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From Expat to Business Traveller – A Mobile Workforce

Author: Birgitte Ovesen

Individuals who have had the opportunity of being expatriated knows all the reflection before, during, and after the expatriation. Reflections about the career for you, your spouse or partner, the children, schooling, the family left at home and last but not least, reflections of the same challenges and the so-called reversed culture shock when landing in the home country at the time of the repatriation.

Was it worth it? Where the expectations fulfilled? Only approx. 1/3 of all repatriated Danes are happy to come back home. Not because of all the interesting experiences gained abroad, but because many companies don’t have good policies for further career development within the company or because the partner or spouse is having difficulties getting into the labour market again, or the children are used to an entirely different school system and to another learning process. Once you have met the whole family and your friends again, you have a feeling of emptiness and of being superfluous.

For the company, an expatriation is, first of all, a significant investment. Logically the investment should be the motivation to take good care of the employee and his/her career when coming back. This is very often not the case, and the repatriated leaves the company. Approx. 66% of all repatriated Danes are changing employer within 24 months of their return. The investment is partly lost, a qualified and experienced employee lost, and thus no value creation in the company.

Bearing in mind these challenges for both parties, the number of traditional expatriates (worldwide) – people moving with their families for 3-5 years on assignment for a company – has considerably decreased during the last years. Closely related to the globalisation and the international growth, the tendency shows an increase in the number of business-travellers – people doing business traveling all over the world regularly – without moving the family.

At first sight, the concept of doing business traveling without moving the whole family seems to solve many problems. The family maintains their stability, no concern about the children’s school or the career of the spouse or partner. The company can avoid significant investments as the risk of losing a qualified and competent employee.

That said, being a business-traveller is very challenging, which has been very detailed described in a report from Kingston University London. The challenge does mainly concern the physical and mental health of the traveller and to make sure that the traveling does not damage his/her family life.

The main risk areas are:

  • Stress due to travelling, time changes, and sleep deprivation
  • Work-life-balance
  • Conflicts between family life and working life
  • Loss of social connection with friends and family

These risks can lead to anxiety and depression, among many other difficulties. The study shows that the challenge is the same in a wide range of sectors (Professional, Scientific, Technical, Manufacturing, Financial, Insurance). The study also includes a list of recommendations for the employer, the manager, and the international business-traveller. The commonality for all three parties is that everyone has a responsibility for the success of having or being a global business-traveller.

Some examples of the responsibility of the employer:

  • Clear policy about traveling and the expectations
  • Monitoring of the workload
  • Monitoring of the health
  • Create a culture allowing an open discussion about mental health
  • Training and education
  • Local support networks

The role of the manager:

  • Make sure that travelling is well planned
  • Provide support for the traveller
  • Make sure to review the situation and the role of the traveller and assure regular feedback

The traveler has the responsibility to:

  • Plan the traveling
  • Take control
  • Be aware of his/her mental health
  • Do health-promoting activities
  • Communicate with the family while away from home

The globalization needs a mobile workforce – in one way or the other. Important is to find the best solution for a given situation and that everyone is aware of both the challenges, the advantages, and inconveniences whatever solution that might be chosen.

Having found the right solution in all individual cases, being a business-traveller can lead to high retention rates of talents, satisfied employees, and more value creation in the company.