Successful International Assignments Begin at Home

For many assignees, an international employment assignment is an exciting opportunity for growth—a chance to experience varying cultural and world views and to build on one’s professional expertise and value. But what will a move of this magnitude mean for the loved ones who accompany that assignee?  There is a direct correlation between the adjustment of an accompanying spouse or partner and an employee’s overall success on an international assignment—and too often, spouses/partners are surprised to find themselves struggling to adjust to a new location. Far from the typical vision of accompanying partners enjoying leisurely days and social activities, a sense of isolation and loss of self-esteem are far more typical than we realize. Most worryingly, experience has shown that assignees who face such challenges at home frequently hide these issues from their employers—further compounding the issue, often because they believe they would receive little sympathy. Sadly, there is some validity to this concern.

Valuable Services for Accompanying Spouses

What can HR professionals do to support couples during a relocation and ensure that their families will be willing to accept an international assignment in the first place?

In Cartus’ experience, accompanying spouses cite the following services as among the most meaningful and valuable: 

  • Access to technology: Access to the internet allows accompanying spouses to stay in contact with family and friends through Skype or social media, freelance, do consulting work, or take online courses. 
  • Sufficient time for family adjustment: Often, accompanying spouses lament insufficient time to adjust to their new surroundings as a family, since their partners begin working immediately upon arrival. Companies benefit by allowing families a minimum of one week to settle in and become familiar with their new surroundings. 
  • Home-country visits: While these are declining in most relocation plans, companies should offer at least one home visit before repatriation to allow couples an opportunity to explore job opportunities and housing options, and to re-establish personal and professional connections. 
  • Subsidizing decreases in family income: While many companies may not be able or willing to address this concern monetarily, it’s worth noting that when an accompanying spouse will not be working, the family’s income is significantly decreased, causing financial stress, relationship role shifts, and often frustration. 
  • Education assistance for partner or spouse: This should be a separate line item in relocation plans, providing funding and validation to spouses, and a means to further enhance their careers and lives. 
  • Cross-cultural training: The ability to communicate and connect with individuals in a new location is crucial to survival and well-being. When organizations proactively offer these programs, families’ overall impressions of their assignments improve dramatically. 
  • Expat employees’ availability to assist: Access to a support group of other expats in the host location for input, guidance, contacts, and support greatly improves a family’s odds of success. 

The above information is excerpted from an October 2017 Mobility magazine article.  Read the full text for an actual case study through the eyes of an international expat and his spouse.

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