Definition of flexpatriate

An employee who takes up an international assignment centered on frequent international business travel without relocating abroad.

The name 'flexpatriate' comes from the need for a level of flexibility on the part of the individual traveling to pick up and go in response to business requiring face-to-face and in-person contact. These arrangements are also referred to as 'frequent flyer assignments'. The major difference between traditional expatriate assignments and flexpatriate assignments is that relocation of the employee and his or her family is not necessary. An employee travels from the domestic location to other parts of the world to conduct global business and then returns home shortly thereafter.

Flexpatriate assignments have been regarded as a viable alternative to the challenge of employee unwillingness to relocate abroad due to family or personal reasons. For employees, they represent a way to gain valuable business experience abroad while still maintaining a home base.

However, flexpatriate assignments can potentially bring difficult conditions to employees such as health ailments from constant travel, social isolation, and work and family strain. There is some evidence that a satisfactory global work-life balance can be achieved when organisations allow employees flexibility in organizing their travel plans and also afford them discretion in using technology to manage communication with business and personal contacts. The impact on the lives of flexpatriates over the long-term is still unclear.

Example

Flexpatriate or frequent flyer assignments tend to be more prevalent than expatriate assignments today. However, it is not often clear to what extent flexpat assignments exist in an organisation, as they may not always be formalised or labeled as such. It may be viewed as worldwide travel that is executed as part of the basic job description. And, it could be that an employee's immediate manager or supervisor is aware of the nature of the global work performed in the job (specifically here, frequent international travel) and not HR. HR specialists in an organization would typically be the ones charged with classifying this type of work assignment in terms of an overall strategy for employee career development. [1]

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