Almost two in every three job seekers globally say they would be willing to move abroad for work, according to a new study by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and The Network, a global alliance of more than 50 leading recruitment websites.
The proportion of people willing to work abroad is particularly high in countries that are still developing economically or are experiencing political instability.
But there is also a very high willingness to work abroad in some countries that don’t have these 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.
“It’s a world in which the geographic barriers to employment are coming down, including in the minds of some of the most talented and highly educated workers,” says Rainer Strack, a BCG senior partner and one of the report’s four coauthors. “This is opening up significant opportunities for individuals and for the many countries and multinational companies that are facing talent shortages of one sort or another.”
The U.S. is the top 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.
“People have never made their career choices strictly on the basis of what happens when they’re at work,” says Mike Booker, managing director of The Network and another of the report's coauthors. “There’s always an implicit calculation of what the job will allow them to do in their off-time. The difference in the more mobile work environment of today is that workers are applying that filter to job possibilities outside their home countries.”
One of the more significant findings in Decoding Global Talent report has to do with what makes people feel motivated in the workplace—not just those willing to work abroad, but people everywhere.
Not just about money
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.”
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, U.S., German, and British workers.
“The increasing mobility of the global workforce and the shift in worker preferences, has huge implications,” says Carsten von der Linden, a principal at The Boston Consulting Group and a coauthor of the report. “If they fail to see what’s happening, government policy makers and HR executives at multinational companies might find themselves watching as their most gifted workers emigrate and do not return. It’ll be much better to be on the other side of that equation.”