From extreme weather resulting in forest fires across Europe, a devastating earthquake in Indonesia, political unrest in Iran and Zimbabwe and the continual threat of terrorism, only goes to further highlights the importance of duty of care for organisations with globally mobile employees.
Although mobility is essential for the strategic global growth of any business, it does not come without inherent risks to both the individual and the organisation. Employees can be caught up in anything from political unrest, natural disasters, outbreak of a disease or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Duty of care is deep-seated within most organisations policies and business processes when it comes to dealing with risks in the workplace, however it becomes more challenging when that workplace could be located anywhere in the world. So what can be done to provide adequate duty of care for those globally mobile employees?
What is Duty of Care?
Duty of care is an employer’s responsibility to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who may be affected by their business. Organisations must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this. This is a very broad term and as you would expect is open to a certain amount of ambiguity. It is therefore not surprising that there can often be a lack of clarity of what is needed in order to provide the necessary duty of care for all concerned, especially when it comes to those global employees.
What Steps Should Be Taken?
For those organisations who may not necessarily have the resources to create and administer a comprehensive global mobility risk management programme it can be a challenging and sometimes daunting task. Organisations may need examine the end to end processes in order to ensure that the corporate policy ticks all of the duty of care boxes. Breaking the stages down into logical steps allows for far easier management of the process.
The core steps that should be considered are:
- Understanding the Risks
An important first step would be for businesses to analyse and determine their mobility exposure. This is where accurate global mobility data can be very useful, by collating information on all of their globally mobile employees worldwide, their locations, job functions, employee behaviour, mitigating circumstances and scheduled travel allows global mobility teams to build a detailed picture of the potential risk. Organisation must also consider special locations, risks and coverages. For instance, the needs of expatriate and long-term assignees will have different factors compared to the needs of short-term assignments and business travellers.
- Developing the Policy
Organisations will likely need to bring together key stakeholders from across the business and potentially an external expert to assist with the development of the mobility risk policy. The risk policy needs to be robust and fully embedded with the central global mobility and travel polices before being effectively communicated to all. Incorporated into these policies should be procedures and strategies for both proactive and reactive situations and guidance on the roles and responsibilities of internal and external stakeholders, along with detailed information on the range of assistance partners and insurance programmes that are in place.
Once the policy is in place, effective communication to employees will be key to ensure they are aware of the commitment undertaken by the business and also what roles they themselves need to play.
There is training and education that can be provided for employees and managers, these can be in the form of online travel safety awareness courses to medical risks and country specific knowledge and intercultural training.
Geographical monitoring will be able to provide trusted pre and on-trip information, covering destination risk assessments, medical information and country profiles. Thus ensuring organisations and their employees are as prepared as possible before any travel or assignment commences.
The next type of monitoring comes in the form of the individual employee. Possessing accurate real-time data on their static locations, planned and current travel itineraries will enable businesses to take any necessary steps to help ensure their safety. Having systems in place that allow organisations to locate and communicate swiftly and clearly with employees is critical to managing and mitigating any risks.
Offering both reactive and proactive support for employees around the clock is a key factor for any effective duty of care programme. Organisations may need to communicate updated travel information or guidance to employees during their trip or assignment, employees may also have their own medical or security concerns that they require advice or assistance with.
Having solid channels of communication with globally mobile employees will enable organisations and individuals to pre-empt (where possible) and effectively deal with any potential incidents that they may arise.
Although rare, there will be times when businesses and their employees may find themselves faced with the unimaginable. It is therefore vital that organisations implement an incident management programme to plan, avoid and respond to such crisis situations (e.g. emergency evacuations, terrorism, political unrest, natural disasters etc.). The incident management plan should be developed with all stakeholders both internally and externally, and be regularly revisited, updated and tested.
At this day in age it’s difficult to foresee all eventualities, however having a robust duty of care policy and risk management strategy which is effectively implemented and communicated throughout the business helps to offer piece of mind to employees and an efficient response structure should the worst happen.
