A recent survey commissioned by MetLife found that 67 percent of American employees are interested in taking an expatriate assignment through their employer—stints lasting three months or more in another country—indicating that American workers have a strong desire to travel abroad for work. However, with just 15 percent saying they have taken an expat assignment and 24 percent unsure whether their employer even offers them, employees are not finding expat opportunities or are unaware of how to take advantage of them.
71 percent of Gen Xers are interested in an expat experience, which is statistically equivalent to millennials (75 percent). Despite the clear interest among both generations, only 12 percent of Gen Xers have ever gone on an expat assignment, versus 19 percent of millennials. When asked what would motivate them to take an expat assignment, both groups indicated working abroad appeals to their desire for trying new things and sense of adventure.
For employers, this is an opportunity to engage a significant segment of their workforce. As the 2019 MetLife 17th Annual US Employee Benefit Trends Study revealed earlier this year, Gen X is the least happy generation of employees at work, feeling both overlooked and under-engaged. Promoting expat assignments may result in meaningful support of this demographic.
Employee interest in temporarily relocating abroad for work is an opportunity for savvy employers to promote their expat programs as a compelling talent acquisition tool. Interest in expat assignments is also more or less consistent across US geographic regions, and therefore, employers who promote expat opportunities may have a competitive advantage in markets experiencing low unemployment and talent shortages.
Although “increased salary” (44 percent) is one of the top three reasons for wanting to be an expat, money is not the only motivator for wanting to go global. “The desire for a new experience” comes out ahead (45 percent), with “curiosity/sense of adventure” (41 percent) being the third top reason.
Employers can leverage these motivators to identify the best candidates for current expatriate opportunities and to draw the attention of potential new employees who are looking for more than monetary gains from their workplace. For example, higher-income employees, or those with over $100,000 in household income, not only express greater interest in expat assignments but also place more stress on professional development as a motivator to take on an expat assignment than their counterparts.
“Thanks to globalization, communications advancements, and a general appetite for acquiring experiences rather than things, it’s no surprise that the desire for expat experiences remains strong,” says Ann Deugo, head of MetLife Worldwide Benefits, the company’s expat business group. “Having an expat program is only the first step; employers should also take a look at expat benefit offerings to ensure they are customized to meet the specific needs of people who are living abroad. Those needs are unique to each expat assignment and catering to them will ensure a successful assignment for the employee as well as the employer.”

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