I came across a couple of interesting articles online today about the current reality of expat life.
The first one is about work/life balance and the stress of expat life. It refers to a 2007 survey of expatriates which found that on average expats worked an additional 13 hours or more per week than they did in their home countries. Assuming they were used to working a 40 hr week, that’s a huge one third increase in working hours. Add to that the stress of working in a different culture, language difficulties, perhaps a hardship location and lots of travel, to say nothing of missing the support of family, friends and activities at home and you can see the potential for burnout.
The second article is about cutting back on staff and travel costs and suggests that some companies are using the global recession as a reason to cut pay and benefits more aggressively than is warranted.
My reaction to both articles are that these are not news. Expats have always worked long, hard hours and certainly in the last 13 years we have been overseas I’ve seen a gradual erosion of both salaries and benefits. It’s a steady trend, perhaps moving a little faster right now due to the current economic situation. In today’s world companies must compete on a global basis, which generally means using the cheapest resources to get the job done. As countries with lower costs of living, such as India and China, produce more and more skilled professionals they will inevitably take the place of more expensive western expats, both in their own countries and overseas.
The situation for western expats is no different from American factory workers losing their jobs to China. We may not like it, but the trend is unstoppable and is probably a good thing if we look at the big picture. However it does mean that in the future there will be fewer well paying jobs for western expats and most will go to senior managers and those with high level or unusual skills.
For expats who don’t fit that profile it’s something to think about.