Anything that is built will reflect the builder and that’s no different with AI. One of the concerns that have become apparent with Artificial Intelligence is that it can be created with detrimental biases built into its core.
The tech industry, though gradually changing, currently is very male and very culturally similar, despite the myriad of locations that developers are based. This may be down to the level of education that’s needed or it might be because of global online communities that are often frequented by developers.
Interestingly, a lot of our everyday AI Assistants tend to have female (think Alexa, Siri, and Cortana etc.) You can change Siri to male if you wish, but the default setting is female. Intricate problem-solving AI bots, like IBM’s Watson and Salesforce’s Einstein are distinctly male. This may be indicative of the views of gender roles by the manufacturers, harking back to female PAs and male leaders. Also when Microsoft were researching which voice to use, the results came back that when building a helpful, supportive, trustworthy assistant, a female voice was best. IBM’s Watson, however, speaks with a male voice as it works beside doctors on cancer treatment and does so in short, definitive phrases which mimic the voice patterns expected of leaders. Google Translate converts Spanish phrases into English as “he said” “he did”, even when the subject is female, so it’s not just the persona’s, it’s the results as well.
It’s not just gender biases either, Nikon cameras’ software to detect when somebody is blinking consistently indicated that East Asian were always blinking, and of course, AI machine learns, as in the case of Microsoft’s Tay, which learnt to be racist, misogynistic and generally horrid from being on Twitter for less than 24 hours.
So if we are using artificial intelligence to CV screen, video interview or suggest who should be promoted, how can we trust it to not start out, or learn to be biased?
One of the significant causes of AI bias is the data it’s trained on. For example, AI for images are often trained using the 14 million labelled images of ImageNet, others might use scrapes from Google Images or Wikipedia. As some groups are under-represented and others are over-represented, this obviously skews the data. When I did a Google Image search for “business person”, of the 45 images on the first page, 38 were male, 31 were white males. I’m fairly sure 70% of all business people are not white males, but if your data set for a business person has been scraped from Google Images, your AI will think this is the case.
With the amount of time AI has been learning from skewed data sets, it could be said the next generation of AI matures, the human biases in the ancestor AIs are now intrinsically embedded into the system and the logical steps that the AI takes to get to decisions are complex and hidden.
So how can AI be freed from the bias trap?
Creating transparency standards and using open source code should allow the AI’s logical steps to be scrutinised and biases rooted out. Training data will have to be screened to remove biases and ensure representations across gender, race and much more. AI is here; let’s do our best to ensure it produces the best results, not biased results.
Through our engagement with HR & Global Mobility leaders we have noticed a trend that many Global Mobility teams are striving to move away from being seen as an administrative function that purely co-ordinates employee moves, to instead being seen as a more valued strategic contributor to the organisation. However, the reality is those leaders are experiencing varying degrees of success.
Support for change is needed from across the business which is no easy task considering the commercial reality, competing priorities and tight resources many organisations are facing.
Buy-in from the senior management teams is crucial to enable and drive change within Global Mobility programmes.
Challenges for Obtaining Buy-in?
There are several challenges for Global Mobility teams who are striving for change.
Organisations are typically resistant to change and generally there is a lack of understanding of compliance duties. Add to this limited resources and the fact that collaboration and integration between functions remain the exception not the norm. This can often mean that there is dearth of consistent identity and positioning for Global Mobility within the business.
Operationally, there is more regulation and compliance than ever before. This adds additional risks and costs when moving and hiring talent across borders. These continually changing regulations and compliance requirements are uncompromising and highly stringent on employers.
A persuasive case to the management will have to focus on how an effective global mobility function will address these challenges, both strategically and operationally.
Aligning Global Mobility to the Wider Business Strategy
A crucial element to gain management support is to ensure that there is a vision of what Global Mobility should look like for the business. This will enable the senior management team to have a better understanding of how Global Mobility can align to the wider organisational strategy.
A few areas for consideration:
- Corporate Culture and Objectives
Understanding the high level goals of the organisation and what it is trying to achieve should ultimately determine the shape and form of any mobility programme.
