According to new research by Mercer, the majority of companies worldwide expect to increase both long and short term international assignments this year.

Almost three quarters (70 percent) predicted an uptick in short term assignments, and over half (55 percent) said they will ramp up long term international assignments moving forward in 2013. This is in line with trends from the past few years which have revealed an increase in both long and short term international assignments in both 2010 and 2011.

Anne Rossier-Renaud, Principal in Mercer’s global mobility business, shared some insight into why global mobility is increasing. “International assignments have become diverse in order to meet evolving business and global workforce needs. Relatively low pay increases in some regions and pressure on companies to attract and retain talent, have spurred many to embrace a wider range of global mobility strategies to incentivise high performers.”

As the business space becomes increasingly global, the types of assignments that are available evolve in duration, destination, and other factors, which enable more people to take advantage of mobility opportunities.


Adding to this new data, Mercer’s research suggests that international assignments may help executives advance more quickly, with 39 percent of companies indicating that this is true. Research like this – and other research by organizations like Catalyst – may be one more reason for the uptick in international experience. As people learn that these assignments can boost career growth, they may be more apt to inquire about them.

The top five reasons companies support international programs were to provide technical skills that were not able to be found in local regions (47 percent), to provide career development to promising staff (43 percent), to make sure information and knowledge fluidity between locations (41 percent), to meet specific needs within a project (39 percent), and to enhance managerial abilities in specific locations (38 percent).

Looking at North American and Europe specifically, career development rose to 45 percent and 46 percent specifically as reasons for international programs.

Long term assignments are typically about two years and ten months and short term assignments are usually eight months. Long term assignments are more likely to go to people over 35, while short term assignments go to younger people.

Talent development and dispersal are some of the key needs behind international assignments as well. Almost two thirds (62 percent) of respondents said they foresee an increase in technical-related short term assignments and over half (55 percent) say they are anticipating the number of talent development assignments to rise. Half (50 percent) say they expect strategic assignments to increase.

It still remains unlikely for women to hold international assignments, with only 13 percent of them going to women (although this number has risen three percentage points in two years). This suggests that companies may still be less likely to offer these assignments to women. Mercer indicated that the reason why there were fewer women in international assignments is because there are challenges around family relocation, but it would stand to reason that male assigners would face the same issues.

Changing Businesses

In addition to an increased focus on talent development and skills utilization, the evolving face of business is causing some changes in the way companies provide their employees with international experience.

The traditional sense of international assignments – whereby one company identifies talented people from the headquarters country and sends them abroad – continues to be the most common type, with 57 percent of international assignments sourced this way. But, the study showed, there are some newer styles as well.

Mercer says:

“However, there has been an increase in the percentage of subsidiary company transfers (51%) indicating that subsidiary-to-subsidiary transfers, as opposed to HQ-to-subsidiary transfers, have increased since 2010. This evolution is most significant among European companies, with six in ten (61%) reporting an increase of this pattern of assignments, indicating the growing competencies of staff in other parts of the world.”

As international subsidiaries become the primary growth engines of European companies, it makes sense that subsidiary-to-subsidiary transfers are also increasing. By enabling high performing talent to get challenging assignments in other high growth areas, companies ensure better trained and better engaged workforces.