“Economic instability, social unrest, and growing political upheaval all add to the complex challenge multinational companies face when analysing quality of living for their expatriate workforce,” said Ilya Bonic, senior partner and president of Mercer’s Career business. “For multinationals and governments it is vital to have quality of living information that is accurate, detailed, and reliable. It not only enables these employers to compensate employees appropriately, but it also provides a planning benchmark and insights into the often-sensitive operational environment that surrounds their workforce.
“In uncertain times, organisations that plan to establish themselves and send staff to a new location should ensure they get a complete picture of the city, including its viability as a business location and its attractiveness to key talent,” Mr Bonic added.
Vienna occupies first place for overall quality of living for the 8th year running, with the rest of the top-ten list mostly filled by European cities: Zurich is in second place, with Munich (4), Dusseldorf (6), Frankfurt (7), Geneva (8), Copenhagen (9), and Basel, a newcomer to the list, in 10th place. The only non-European cities in the top ten are Auckland (3) and Vancouver (5). The highest ranking cities in Asia and Latin America are Singapore (25) and Montevideo (79), respectively.
Mercer’s survey also includes a city infrastructure ranking that assesses each city’s supply of electricity, drinking water, telephone and mail services, and public transportation as well as traffic congestion and the range of international flights available from local airports. Singapore tops the city infrastructure ranking, followed by Frankfurt and Munich both in 2nd place. Baghdad (230) and Port au Prince (231) rank last for city infrastructure.
Mercer’s authoritative survey is one of the world’s most comprehensive and is conducted annually to enable multinational companies and other organisations to compensate employees fairly when placing them on international assignments. In addition to valuable data, Mercer’s Quality of Living surveys provide hardship premium recommendations for over 450 cities throughout the world; this year’s ranking includes 231 of these cities.
“The success of foreign assignments is influenced by issues such as ease of travel and communication, sanitation standards, personal safety, and access to public services,” said Slagin Parakatil, Principal at Mercer and responsible for its quality of living research. “Multinational companies need accurate and timely information to help calculate fair and consistent expatriate compensation – a real challenge in locations with a compromised quality of living.”
Mr Parakatil added, “A city’s infrastructure, or rather the lack thereof, can considerably affect the quality of living that expatriates and their families experience on a daily basis. Access to a variety of transport options, being connected locally and internationally, and access to electricity and drinkable water are among the essential needs of expatriates arriving in a new location on assignment. A well-developed infrastructure can also be a key competitive advantage for cities and municipalities trying to attract multinational companies, talent, and foreign investments.”
Five Africa cities managed to remain in the top 100 rankings in regards to quality of living, with Port Louis in Mauritius topping the Africa chart at an overall 84thposition. Durban (87) ranked the highest for quality of living within South Africa, closely followed by Cape Town (94) and Johannesburg (96). On the other side of the scope, Brazzaville (224) in the Republic of the Congo, N’Djamena (226) in Chad, Khartoum (227) in Sudan and Bangui (230) in the Central African Republic formed the four lowest-ranked cities for quality of living within Africa.
Port Louis is the only Africa city which managed to fall within the top 100 rankings with the highest for infrastructure in 94th place. Cape Town missed it with 1 position ranking at 101st position followed by Tunis (104) in Tunisia and Victoria (109) in Seychelles concluding the top 4 Africa cities. Lack of infrastructure remains a challenge within Africa, with N’Djamena (224), Bangui (226), Conakry (227) in Guinea Republic and Brazzaville (228) in the Republic of the Congo forming the lowest rankings.
Dubai (74) continues to rank highest for quality of living across the Middle East, rising one position in this year’s ranking, followed closely by Abu Dhabi (79), which climbed three spots. Damascus (225) in Syria, Sana’a (229) in Yemen and Baghdad (231) in Iraq are the region’s three lowest-ranked cities for quality of living.
Dubai also ranks highest for infrastructure in 51st place. Only five other cities in this region make the top 100, including Tel Aviv (56), Abu Dhabi (67), Port Louis (94), Muscat (97), and upcoming host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Doha in Qatar, which ranks 96th for infrastructure. Cities in the Middle Eastern countries dominate the bottom half of the table for infrastructure, with Damascus (224), Sana’a (229), and Baghdad (230) ranking the lowest.
Even with political and economic turbulence, Western European cities continue to enjoy some of the highest quality of living worldwide. Still in the top spot, Vienna is followed by Zurich (2), Munich (4), Dusseldorf (6), Frankfurt (7), Geneva (8), Copenhagen (9), and a newcomer to the list, Basel (10). In 69th place, Prague is the highest ranking city in Central and Eastern Europe, followed by Ljubljana (76) and Budapest (78). Most European cities remained stable in the ranking, with the exception of Brussels (27), dropping six places because of terrorism-related security issues, and Rome (57), down four places due to its waste-removal issues. Finally, Istanbul fell from 122nd to 133rd place as a result of the severe political turmoil in Turkey during the past year. The lowest ranking cities in Europe are St. Petersburg and Tirana (both ranked 176), along with Minsk (189).
Western European cities also hold most of the top ten places in the city infrastructure ranking with Frankfurt and Munich jointly ranking 2nd worldwide, followed by Copenhagen (4) and Dusseldorf (5). London is in 6th place, and Hamburg and Zurich both rank 9th. Ranking lowest across Europe are Sarajevo (171) and Tirana (188).