Due to the ever dynamic nature of international business and uncertainty in the geopolitical landscape, many organisations need more flexibility and agility when deploying employees globally in order to increase competitive advantage.
Also, Global Mobility teams should consider how their programmes are aligned with the culture and core values of the organisation.
If the employee journey and experience is an important focus within the business, does this align with the current mobility programme? Are employee aspirations, expectations or experiences a consideration or is the focus driven by process and compliance tick boxing?
- Reducing Cost and Increasing ROI
Cost and return on investment will always be important for senior management, subsequently the key themes will be around the implications of organisational mobility in terms of investment, savings and returns.
Will changes in policies, procedures, systems or resources require investment? What are the expected returns – cost savings, resulting efficiencies?
Typically, we see the cost of Global Mobility being passed from department to department before ultimately coming out of the HR budget. A fully owned and ring-fenced budget, managed by a centralised Global Mobility function, will enable financial transparency for management purposes, through improved planning, accountability and effective vendor management.
- Technology Innovation
Improvements in technology now offer a huge amount of potential to enhance efficiency and effectiveness within Global Mobility programmes.
Global Mobility teams and organisations are moving away from locally managed spreadsheets to more comprehensive future-proofed technology platforms that support integration between functions such as HR, Global Mobility, Tax and Payroll.
But it doesn’t stop there, there is also an increased focus on data and how it can be utilised to better drive decisions, strategy and action. Analysing accurate data across Global Mobility programmes allows teams to measure and improve service performance, identify risk and trends and enable informed decision-making by both the senior management teams and the mobility function.
- Talent Strategy
The war on talent is relentless and competition for talent is fierce, however an effective Global Mobility programme can offer the potential to enhance talent acquisition and development for all levels of employees.
Strategically, Global Mobility should unite in the process of forecasting and planning for the future talent needs of the business. What skill sets does the organisations need to attract, where will they need to be and when will they be needed?
Another key area within talent strategy and where Global Mobility could add value is identifying and developing future leaders within the business. It is important for these future leaders to acquire the international exposure and experience that is expected for senior management positions.
The opportunity to work internationally is now a key draw for many employees seeking new roles, especially for Millennials who place a huge amount of importance on gaining professional experience within different cultures. Employers who incorporate international opportunities within their employee development schemes will be more appealing to top talent.
On the flip side there needs to be a focus on retaining repatriating employees. In order to avoid high attrition rates, these employees will want to understand what their future remit will be within the organisation.
Impact of Global Mobility Strategy
Securing senior management buy-in is imperative in developing a truly effective and sustainable approach to Global Mobility. Ultimately it rests on convincing senior management that Global Mobility can deliver in alignment with the overall business objectives, supporting the organisation’s competitive advantage.
By Chris Debner – Strategic Global Mobility Advisory
CX – What we all experience
Think of Starbucks and the friendly messages that are written on your cups, or how easy it has become to return an unwanted Amazon purchase.
If you’ve not heard of CX yet, you have certainly experienced it. CX stands for customer experience and is defined as the sum of perceptions that customers of goods and services experience during the interaction between with an organization over the duration of the relationship. We are all customers, almost constantly…
It is how we become aware, discover, cultivate, purchase and advocate for a good or service. Companies are designing the customer experience carefully to create a pleasant and meaningful experience for their customers, so that they will return and maybe even recommend the goods or services to others.
Imagine if your company could leverage this experience and apply to your employees, to become more successful.
From CX to EX – More for us to experience
“Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.”Stephen R. Covey
EX – employee experience is translating this concept to the workplace to create higher attraction, better employer image, engagement and resulting performance and retention.
Talent Management starts to take the responsibility to create engaging and meaningful employee experiences and employees’ perceptions during the course of the entire employee life cycle.
A survey conducted by IBM of 23,000 employees in 45 countries revealed that more positive employee experiences are linked to better performance, extra effort at work, and lower turnover intentions. The key organizational practices that drove more positive employee experiences are described in the survey as organizational trust; co-worker relationships; meaningful work; recognition, feedback and growth; empowerment and voice; and work-life balance.
