• Asia Career Management

Flexpatriates : Lessons for HR

During the past years, the increasing pace of globalisation has resulted in the business need for a wide variety of assignment types. Changing organisational goals have created the need for commuter, rotation and extended business travel. Even before the Covid 19 crisis standard expatriate assignments of three years, or longer, were on the way out. MNCs and global organisations have long been moving to adopting alternative, flexible assignments known as ‘flexpatriation’.


Flexpat assignments include; commuter and rotational mobility patterns, and extended business travel as well as international business trips and virtual international work. Flexpatriation is increasingly seen by many employers as a more efficient alternative to long-term, traditional expatriation. Flexpatriation facilitates increased cross-border business transactions and the need for temporary and short-term access, in particular, to specialised talent for the execution of overseas projects.

Oil and Gas

One of the early sectors to adopt expatriates is the energy sector. Flexpatriate rotational assignments were often used on oil rigs and other remote onshore and offshore locations.

Flexpatriate rotational assignees travel from a home country to a place of work overseas, for a defined period, followed by a break in the home country.

Costs and benefits of flexpatriates

One of the major challenges these rotational assignees face in their working lives is maintaining good physical and mental health. Recent research has shown that among the most ‘suffering’ employees are those with the lowest wellbeing scores where the annual per-person cost of lost productivity due to sick days is USD28,800. The study also found that, for employees who are ‘struggling’, the cost of lost productivity is USD6,168 while employees in the highest levels of wellbeing or ‘thriving’ category, USD840 a year. The business case for a healthy workforce is clear; reduced sickness, fewer accidents, higher commitment and improved resilience, and employee retention. Expatriates in the energy sector often face heavy physical job demands, with limited resources. Compounding factors include sharing accommodation, lack of utilities and facilities in living quarters and broken sleep patterns. Then there are personal safety concerns in some flexpatriate country destinations. One of the most common concerns flexpatriates express is a lack of role clarity. Often, it is only when they arrive at the work site that they are clear about what their client needs.

HR Strategies for flexpats

It is vital to design and implement HR policies and practices that provide flexpatriates with the tools to achieve better health and wellbeing. HR can provide these positive solutions. Flexpatriates can be allowed to set performance outcomes for themselves. E-Health platforms can be created to enable flexpats to monitor their own health. Now, more than ever, with organisational changes, volatile markets and Covid 19 uncertainty, HR has a key role to play in helping flexpatriates improve their wellbeing and productivity. It also benefits the employer in terms of reduced sick leave costs.

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