Suitcases replace briefcases as symbol of business success, says KPMG

Suitcases replace briefcases as symbol

Increasingly the perks of long-term overseas placements are being replaced by shorter ‘parachute style’ projects, with employers expecting their key staff and future leaders to switch geographies without a second thought.

Also on

Long-term placements, where executives are encouraged to build a new life abroad for the good of their company, are being rejected in favour of short-term foreign assignments, with staff expected to uproot themselves on a regular basis.

According to a KPMG survey*, designed to explore attitudes towards global mobility, just 1 in 4 senior executives believe that the typical 3-year posting is still a business necessity. They also argue that a mere 15 percent of new, younger, entrants to the workplace view long-term international redeployments as a good career move.

“Increasingly the perks of long-term overseas placements are being replaced by shorter ‘parachute style’ projects, with employers expecting their key staff and future leaders to switch geographies without a second thought. Where once the briefcase was a symbol of business, the suitcase is gradually becoming the accepted sign of career success,” says Marc Burrows, partner and head of International Executive Services at KPMG.

The survey goes on to reveal that 58 percent of executives believe that the length of foreign assignments could be reduced. Although a large majority (75 percent) expect to increase the proportion of staff they send abroad in the next five years, 1 in 5 of those questioned say that the combination of ease of travel and advances in ‘facetime technology’ mean that long-term placements are no longer necessary.

It is also clear from the survey that organisations are fearful about losing their most talented staff as a result of overseas roles. Asked whether their employees felt engaged whilst abroad, just 33 percent said ‘yes’. A significant proportion admitted that extended time away from the ‘home base’ is something that comes up in exit interviews (15 percent). Perhaps of greater concern is the discovery that more than half (52 percent) admitted they simply don’t know.

The survey results suggest that this clearly has a significant impact on an organisations’ ability to plan for the future. For example, 44 percent of survey respondents admitted they lose up to 40 percent of their staff within 2 years of an assignment ending. It seems employers can no longer be certain who will remain loyal to the company and, therefore, who to include in succession plans.

Additionally, the full cost of sending people abroad is, in many cases, not fully appreciated, with 33 percent accepting they need to improve understanding of the investments that are required, so that appropriate decisions can be made about who to send abroad, where, when and for how long.

Burrows concludes: “Employees want to show that they are serious about the company they work for and will tolerate less enticing deals than those on offer a few years ago in return for future benefits and long-term career prospects. However whilst international movement can open the door to a successful career, with senior jobs back at HQ the reward for individuals who have undertaken four or five overseas postings, there is a word of caution."  

“Put simply, it is that companies switching to short-term, consecutive, assignment strategies risk creating nomadic workforces. Unintentionally, these individuals may fall under no specific control or supervision, becoming all but invisible to HR and line management. Unless properly managed, the result could be disaffected staff who feel the need to move elsewhere to be appreciated and to develop their careers. Clearly for the employer this means wasted costs, increased risk and hindered succession plans.”


- ENDS -


Media enquiries:

Mike Petrook, KPMG Press Office

T: 020 7311 5271

M: 07917 384 576



KPMG Press Office: +44 (0) 207 694 8773


Note to Editors

* 200 senior executives, director level and above, were questioned during KPMG’s recent Global Mobility Conference in Barcelona.


About KPMG

KPMG LLP, a UK limited liability partnership, is a subsidiary of KPMG Europe LLP and operates from 22 offices across the UK with approximately 11,500 partners and staff. The UK firm recorded a turnover of £1.8 billion in the year ended September 2013. KPMG is a global network of professional firms providing Audit, Tax, and Advisory services. It operates in 155 countries and has 155,000 professionals working in member firms around the world. The independent member firms of the KPMG network are affiliated with KPMG International Cooperative ("KPMG International"), a Swiss entity. Each KPMG firm is a legally distinct and separate entity and describes itself as such.


This article represents the views of the author only, and does not necessarily represent the views or professional advice of KPMG in the UK.

Connect with us


Request for proposal



KPMG’s new-look website

KPMG’s new-look website