Where we want to work

Study on global mobility 

Fewer and fewer people are looking to go abroad to work. This is not just a coronavirus effect – the world of work is deglobalising. Experts warn that in the global fight for talent there will be clear losers. 

There's good news and bad news in this respect. Germany's popularity on the global labour market is declining – however out of 190 countries it remains fourth and is the most popular non-English speaking country. A total of 208,000 employees in 190 nations, including around 9000 in Germany, were surveyed online at the end of last year on whether they would be prepared to work abroad, their preferred locations and what preferences they had for digital working.

The study was run jointly by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) management consultancy firm and "The Network", an association of job sites in 130 companies co-founded by the job platform Stepstone. This is already the third investigation of its type which means that, based on comparisons with previous surveys from 2014 and 2018, long-term trends are also becoming evident.

Rapid decline in willingness to go abroad

There was a reduced willingness to go abroad even before the coronavirus pandemic. Currently just under half of respondents can imagine moving to another country; in 2018 the figure was 57 percent, and in 2014 even higher at 64 percent. However, there was a gap of four years between these two figures, while the current investigation was carried out after a period just two years. The curve is therefore in a steep decline. 

The study's authors not only blame coronavirus restrictions for this return to a reduced willingness to move abroad, but also nationalistic tendencies, as seen in the USA or Great Britain – and the fact that mobile working continues to be more prevalent.

In fact, only 45 percent of respondents in Germany said they would be prepared to move abroad –and if so, then preferably as close to home as possible. Five neighbouring states are included in the top 10 countries of choice, with Switzerland Austria leading the way. The USA and Canada are also popular among Germans.

The USA falls from first place for the first time

For the first time in eight years, the USA is no longer the top, most desired destination and lies in second. Canada is now top. In third position is Australia. Germany comes fourth, however it is the most popular country in Europe and the most popular non-English speaking country. According to the study, Canada particularly stands out with its clear welcoming culture towards migrants. Asian countries also continue to make their way up the wishlist. A pattern is becoming apparent: "The countries doing well performed effectively in combating the pandemic," says Stepstone boss Sebastian Dettmers in summary. This especially includes Asian countries such as Singapore, Japan and New Zealand. "We are seeing the opposite effect in those nations hit hard by Covid-19 in spring 2020 – such as Italy, Spain and France."

Despite Brexit, London remains number one as the most popular city, followed by Amsterdam, Dubai and Berlin. However, the differences are not very pronounced: 18 percent of respondents would like to move to London, and 13 percent to Berlin. In fact, Berlin came second for employees with a master's or a doctorate. Munich comes in 26th place (2018: 23rd), and Hamburg in 35th (2018: 32nd). New York fell from second position to eighth. However, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Tokyo and Singapore have become more popular.

Is "virtual mobility" the alternative?

Overall, Germans are less willing to work abroad than other nations – this is also due to the comparatively high standard of living in this country. "The talent market is going global," explains Rainer Strack, personnel management expert and BCG partner. While there has been a drastic reduction in physical mobility, he explains, there has been a dramatic increase in virtual mobility. The survey shows that around half of employees would also work for an employer with no representation at all in the country where they live – increasingly, mobile working is just becoming the norm.

The authors of the study explain how this "virtual mobility" may help to discover new pools of talent and to promote diversity. "Compared to previous studies, we are seeing clear and definite breaks in the trend," observes Strack. "The coronavirus pandemic has catapulted us 10 years into the future." He adds however that in a global market competing for talent there will also be clear losers. Strack’s view is that Germany therefore needs an employer branding strategy – it must act like a company making itself as attractive as possible to potential employees. "This includes strategic personnel planning: what talent do we need, who do we want to support and attract?"

He explains that mobile working may have a key role to play in this. "It was previously the case that major German corporations had their headquarters in Germany – those wishing to work there had to live nearby. We can do this differently in future. If we are no longer recruiting from within our own back yard, teams will also become more diverse. This means there may be a levelling out of locational disadvantages – and things may also become a little fairer as a result."

Stepstone boss Sebastian Dettmers is of the same opinion. "Germany must be attractive for foreign skilled workers, whether they work here virtually or physically. The country is attractive, but there are no great visions for the future. The question we must ask ourselves is, what problem does Germany want to solve? We could make the climate problem into a mission for the nation, however the automation of production may also be an export hit." He is surprised, he adds, at how rapidly the willingness to move abroad has fallen away. Mobile working may replace physical presence to some extent, but it remains important for people to meet each other in person and to mix with other cultural groups.

Source: spiegel.de (German online news magazine DER SPIEGEL), revised by iMOVE, August 2021