Talent mobility will be a big problem for HR in 2022

Employees know they now have many more flexible options at their fingertips, says Steve Black, so firms need to know how to implement them or risk losing staff

I don’t think it matters whether this is the ‘Great Resignation’, the ‘Great Migration’ or the ‘Great Boomerang’. The bottom line is that talent mobility is going to become even more integral to HR strategies in the coming years. According to Deloitte’s 2021 Global Mobility Trends report, aligning the mobility programme with talent strategies is the top priority for business leaders, as 72 per cent of executives say it is their top or second most important priority to ensure their people can adapt, reskill, and assume new roles if their organisations are to navigate future disruptions. Part of how organisations will achieve this adaptability and fill new roles will be by creating a more mobile workforce.

The focus on talent mobility becomes even more important, as evidenced by Korn Ferry noting that ‘talent scarcity’ will be one of the top trends in 2022, and INSEAD’s World’s Most Talent Competitive Countries 2021 analysis underlining how much global competition there will be in the years ahead. In the coming years, organisations are going to have to be much more creative and entrepreneurial in their talent strategies, not just believing they can recruit the top talent to their organisation from elsewhere. It will require more gazing inward to understand what talent lies within a company and how that talent could be creatively applied to solve skills requirements. 

At the same time, of course, the savvy HR and mobility teams understand that this more mobile approach will enable them to fulfil the requirements of their employees, who increasingly expect far greater choice in how and where they work.

Consequently, whether you’re trying to placate employees who want to resign to go work for an employer that is offering more flexible working conditions, or you’re implementing a hybrid working policy, how you approach your talent mobility strategy could have a critical impact on how you’re perceived in the market. If you are trying to attract the top talent – whether they are net new or alumni – you should consider your talent mobility strategy a key part of your employer brand. Those organisations known for the greatest flexibility and offering diverse opportunities to employees could be in a far better position to fend off any skills shortages.

This is much easier said than done. It becomes the headache for the HR and mobility team to manage. Looking outside the company, employees can see the allure of things like nomad visas, working remotely from a beachside location in the Caribbean for a year rather than facing the grim reality of the commute to the office. In-house HR and mobility teams must compete with these attractive ideas, which means in some senses mobility programmes have to be used as a marketing tool aimed at prospective employees.

Internally, they need to clearly communicate which locations they are happy for employees to go to, and for how long; it is not simply a case of allowing employees to move wherever they want. It is critical to avoid employees filling out a transfer request only for it to be denied, because relocating to that location could introduce unwelcome new taxation or employment law liabilities a company does not want to take on.

This becomes all the more complex because there’s now a greater variety of relocation options available. Employees could be asking to work remotely on a permanent basis; they could be asking for a hybrid model; or they could be undertaking short-term assignments. All these options create complexity, alongside the legal and regulatory requirements.

Ultimately, HR and mobility teams are faced with three fundamental questions when considering the ‘Great Whatever it is that your employees expect to be able to do’:

  1. Will I allow it?
  2. Will I promote the options to other employees?
  3. Will I pay for it?

These are all important questions which have fundamental financial, brand, and employee engagement consequences. Although these questions look simple, their underlying complexity means it is critical organisations have all the right information to hand when considering their mobility strategies.

For example, if you allow one or more options for flexible working, aside from the cost of relocation, will there be costs in terms of tax and employment law? Someone working in a different jurisdiction could be labelled as creating a Permanent Establishment for a company with all the associated costs. From an organisational perspective, if more employees are scattered across different locations how will that affect workplace culture? Will those employees still in the office resent those with greater flexibility or equally will those away from the office feel cut off?

If your organisation is successful in promoting your flexible work arrangements to employees how will you manage the demand? What if everyone decides they want to work from a beach? How do you make the process fair and transparent?

Equally, who pays for it is a significant question. HR must work with the finance department to calculate the savings both in terms of productivity gains for employees no longer commuting and the efficiencies of requiring less office space. However, the team will need to assess the costs of relocation (potential payroll, tax, and other services). During lockdowns many companies provided their employees with equipment. Should employees expect it as a company benefit? If your organisation saves money on utility bills, should some of those savings go to employees who are working remotely? After all they are going to be adding to their energy costs working from home.

I don’t think there is a perfect answer to these questions, but the bottom line is that companies are going to have to get used to far greater fluidity. It will mean setting up HR processes and mobility strategies to be more agile and responsive so they can meet the demands of staff and avoid the dangers of talent scarcity.

Steve Black is chief strategy officer at Topia