Human Resources Professionals Deal with New Concerns of Americans Working Oversees

Safety and communications are two of the top concerns of employees following the Sept. 11 attacks, according to a new survey of human resources professionals.

Talk to just about any American stranded overseas during the days following the Sept. 11 attacks and they all say the same thing: They were worried about their safety, wanted to talk to family and friends, and couldn't wait to get home.

Americans working overseas experience many of the same concerns. Safety and communications are two of the top concerns of employees following the Sept. 11 attacks, according to a new survey, and human resources professionals responsible for employee relocation and global assignment management are beginning to take action to address those concerns.

The World Events Impact on Global Mobility survey sponsored by Cendant Mobility and the SHRM Global Forum, a division of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) examines companies' response to the current global economic and political situation through the eyes of those responsible for managing international assignment and employee relocation in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), and the Asia Pacific region. A total of 218 responses were received from clients of Cendant Mobility and SHRM Global members, representing a wide variety of industries including finance, service, manufacturing, retail and technology.

The survey finds that just over half (52 percent) of respondents responsible for international assignments said their organizations had or were seriously considering taking action to deal with the current situation. Working with internal/external security to advise employees (91 percent) or imposing temporary holds on new international assignments (56 percent) topped the list. The remaining 48 percent of participants said that they were not considering action or that it was too soon to tell.

In spite of the current economic and political climate, the findings indicate that while some international assignments may be delayed, the overall volume of expatriate employees is expected to remain consistent in the coming months. When asked about the impact on international assignments over the next six months, 62 percent of respondents reported that they expect activity to remain about the same as it was prior to Sept. 11 or perhaps decrease slightly, while four percent predicted an increase.

"While a dramatic decrease in the overall volume of international assignments is not expected, we are seeing some definite changes in the way our clients are conducting business," stated Kevin Kelleher, president and CEO of Cendant Mobility. "The mode is prudent evaluation, caution and a readiness like never before. There has been a renewed focus on employee safety and sharpened attention to policies as related to crisis planning, communications, and tracking of travelers and employees on assignments."

Survey results indicate that 44 percent of employee questions and concerns involve immediate response issues such as evacuation and contingency plans and how they would work, while 22 percent were concerned with air travel safety.

When asked about their own information needs, nearly 55 percent of participants volunteered that areas involving tactical and country-specific requests such as breaking news bulletins, government alerts, advice on action thresholds and triggers have been unmet in the past.

"Those responsible for managing global assignments want and need reliable information within a larger context that allows them to make informed decisions. At the same time, they need contingency plans in place and ready to implement based upon reliable, breaking news," said SHRM President and CEO Helen Drinan, SPHR. "It is crucial that employers and employees work together to adapt programs and policies in preparation for the future so that business in the global marketplace can continue and prosper."

In light of recent events, a number of organizations also reported that they are considering alternative approaches to traditional international mobility such as more short-term assignments (34 percent) and telecommuting (27 percent).

edited by Sandy Smith

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