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Short-term assignments are the new normal, but compliance remains a challenge

Are short-term international assignments the future of global mobility? Once considered an ‘alternative’ assignment type, they are now an established and essential means of moving talent around the world for many companies. ECA’s recently published Short-term Assignments Survey found that almost three quarters of companies expect their numbers of short-term assignees to increase in the next three years, a more significant rise than predicted for long-term assignees, international commuters or permanent transfers.

The suitability of short-term assignments for achieving a range of objectives contributes to their increasing popularity. Not only are they ideal for fulfilling temporary project needs but companies also commonly use them for career development purposes. In fact, short-term assignment policies are used to govern rotator and graduate assignments, extended business trips and even commuter assignments by many companies. Where companies have yet to find time to implement stand-alone policies for these types of assignments, or perhaps want to avoid the complexity of operating too many policies, short-term assignment policies may provide a suitable framework to use.

The use of short-term assignments for developmental purposes helps to explain the younger age profile of short-term assignees compared to their long-term counterparts. 45% of the average company’s short-term population is aged under 35, compared to just 21% of the average long-term population. The youthful nature of short-term assignees is reflected to some extent by the seniority levels of staff sent on these assignments, with very few senior managers or executives represented and assignees more likely to be working in professional or technical roles. 

Best practice in pay and benefits for short-term assignments is well established, with little having changed over the last five years, but the challenges they present are also unchanged, and include tax compliance, cost control and exception management. As short-term assignments increasingly become the norm rather than the exception in the next few years, we expect to see companies focus on improved policy, governance and processes to make sure they deliver the best value for their business. Some highlights from the survey are shown below.


To benchmark and review your short-term assignments policy based on best practice in the industry, you can purchase a copy of the survey results from the Surveys area of our website.

Our experienced consultancy team can help you to design global mobility policies, whether you are creating them for the first time or reviewing existing approaches. Contact us to find out more.

Over 80% of companies cover day-to-day living expenses for their short-term assignees, most commonly through a per diem or living allowance. Subscribe to ECA’s Short-term Allowance Calculator to calculate cost-effective essentials allowances for all your short-term assignees, or contact our Consultancy & Advisory team for individual calculations.

  Please contact us to speak to a member of our team directly.

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