How to Gain and Retain Expat Millennials in the Global War for Talent

With new generations joining the global workforce with different workplace expectations, employers are continuously shifting and adapting their strategies to gain and retain global talent. As the workforce changes, so are the ways in which employers hire and aim to retain skilled global employees, and how these employees engage with the job market.

Generations of Global Employees at a Crossroad

The values, needs, and expectations of different generations of expat employees have been shaped by different life experiences and are altering the traditional patterns that defined international recruiting in the past.

Baby Boomers, a generation born between 1946 and 1964, tend to look for security, prioritizing their jobs above other aspects of their lives, as they grew up and entered the workplace at an uncertain time in history. They are usually loyal to a company for a very long time, and can be motivated by professional development, promotion opportunities, and high levels of responsibility.

On the contrary, Generation Xers, born between 1965 and 1980, put more emphasis on creating work-life balance in their own lives, as they experienced first-hand the impact that their parents’ career life had on their families. The concept of work-life balance is also important for Millennials, also known as Generation Y and born between 1981 and 1996. What differs is the way they want to achieve it — For Millennials, technology represents one of the key tools to gain work-life balance through remote working, which provides them with a higher level of flexibility. Millennials represent the first workforce generation to have grown up in the digital era and to enter the workplace with a better understanding of key business tool than more senior workers — the affinity of Millennials with the digital world sets them apart from previous generations.

Generation X and Millennials also have contrasting concepts of how to achieve progress in the workplace. Generation Xers tend to see promotion as an inevitably long path based on increasing levels of experience, while Millennials believe that the path can be shortened by achieving goals and results quickly and efficiently. These contrasting views of progress in the workplace are also directly tied to their different working styles — While Generation Xers see their boss as a symbol of authority, Millennials believe in flat hierarchy and tend to be goal driven. Therefore, to reach their targets, they tend to work long hours — According to a ManPowerGroup study, 83% of the world’s Millennials work more than 40 hours a week, with almost a quarter working more than 50 hours a week.

Another characteristic that makes Millennials a unique talent pool is their flexible and adaptable attitude. Faced with a slow economy, high unemployment, and the financial crisis, Millennials entered the workplace at a time of global socio-economic and geopolitical disruption. These challenges have forged their high level of resilience and ability to adapt. However, the economic downturn also has had a significant impact on the loyalty they feel towards their employers. Millennials tend to be more prone to job-hopping and place their personal needs before the ones of their organization. Hard to find and even more difficult to keep, Millennials have high expectations of their employers.

Understanding the Needs and Wants of Global Millennials

Millennials will make up over a third of the global workforce by 2020, according to Manpower Group. Tech-savvy, well-educated, adaptable, and globally-minded, Millennials are in high demand. It is therefore important for companies to adapt and shift current workplace structures and cultures.

Unlike previous generations, Millennials expect more from the workplace — they don’t only want to “get the job done” but they strive to achieve continuous professional and personal development. As a result, perks such as lifelong learning, dynamic and international work environments, health and wellbeing initiatives, flexible working, and socializing opportunities outside of work are highly valued.

As Millennials place higher worth on acquiring experiences than material things, offering a career opportunity abroad also represents an interesting perk for this workforce generation —80% of Millennials want to work abroad, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Their desire to travel and to gain new personal and professional experiences abroad represents added value for HR teams looking for international workforce.


Hiring International Millennial Talent

With the war for talent ramping up on employers’ agendas, HR managers are looking beyond the national borders to fill in specialized positions. Millennials’ interest in travel and their willingness to move abroad for work represents yet another reason to address this pool of talent.

An important factor to consider when hiring global Millennial employees is the rise of the dual-career couple phenomenon. Unlike previous generations, Millennials prioritize family over work and tend to ponder carefully any opportunities that might have a repercussion on the wellbeing and happiness of their partners. According to Ernst and Young (EY), the number one reason for employees not accepting a work opportunity abroad is the potential disruption to the career of their relocating partner. An employer that helps foreign assigned and internationally hired Millennial parents to strike this balance will be the most attractive to work and travel for.

Unlike previous generations, Millennials do not only look for the next career step in a work experience abroad but they also tend to seek new challenges that can fulfil them both professionally and personally. Therefore, it is also important to offer perks and benefits that can appeal this new workforce generation. Ingo Priebsch, Team Lead at InterNations Business Solutions, explains: “Millennials look to meet their own needs before contributing to meeting those of an organization. For them, enjoyment and well-being generally play more important roles — which is exactly why global mobility and HR teams need to tailor the benefits offered to them.”

How to Support Millennial Expat Employees

While Millennials highly value the opportunity to work abroad, they also desire personal and authentic attention. Therefore, to gain and retain Millennial talent, employers should not be limited to a one-size-fits-all approach. This includes assisting them with more personal aspects of life abroad to settle in outside of work. As Millennials highly value authentic experience over material things, perks such as active support with their social integration, language courses and information about local life might be highly appreciated by this new workforce generation.

In addition, as Millennials tend to put their partners and kids ahead of their careers, spouse support could be seen as highly beneficial by this workforce generation. While expat employees start a new career chapter, relocating spouses face a number of cultural, linguistic, legal, and practical challenges when looking for a new job abroad. Therefore, they need employment support in many different forms, such as job-finding services, development of résumés, employer communications, language classes, information on professional licenses, networking, as well as coaching on country-specific interviewing customs.

Millennials want personal growth, as well as a healthy social life outside of work —and they want this for their partner and family too. Findings from the Expat Insider 2019 Business Edition indicate that the lack of a personal support network and socializing opportunities are two of the main reasons for the unhappiness of foreign assignees, international hires, and relocating spouses.

As expat Millennials are tech-savvy and are driven by progress in and out of work, forward-looking and innovative self-service solutions such as peer-to-peer support could represent a valuable win-win-solution for employers, expats, and their partners to address expat challenges by providing personal and emotional support, as well as personalized and localized information.

However, support for expat employees and their families shouldn’t be limited to the onboarding phase but it should be extended throughout the expat lifecycle, as highlighted by the survey report. While this is true for all expat employees, it is particularly relevant for Millennials, who place their well-being and that of their families before their career, and value experience over material things.

A well-rounded relocation package needs to respond to the key needs and wants of Millennial employees in order to attract and retain them. It should look beyond their professional aspirations to also foster their personal development, as well as that of their families — throughout the expat lifecycle.

The Repercussions of Inadequate Support Abroad

If Millennial expat employees are not adequately supported throughout the expat lifecycle, employers face the risk that these Millennial employees may ultimately resign as they are more prone to job-hopping, better qualified and more independent than previous generations.

Talent turnover will set in progress a very time consuming a costly recruiting process. It could also have a negative effect on the wider team’s morale, overall productivity, and even relationships with clients.

To gain and retain this well-educated, tech-savvy, innovative, independent, and hard-working workforce generations, it is therefore key to provide them with the support they need — acknowledging that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work for different workforce generations.

How can HR managers provide better support for their international employees?



PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC). 2011. Millennials at work.

ManPowerGroup. 2016. Millennial Careers: 2020 Vision.

InterNations Business Solutions. 2019. Expat Insider 2019 Business Solutions.