“Cities that rank high in the city infrastructure list provide a combination of top-notch local and international airport facilities, varied and extended coverage through their local transportation networks, and innovative solutions such as smart technology and alternative energy,” said Mr Parakatil. “Most cities now align variety, reliability, technology, and sustainability when designing infrastructure for the future.”
In North America, Canadian cities take the top positions in the ranking. Vancouver (5) is again the region’s highest ranking city for quality of living. Toronto and Ottawa follow in 16th and 18th place respectively, whereas San Francisco (29) is the highest ranking US city, followed by Boston (35), Honolulu (36), New York (44), and Seattle (45). High crime rates in Los Angeles (58) and Chicago (47) resulted in these cities dropping nine and four places respectively. Monterrey (110) is the highest ranking city in Mexico, while the country’s capital, Mexico City, stands in 128th position. In South America, Montevideo (79) ranks highest for quality of living, followed by Buenos Aires (93) and Santiago (95). La Paz (157) and Caracas (189) are the lowest ranking cities in the region.
For city infrastructure, Vancouver (in 9th place) also ranks highest in the region. It is followed by Atlanta and Montreal, tied in 14th place. Overall, the infrastructure of cities in Canada and the United States is of a high standard, including the airport and bus connectivity, the availability of clean drinking water, and the reliability of electricity supplies. Traffic congestion is a concern in cities throughout the whole region. Tegucigalpa (208) and Port-au-Prince (231) have the lowest scores for city infrastructure in North America. In 84th place, Santiago is the highest ranking South American city for infrastructure; La Paz (168) is the lowest.
Singapore (25) remains the highest ranking city in the Asia-Pacific region, where there is great disparity in quality of living; Dushanbe (215) in Tajikistan ranks lowest. In Southeast Asia, Kuala Lumpur (86) follows Singapore; other key cities include Bangkok (131), Manila (135), and Jakarta (143). Five Japanese cities top the ranking for East Asia: Tokyo (47), Kobe (50), Yokohama (51), Osaka (60), and Nagoya (63). Other notable cities in Asia include Hong Kong (71), Seoul (76), Taipei (85), Shanghai (102), and Beijing (119). There is also considerable regional variation in the city infrastructure ranking. The highest-ranked city is Singapore (1), whereas Dhaka (214) is near the bottom of the list.
New Zealand and Australia continue to rank highly in quality of living: Auckland (3), Sydney (10), Wellington (15), and Melbourne (16) all remain in the top 20. However, when ranked for infrastructure, only Sydney (8) makes the top ten, with Perth (32), Melbourne (34), and Brisbane (37) also ranking well for infrastructure in Oceania. By and large, cities in Oceania enjoy good quality of living, though criteria such as airport connectivity and traffic congestion are among the factors that see them ranked lower in terms of city infrastructure.
Expatriates in Difficult Locations: Determining Appropriate Allowances and Incentives
Companies need to determine expatriate compensation packages rationally, consistently, and systematically using reliable data. Providing incentives to reward and recognise the effort that employees and their families make when taking on international assignments remains a typical practice, particularly for difficult locations.
Two common incentives include a quality-of-living allowance and a mobility premium:
- A quality-of-living or “hardship” allowance compensates for a decrease in the quality of living between home and host locations.
- A mobility premium simply compensates for the inconvenience of being uprooted and having to work in another country.
A quality-of-living allowance is typically location-related, while a mobility premium is usually independent of the host location. Some multinational companies combine these premiums, but the vast majority provides them separately.
Mercer also helps municipalities to assess factors that can improve their quality of living rankings. In a global environment, employers have many choices about where to deploy their mobile employees and set up new business. A city’s quality of living can be an important variable for employers to consider.
Leaders in many cities want to understand the specific factors that affect their residents’ quality of living and address those issues that lower a city’s overall quality-of-living ranking. Mercer advises municipalities by using a holistic approach that addresses the goals of progressing towards excellence and attracting both multinational companies and globally mobile talent by improving the elements that are measured in its Quality of Living survey.
Mercer Hardship Allowance Recommendations
Mercer evaluates local living conditions in more than 450 cities surveyed worldwide. Living conditions are analysed according to 39 factors, grouped in 10 categories:
- Political and social environment (political stability, crime, law enforcement, etc.).
- Economic environment (currency exchange regulations, banking services).
- Socio-cultural environment (media availability and censorship, limitations on personal freedom).
- Medical and health considerations (medical supplies and services, infectious diseases, sewage, waste disposal, air pollution, etc.).
- Schools and education (standards and availability of international schools).
- Public services and transportation (electricity, water, public transportation, traffic congestion, etc.).
- Recreation (restaurants, theatres, cinemas, sports and leisure, etc.).
- Consumer goods (availability of food/daily consumption items, cars, etc.).
- Housing (rental housing, household appliances, furniture, maintenance services).
- Natural environment (climate, record of natural disasters).
The scores attributed to each factor, which are weighted to reflect their importance to expatriates, permit objective city-to-city comparisons. The result is a quality of living index that compares relative differences between any two locations evaluated. For the indices to be used effectively, Mercer has created a grid that enables users to link the resulting index to a quality of living allowance amount by recommending a percentage value in relation to the index.
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