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Despite pandemic, 3 in 10 multinationals expect to increase international assignments, WTW survey finds


October 20, 2021

Half of multinationals surveyed said global mobility strategies are shifting due to pandemic, with one in five allowing some flexibility to work from anywhere

ARLINGTON, VA, October 20, 2021 — International assignments are making a comeback, according to the recent 2021 Internationally Mobile Employee Benefits Design Survey by Willis Towers Watson, a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company (NASDAQ: WLTW). The survey also found multinational organizations have been expanding wellbeing benefits amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic has caused immense challenges for multinational organizations around international mobility,” said Pam Enright, senior director of Expatriate Benefits Solutions, Willis Towers Watson. “Employers have reacted swiftly to maintain business continuity and provide the necessary support and protection for their internationally mobile employees (IMEs). Despite the ongoing pandemic, most multinationals continue to leverage IMEs to support global business strategies.”

Given the extreme implications related to mobility, there was a pullback on international (expatriate) assignments in 2020. Now, 31% of multinationals are planning to increase the number of assignments in the next year, and only 15% are planning a reduction. Additionally, nine in 10 intend to maintain long-term versus short-term assignments.

Fundamental to an IME benefit strategy, most multinational organizations have focused on expanding wellbeing benefits amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including enhancing telehealth services and employee assistance programs (EAPs). Over seven in 10 respondents (71%) now offer EAPs to their IMEs, up sharply from 53% in 2019. Additionally, 44% expanded their wellbeing benefits this year, up from 30% in 2019.

The survey also found half of respondents stated their global mobility strategies are shifting due to the pandemic. In fact, one in five respondents now offer IMEs some flexibility to work from anywhere.

“The pandemic has prompted multinationals to review their international health and risk benefit plans to ensure their coverage for both international (expatriate) assignees and business travelers is still fit for purpose,” said Enright. “The top priority in the early months of the pandemic, complicated by the limited availability of healthcare resources, was to keep their IMEs healthy and safe. To do so, many organizations expanded benefits and resources to address access issues. For some organizations, this also included expanding coverage to other employees who were grounded in other countries while on personal travel during lockdowns and travel bans.”

“IME benefit strategies are certainly influenced by COVID-19 and are also being shaped by diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives for greater alignment with corporate strategies. We fully expect international benefit programs to continue to evolve to meet these emerging trends and requirements of multinational organizations for their internationally mobile workforces,” concluded Enright.

About the survey

The 2021 Internationally Mobile Employee Benefits Design Survey was conducted online in June and July 2021. A total of 107 multinationals across 33 industries in 15 countries participated.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has 45,000 employees serving more than 140 countries and markets. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimize benefits, cultivate talent, and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas — the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential.

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