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American Employees Have a Strong Desire to Work Abroad, But Rarely take the Opportunity

3 min read July 31, 2019

New MetLife survey shows employers have an opportunity to attract and retain talent by promoting expatriate experiences within their companies

The 2019 MetLife Worldwide Benefits Survey found that 67% of American employees are interested in taking an expatriate (expat) 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. Yet with just 15% saying they have taken an expat assignment, and  24% unsure whether their employer even offers them, employees are not finding expat opportunities or are unaware of how to take advantage of them. 

Gen X is as motivated to be an expat as Millennials

Seventy one percent of Gen Xers are interested in an expat experience, which is statistically equivalent to Millennials (75%). Despite the clear interest among both generations, only 12% of Gen Xers have ever gone on an expat assignment, versus 19% 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 a sense of adventure:

Desire for a new experience
Curiosity/sense of adventure
Increased salary
Personal fulfillment
Work that gives you a sense of purpose
Gen X

For employers, this is an opportunity to engage a significant segment of their workforce. As the MetLife’s 17th annual U.S. 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.

Expat assignments can boost talent acquisition and retention strategies

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 U.S. geographic regions,  thus, employers who promote expat opportunities may have a competitive advantage in markets experiencing low unemployment and talent shortages.

Although “increased salary” (44%) 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 on top (45%) followed by “curiosity/sense of adventure” (41%). Employers can leverage these motivators to not only identify the best candidates for current expatriate opportunities, but 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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