by Gina Tonic
If it was possible to have a Global Mobility X factor style buzzer to veto a proposed assignment, this would have been the perfect moment to use it. My Global Mobility sixth sense well and truly kicked in early on this one. I cannot tell you exactly what put me on edge but I had a nagging feeling about it from the beginning.
It started out simply enough with the assignment letter going out to the assignee, detailing the long-term assignment from Egypt to Nigeria, and a briefing call arranged.
However, there were elements of the briefing call that didn’t quite sit right. The questions from the employee were different to the usual questions around ‘How much do I get paid?’, ‘What does tax equalisation mean?’ and ‘Do I have a company car?’.
There were a couple of questions which were specific to the region so I wrote them down as takeaways and went back to my lovely local HR contact in the region. Thankfully, she and I have a great relationship and she said to me ‘Gina, careful with this one. Keep me in the loop’.
The pre-assignment visit was arranged and off he went. We arranged a local destination service provider (DSP) to help source a property with the housing allowance determined using the housing tables we had carefully downloaded from our data providers. (We have only ever previously sent assignees to Lagos before on short term assignments).
Intricacies of city life in Lagos
Then the negotiations started. The housing allowance was too low; there was no way he could live close enough to the office in a safe community on that budget. The places further out that he could afford would have meant a long slow commute to and from the office as rush hour traffic was, apparently, a nightmare in Lagos. To be fair, the small intricacies of city life in Lagos are not something that I am particularly au fait with.
However, having been in many a battle on housing allowance, I did my own research. I followed up with my lovely local HR contact, the DSP and checked the areas listed on the housing tables from the data provider. Reluctantly his story stacked up, although it still felt something wasn’t quite right.
So, I took an increased housing allowance to the line manager for approval and explained why it was higher than the original amount signed off in the cost estimate. It was on a call with the assignee discussing the new increased allowance, that the alarm bells started to get a little louder. This new housing allowance was not high enough as he wanted to have a larger apartment so that his son could visit during the school holidays.
Time to call his bluff
Well this was the first I had heard about family, so I picked up the phone to my lovely local HR contact and had a quick chat. ‘Yes’ she said ‘he does have family but he is in the middle of a very difficult divorce and has told his line manager that Lagos was far too dangerous for him to take his young son. Oh, and by the way……… he almost failed his medical, as he was nearly over the alcohol limit………… at 8.00am in the morning! And, just between you and me, his line manager is dealing with some ‘performance issues’ as he has been off work sick rather a lot lately’. With further promises to keep each other in the loop I decided it was time to call his bluff on this one.
So, my email went something like this:
‘Further to our call I have spoken to local HR and I understand from discussions with your line manager that, whilst you have considered allowing your son to visit during the school holidays, you have since deemed it too dangerous. Therefore, your housing allowance will remain based on a family size of one’. Then I hit send and held my breath. In my mind it would go one of three ways:
- The assignee would go away with his tail between his legs (unlikely, but ever optimistic)
- The assignee would get straight on the phone and start ranting and raving
- The assignee would immediately speak to his line manager and I would have him ranting and raving down the phone.
However, I got nothing, except a quiet email a few days later to say that he had found a property himself and would like to put his housing allowance towards that. Still highly suspicious and even more alert as to what he might be up to, given my most recent conversation with my lovely local HR contact, I asked him to send through the lease so it could be reviewed by the local DSP. It all seemed to be in line with what they expected, so we allowed him to sign it and arranged for the rent payment to be made locally.
Meanwhile, I was approached by the HRBP who wanted to send someone out to Nigeria on a short-term assignment to take over from the Regional Country Manager that would be retiring. (Except this was strictly confidential as the Regional Country Manager wasn’t yet aware he would be retiring! So only me, the short-term assignee, the HRBP and my lovely local HR contact could know about the short-term assignment until the lovely local HR contact had discussed the Regional Country Manager’s immediate retirement with him!)
Worse than student accommodation
Shortly after arrival the short-term assignee emailed me with pictures of the apartment of my, now totally silent, long-term assignee in Lagos. Now, having been a student myself many moons ago, I have seen some accommodation that I’m sure could lend itself to new scientific discoveries of a wide variety of bacteria. However, as the pictures opened up on my laptop they made me feel nauseous.
It transpired the long-term assignee was living in these conditions as he had agreed with the landlord to the high rent, at our expense, on the understanding he would get a percentage of the rent back from the landlord!! I’ve heard many unusual stories and heard a lot of surprising requests from assignees but this one was a new one on me. Even with a kickback, I couldn’t understand why he would want to live in somewhere quite so stomach churning though.
So back on the phone to my lovely local HR contact and she said ‘well, there’s been a recent development……… a client recorded an online video meeting with him sitting in a renown Lagos drug den and sent it to the business!’.
What a mess to unpick! Thankfully the employee termination was short and sweet! Now if only I’d had that X factor style buzzer…….