Rotational Assignments: Challenges and Solutions

Rotational Assignments: Challenges and Solutions

Published: Jul 25, 2016

Human Resources and Talent Mobility managers today are tackling more than relocation and short or long-term assignments.  Entering their accountabilities more often now is the management and oversight of rotational assignments (RA) – short-to-medium time assignment that have tRotational Assignmentshe goal of getting specific projects accomplished.

Such programs have been used successfully for rotating key employees between company locations– both domestic and international – for project management, training, professional development and/or leadership preparation experience.  

NEI expects to see further growth in the number of these RAs in which an employee returns to the original office location or international home country.

RA durations can vary significantly by company depending on what the program is being used for, though most for developmental purposes commonly last between three and 18 months. However, rotations could include multiple locations in succession as part of an outlined schedule whether intra country or cross border. 

NEI can help clients understand the various needs of such programs and provide the consultative expertise in creating policies for them. 

The Right Candidate

As with short and long-term international assignments, attracting qualified, realistic candidates is key to assignment success and return on RA investment. 

Companies state that one of their biggest RA challenges is identifying the right employees who will thrive on rotations and safeguard the expected ROI a company makes in them.  Employees accepting RAs understand that they will be in multiple company locations (three to five is typical) for a specific duration, that commonly runs from three months to over a year. 

Employees going on RAs can be with or without accompanying spouse or family – depending significantly on a company’s culture and business policies.  From an employee’s point of view, since long periods of separation are part of the job description on RAs, trust is fundamental to making the temporary split work for couples (spouse, partner, significant other). 

According to Dr. Anne Copeland in a Mobility magazine article, Voices from Home: the Personal and Family Side of Unaccompanied Short-term International Assignments, for those couples who will be separated for long periods of time, a couple should not consider accepting such an assignment unless their marriage is solid.  

The Right Policy

As with relocation policy benefits, RA policy benefits can greatly depend on:

  • the forecasted number of employees to be on such assignments; and

  • whether the programs are focused on U.S. Domestic, International or both; and each company’s unique corporate culture, objectives, budgets, and perspectives.

Developing appropriate rotational program poli­cies is key to clear, effective administration, efficiency and cost savings and program success.  Standardizing benefits across a company or its divisions is common, so could the same apply to the management of RA program benefits? 

Consider the following approaches and considerations:

  • some companies’ RA programs provide a lump sum for temporary living housing, house hunting, a small household goods shipment, and a rental car if public transportation is not available or feasible in the location;

  • other companies’ rotational programs prefer to offer reimbursable per diems for meals and temporary living (grossed-up if the assignment extends beyond one year);

  • hardship or assignment premiums may need to be offered depending on the location and duration of the rotational assignment;

  • depending on the international location and type of program, one should plan ahead for  tax and immigration issues:

  • countries can require different entry/exit procedures for each visit

  • and visa/immigration requirements can also vary by individual employee if they are a third party national to their “origin” location;

  • Rotational programs often include benefits for return trips to visit family. If there is an owned primary residence in the departure location requiring maintenance and upkeep, a snow removal/lawn mowing/home maintenance allowance and, in some cases, full property management services may be provided.

Agriculture Industry Example

Relocation-Ag IndustryOne NEI agricultural client sends college graduate new hires (often moving for the first time) on rotational development assignments beginning each January and June.  Many are to remote office locations and they receive a policy document that has the same look, feel and message as the company’s other relocation documents.

Because many of the RA locales are to remote areas, extra time is built in to notify NEI of the assignment locale to properly identify and qualify suitable temporary housing. Often, NEI’s Account Executive will work directly with a location’s on-site hiring manager to secure proper employee accommodations.


Energy Industry Example

Relocation-Oil IndustryMany field workers employed by oil and gas, seismic, drilling, and well-servicing companies are considered rotational as the nature of their work typically requires employees to live and work away from home for extended periods. 

Some oil and gas workers have the choice of taking a rotational assignment, but for others, being away from home and on the job site for long periods of time is essential.

It’s been found that employees on oil and gas industry RAs who have realistic, upfront expectations of their benefits, diverse living conditions and the challenges associated with the rotational work are also the most successful as they are able to optimize the financial, social and lifestyle influences. 

On the contrary, workers who engage in rotational work solely for the potential financial benefits tend to be less satisfied – and also less likely to remain employed at and dedicated to this work arrangement for any substantial period of time.

Growing in Demand

As with international assignments, before accepting the role of a “rotator”, candidates should understand the range of potential post-RA career options after his or her rotation is over. Likewise, it should be in writing and understood what the process will be should the employee opt out during the program (or be involuntarily removed from the RA) at any point. The corporate employer must be clear about its role and how it will support the assignment.

Policies are considered stronger when they are:

  • in sync with other corporate global mobility programs/policies with a consistent, clear message—benefiting both employees on RA and their managers;

  • carefully crafted based on the unique corporate culture and business needs of such RA programs as they can differ greatly based on need (skill-specific in a remote or hardship location, international or intra-country, developmental) and duration (90 days, six months, two years, etc.); and

  • designed to help human resources and talent management departments focus on core functions by outsourcing the benefits management to their relocation management company partners.

A well-designed RA policy can ultimately help one’s company increase productivity, retain high value employees, attract key new hires and accomplish business goals.  It’s critical to understand a rotational policy’s nuances and how to help your employee embrace the challenges and make it a winning proposition for you both.