.
After months of lockdown, organisations want to support employees with flexibility, particularly in relation to travelling home or to visit family and friends overseas. However, working from another country, even for short periods from home, can have a variety of implications for both employers and employees, including tax, social security, immigration and employment status, which must be carefully navigated.
Today, more than ever, employers are looking closely at what their workforce wants in terms of an overall work life. The desire for a better work-life balance is something that has reverberated through us all this year, as most of us have been forced to conduct most, if not all, of our work from home. While pushed to do so by Covid-19, we have seen many workers enjoy the freedom this provides – extra time with families, less time commuting in traffic, the facilities to prepare better worktime meals, etc. Indeed, it is likely that even beyond the pandemic, working from home will be something that many employees not only hope to have as part of their normal working schedule, but expect.
The pandemic has re-shuffled many people’s priorities when it comes to work life and that includes people working abroad. Many of those working abroad throughout the pandemic have likely experienced an increased level of isolation from being even further away from friends and family than those of us who live in our home countries. It will be interesting to see whether the events of this year reframe what people look for when considering expat assignment opportunities. Employers who are now more acutely aware of the needs of their newly remote workforce, need to provide expat assignments with the same considerations, now and into the future.