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A third of multinationals plan to increase expat assignments, despite ongoing pandemic

Covid has driven employers to improve staff wellbeing benefits and to relax rules to ‘working from anywhere’

December 21, 2021

Health and Benefits

DUBAI, December 21, 2021 — A study of expat employment trends by Willis Towers Watson showed signs of optimism and recovery after businesses faced huge challenges placing their staff around the globe during the pandemic.

Almost a third (31%) of multinationals plan to increase their international ‘expatriate’ assignments in 2022, while only 15% plan to reduce them. And in a further sign of returning confidence, 74% of those assignments are expected to be last between one and five years, with only 9% set to be for shorter terms between six and 12 months.

The 2021 Internationally Mobile Employee (IME) Benefits Design Survey by Willis Towers Watson, a leading global advisory, broking, and solutions company, found that half of respondents are rethinking their global mobility strategy, with one in five offering the opportunity to ‘work from anywhere’. That might mean anything from the freedom to work from any location within a host country, or indeed from anywhere in the world.

Steve Clements, Head of Integrated & Global Solutions in the Middle East, Willis Towers Watson, said: “Big businesses have found it an immense challenge to move their workforce around during the pandemic, but as conditions improve they are rediscovering the importance of keeping their talent globally mobile.

Companies are now more willing to move staff overseas for longer placements, which is a positive sign for the UAE.”

Steve Clements
Head of Integrated & Global Solutions in the Middle East, Willis Towers Watson

“As confidence returns, companies are now more willing to move staff overseas for longer placements, which is a positive sign for the UAE labour market and the broader economy.

“The UAE’s recent visa changes means it also stands to gain from those companies freeing their staff to work anywhere in the region or the world, though employers need to be wary of tax and legal implications.”

The pandemic also drove a big change in the support that multinationals offer their expat staff, with many enhancing their telehealth services and employee assistance programs (EAPs). Seven in ten 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.

Steve Clements said: “Employers have become more focused on giving their expat staff and business travellers an expanded level of coverage and support. In the early days of the pandemic, many employees were stranded in countries that were not their normal base, and so telehealth and mental wellbeing services went from being nice-to-haves to essential. Those benefits are here to stay and will continue to evolve.

“The Middle East, and the UAE in particular, is seeing a lot of change in employment terms and conditions, including how workplace benefits are structured, to address emerging trends, including government schemes to get more local nationals into private sector jobs, the promotion of women in the workplace, equal pay, and a recognition of the importance of inclusion and diversity.”

About the survey

The 2021 Internationally Mobile Employee Benefits Design Survey was conducted online in 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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