Global mobility: how to manage employee-employer relations

Expats and employers looking for cross-border assignments can face a number of unique stress factors. By addressing these challenges, Boxx Global Expat Solutions is facilitating greater global mobility

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Boxx Global Expat Solutions works hard to ensure the personal expectations of employees match companies’ process obligations

While it can’t be denied that today’s world is increasingly mobile, there are still a number of barriers preventing businesses from accessing the talent they need – especially when the company is based in a foreign country. Some of these problems stem from international regulations, but many others are caused by internal inefficiencies, with disconnects between HR teams and external vendors often creating an unrealistically high workload. The rise of self-service mobility has only exacerbated this problem.

As the largest independent office for global mobility in the Benelux region, Boxx Global Expat Solutions works hard to ensure the personal expectations of employees match companies’ process obligations. European CEO spoke to Dennis van Proosdij, the company’s CEO, to learn how Boxx helps its clients overcome the challenges presented by higher levels of global mobility, as well as the best ways to ensure both employers and employees are well looked after.

How does Boxx help to improve global mobility?

We are currently focusing on three main problem areas that affect global mobility. First, we are working to attract more former in-house specialists from the HR departments of multinational companies. In doing so, we have people in our firm who have seen the mobility challenges from within: they know the playing field and the specific issues that occur between company departments and individual countries. We also choose to do interim, in-house projects at multinational companies to ensure we have an up-to-date knowledge of HR practices.

The second focus area involves building a one-stop programme in which we control every step of the assignment process. This proposition gives us a broad overview and allows us to smooth out the process in the best way possible.

An upfront knowledge of expats’ expectations is key in order to gain maximum satisfaction

Finally, we have designed the Expat Customer Journey tool. This unique application can build a process in which the expectations of the employees lead to maximum satisfaction and, through this, ensure a maximum return on investment for the employer.

Can you tell us about the expat journey? How does the customer journey model fit into the global mobility market?
Since it is our belief expats (and their spouses/children) are customers like any other; the steps they have to take in an assignment process are not too dissimilar to those in traditional customer journeys. Of course, an assignment is complex and consists of a number of different journeys, but collectively these pathways can be regarded as one big customer experience. In essence, it’s much like a customer journey in retail.

Every customer has different motivations, needs, expectations, sentiments and prior experiences. The team at a retail company knows that studying the way different customers experience their journeys can give them a grip on the expectations of said customers and, therefore, their likely satisfaction scores.

Translating this to the global mobility sector, an upfront knowledge of expats’ expectations – whether regarding the role of the employer, the role of the external advisor or the expat’s own role – is key in order to gain maximum satisfaction.

How does Boxx help improve the wellbeing of expats, and why is this so important for global mobility?
As well as focusing on the expat customer journey, we help expats by taking care of any financial, legal or practical worries they may have. This, of course, depends on the level of support the employer wants to give its expats, but if we’re asked to take over the whole process, we can. Boxx also assists employers by assessing the stress factors that may be affecting workers and keeping them abreast of the latest wellbeing developments in the market. For example, we recently drew attention to the benefits of jet lag prevention glasses.

When a member of staff feels employee wellbeing is high on an employer’s agenda, it leads to a stronger sense of loyalty. This loyalty often translates into motivation, inspiring employees to complete assignments to the highest possible standard which, in turn, boosts profitability.

Perhaps of even more importance to employers is the fact that wellbeing will become one of the major topics in the ‘war for talent’. Multinationals without a sense of wellbeing will not be able to attract and retain talented young professionals in the years ahead.

What role do IT tools play in the global mobility market?
IT tools are a bit like the navigation devices in modern cars. When buying a new car, you expect it to have a navigation system – and preferably a fast and user-friendly one. You don’t care about the how and why behind the screen, you just want it to give you the information you need to get from A to B.

Multinationals without a sense of employee wellbeing will not be able to attract and retain talented young professionals

Still, if people ask you about your new car and how it drives, I think the answer will often be about speed, steering, acceleration, braking and comfort – in other words, the experience. I think this tells the IT story, too. Without a good system, your business will experience pain. However, simply having a good IT system cannot create a feeling of real gain.

What is the difference between the expectations of assignees and their employer?
In general, employers expect expats to fit within their existing policy structure. Employees within the same positions and the same type of assignment will be treated on an equal basis as much as possible, as this makes sense from a business and domestic HR perspective. Employees, on the other hand, see themselves as unique and, by definition, an exception to the standard procedure.

In normal domestic situations, the employer’s idea of equality makes sense, but in assignment processes the situation becomes more complex. The private lives of expats enter into the equation and equality is no longer evident, as private lives invariably differ.

It makes a lot of sense for employers to actively address this difference in expectations, yet it is also difficult because the employer has to maintain a certain degree of ‘business distance’ from its employees. Still, I think there is a lot of opportunity for companies to improve in this area of expat support.

Does a global service provider need to have its own offices and staff around the globe?
We strongly believe in a global formula, as shown by our unique global partner platform. Uber and Airbnb have shown that the future is not about legal ownership, but rather about customer service, creativity, quality and flexibility. As such, we build our proposition around our clients and not the other way around. This, I believe, is the modern way of doing business.

In your opinion, what does the future look like for global mobility?
I think the future looks bright, but there are pressing challenges. As long as we are identifying cost savings, digital systems and self-help for expats as focus areas, I think we are missing the point.

I believe in the developments Tim O’Reilly forecasts in his book WTF? What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us. The human approach will eventually be decisive for modern multinationals with respect to their chances of survival in these disruptive times. The most important thing to focus on, therefore, is people. We hope, one day, the chief HR officer will be joined by a new kind of CEO: the chief expat officer.