October 8, 2014
Almost two thirds of job seekers worldwide say they would be willing to move abroad for work, a ‘startlingly high proportion’ that says a lot about the evolving marketplace for talent, according to a new study by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and The Network, a global alliance of more than 50 recruitment websites. The report claims that the proportion of people willing to seek a better job abroad is particularly (and unsurprisingly) high in developing and politically unstable countries. But there is also a very high willingness to work abroad for workers in countries that don’t face such challenges. For example, more than 75 percent of survey respondents in Switzerland, more than 80 percent of respondents in Australia, and more than 90 percent of respondents in the Netherlands say they would consider moving to another country for work, according to the report, Decoding Global Talent: 200,000 Survey Responses on Global Mobility and Employment Preferences, and their preferred destinations are London, New York and Paris.
The report is based on a survey of job seekers in 189 countries which sought to establish which factors motivate them and which countries they would consider moving to. The study partners also conducted in-depth interviews with more than 50 survey takers, including engineers, medical researchers, project managers, and government workers. These interviews bring a human dimension to the numbers and offer an additional window into what workers today are looking for, including the 64 percent who say they would be willing to pull up stakes and start afresh in a new country and a better job.
The US is the top overall foreign work destination, seen as appealing by 42 percent of job seekers in the study. Next most appealing are two other English-speaking countries: the UK and Canada, cited by 37 percent and 35 percent of survey takers, respectively. Most of the remaining countries among the top ten work destinations, starting with Germany, are European countries that have strong economies, famous cultural attractions, or both.
One of the more significant findings in Decoding Global Talent has to do with what makes people feel motivated in the workplace—not just those willing to work abroad, but people everywhere. While money still matters, the survey provides strong evidence that intrinsic rewards have pushed past strictly financial considerations as the most important determinant of workplace satisfaction. Survey takers as a whole cite appreciation for their work as their number-one priority. Two other “soft” factors—good relationships with colleagues and good work-life balance—come in second and third.
“The economic struggles of many countries since 2008 have prompted many people to focus on the inherent satisfactions of work, rather than on things that may depend on what’s happening in the larger economy,” says Andrea Strohmayr, international operations manager at The Network and a report coauthor. “That said, the shift toward workplaces that have a more collegial atmosphere and an expectation of positive feedback has some deeper root causes and is likely to be with us for a long time.”
Decoding Global Talent paints a picture of a global workforce that is startling in its diversity. Here are a few findings.
Although Western Europeans are often grouped together, willingness to move abroad for work varies significantly among countries. In both Britain and Germany, a mere 44 percent say they would be willing to work abroad. That’s less than half the proportion of Dutch who are willing to move for work and considerably below Swiss willingness as well.
Occupation has a big influence on mobility. People who work in engineering and technical jobs are the most likely to consider a job abroad. Those in more tightly regulated fields, such as social work and medicine, are the least mobile.
Age has a big impact on what workers look for in the workplace. People focus on career development in their twenties and on work-life balance in their thirties and forties as family responsibilities peak. As people get older, these factors fade in importance and the content of work—its intrinsic appeal—takes on added significance for most workers.
In countries with high per capita incomes, willingness to work abroad is usually tied to experiential factors, not economic ones. This is true of Swiss, US, German, and British workers, all of whom are the subject of standalone analyses that appear online along with Decoding Global Talent.
Would-be expatriates don’t just think in terms of countries; they think in terms of cities, putting London first, New York second, and Paris third in terms of desirability. As one Turkish job seeker says in the report, “If you ask a young person in this country, ‘Where do you want to go in the UK?,’ they’ll never say Liverpool or Manchester. They all say London because of….the cultural harmonization.”
The report also found that almost one in six (16 percent) global employees sees London as the most desirable city in which to work, followed by New York (12.2 percent) and Paris (8.9 percent). Overall, 64 percent of global respondents said they would like to work abroad for work, although only 44 percent of British workers said they would be willing to do so. The most popular reason for relocation was to increase the breadth of experience (64 percent). The UK is also high up the list for countries people would like to work in, with 37 percent saying they would be willing to relocate there, behind the US on 42 percent and ahead of Canada on 35 percent and Germany on 33 percent.