Think of Google or Facebook offices and how they create employee experience, the Volkswagen policy that bans e-mails after office hours or IBM offering remote working.
“The battle for the hearts and minds of employees is played out daily through their workplace experiences.” IBM Smarter Workforce Institute
As customers we are used to be offered ever increasing levels of customisation in the goods and services that we buy. The logical evolution of this is that this approach evolves into other areas, and before long, if employers cannot enable their employees to customise their employee experience, whether in career path or in benefit packages, they will lose out to those that can.
It is a shift of the perception from the traditional way of seeing the employee as a resource to seeing the employee as a customer that needs to be attracted, engaged and retained. EX is therefore not just Talent Management, or workplace design, but rather a new paradigm that should permeate all interactions that an employee experiences during the employee life cycle.
Think of onboarding processes, technology user-experiences, self-directed learning, performance management processes and company purpose among many others.
EX drives culture and performance of an organisation. An increasing amount of companies are committing to it and the number of positions offered for Employee Experience Managers are on the rise. It will be a key success factor for companies to attract, engage and retain the future workforce.
EX in Mobility – one of most significant experiences
“It is beyond a doubt that all our knowledge begins with experience.” Immanuel Kant
International assignments are undisputed to be one the most significant experiences an employee can have during his or her career. It involves their families and creates great learning and developmental opportunities when living and working in other cultural contexts, but also creates risks of life stress, family separation, and reintegration risk on repatriation.
Imagine that you were in a position to create an employee experience where the vast majority of your assignees would be engaged performers who can be retained after their assignments.
The EX focus needs to be brought into mobility management. Many Mobility functions are still stuck in the paradigm that is all about administration and compliance. Compliance should be perceived for what it really is, a hygiene factor that has absolutely no power to create a positive experience for the employee. Only the absence of compliance has the potential to make employees unhappy. Learn more about it in my article Compliance – A hygiene factor.
Think of a filed tax return, a granted work permit or a kidnapping training.
Mobility management is slowly realizing their real purpose: To create a meaningful and engaging, stress free experience for employees and their families when they are being sent on an assignment.
The focus in Mobility also needs to shift to the paradigm of EX – employee experience.
EX in Mobility – how to
A good start would be to take a close look at all the interactions that an employee (and even their families) experience before, during and after an assignment. Look at how positive experiences look like and how negative perceptions are created. Besides your assignees and their families, you will realize that many of your stakeholders (business, talent management) are also employees that experience the way you conduct your business. And do not forget about the many external providers that you use, who interact with your employees and create EX.
If you are not able to come up with negative and positive experiences ask your stakeholders, they will be happy to tell you all about it.
The next step of this exercise is to consider what you can do to minimize or eliminate the identified negative employee experiences and to look for ways to create more of the positive ones, so that they can more effectively deliver on their new professional responsibilities when abroad.
A nice example comes from a large e-commerce company who lists all former assignees in a database as possible mentors for future assignees. This gives the former assignees a meaningful experience when sharing what they learned on their assignments and the future assignees a great way to prepare for the challenges lying ahead, benefiting from the support of employees who mastered the challenges.
Another example I came across, is a European material science company which focusses on the enhancement of the interaction between the business and mobility. The process was re-designed to create a meaningful communication between the two sides, where expectations from both sides were openly shared and a better understanding achieved.
There are many more examples out there and you can likely think of some that you witnessed yourself, when a change effort results in a better employee experience.
EX – the new paradigm for HR
To conclude, EX is the new paradigm that HR has to adapt for it is one of the most meaningful contributions to their companies success, when the right workforce can be attracted, engaged and retained. The leading companies are adopting the new paradigm, and those that don’t will fall behind. Mobility departments, being in charge of one of the most meaningful experiences in an employee’s career, need to shift their perception from compliance to their real purpose – the creation of meaningful and positive experiences for their assignees.