Climate change, political challenges, poverty and inequality are usually at the top of a Global Mobility Manager’s priority list when it comes to ensuring an assignee’s wellbeing. But whilst they’re all undeniably pressing issues on a global scale – when looking at the success of an Expatriate’s assignment we can’t deny the impact that family support can have. Research over the last few years has shown a clear correlation between the level of family support offered and the success of the assignment but many organisations don’t currently extend their duty of care past the assignee themselves.
Incorporating family support into your company’s Global Mobility programme can be a real challenge and very few companies formally acknowledge the role of the partner in their international workforce. If you’re struggling to get the business on-board with your family support plans, here are the top reasons why including it into your policies is key to the success of the assignment.
A ‘good start’ in a new country ensures longevity
When you select an employee for expatriation, it doesn’t just impact their life – it impacts the lives of their entire family and many issues must be dealt with before they even leave their home country. It’s vital to understand that even though you may not have direct contact with the family they’re real people and are rarely ‘experts’ at moving around the world – without adequate support upfront their capacity to adapt to their host country will be hindered. This is even more evident during festive periods – the host country may not celebrate like the family is used to or in some cases, they may not celebrate at all – this can lead to severe homesickness.
Also, badly-managed expatriation can lead to more than just a failed assignment. In some cases, expats and their families can experience serious consequences such as low self-esteem, anxiety and depression, alcohol/substance dependency, extra-marital affairs, separation/divorce, family dysfunction and children failing in school.
What does it take to prepare for a ‘good start’ in a new country?
This step is very difficult to approach for Global Mobility Managers - even more so if you’ve not experienced this process yourself – because each family member will have different needs and you’ll need to have a good understanding of what these are. For example, some family members may find it easy to adapt – especially if they have a role or place at a school lined up. For these family members, consider basic cultural training to help them succeed.
On the other hand, family members without a job or school to go to may struggle to find a meaningful place in the new country. If this is the case you could consider putting them in contact with other assignees and families in the host country or suggesting volunteering opportunities they can be involved in.
But don’t stop at basic cultural training or arranging support networks – you need to prepare the family for day-to-day life as this is where the decision to stay or leave is made. For example, it’s one thing knowing what ‘milk’ is called in the local language, but the family will need to know which milk to choose when they’re standing in the supermarket looking at 10 different, unfamiliar, brands.
Fractures in morale can occur months or years down the line
You can prepare a person before they arrive, but the support shouldn’t stop there. The family identity will change during expatriation and they may struggle to recreate a ‘home’ dynamic. Family members are likely to miss many aspects of their home country such as their routine or their friends, and this can cause fractures in the family’s relationships. This could occur straight away or months down the line. Keeping in regular contact will give you the visibility you need to ensure the family is coping well.
If you see tell-tale signs of unhappiness, you could encourage the family to spend quality time together - particularly if work commitments are overlapping into family time. Suggest day trips within the region, popular restaurants in the area or even a new hobby they can share like hiking.
Ensure you’re offering assistance when it’s needed, even if it’s just a friendly voice on the phone to let the family know they’re not alone, this can be invaluable– you may not be able to fix something, but just being available is hugely appreciated.
Some partners don’t want to take a career break
For the majority of expat partners, an international assignment has hitherto been a high-speed career killer and this could spell the end of the employee’s assignment – even if the partner initially agrees to take a career break they could change their mind a few months in if they begin to miss their old job.
To combat this you could consider offering dual-career support. An international assignment with your company could become an exciting opportunity for both parties – if you have the facilities to offer the partner a role – great, if not, don’t worry. You don’t necessarily have to find or give the accompanying partner a job – offering them CV help, interview tips or helping them navigate unfamiliar job boards can make a huge difference in their satisfaction abroad.
Before asking a future employee to sign an employment agreement, you could consider arranging a meeting with his/her partner and talk to them about their needs and expectations – are they happy to take a career break? Would they require job search advice? What would it take to ensure they’re also happy with the move?
But what about the cost?
One of the main reasons why family support is overlooked is due to cost. It’s seen as a ‘nice to have’ if the budget allows. But trying to save company money by reducing family support isn’t a long term solution and you’re likely to face increased costs due to early returns or reduced performance.
If family support is something you’re unable to use company resource to deliver – consider partnering with professional providers who can help your employee’s family build a new life abroad on your behalf.
Relocation is a stressful experience for any family and by including them into the companies’ duty of care means you can expect to see more settled families, a better performing assignee and ultimately a more successful assignment that saves money in the long run.
NES & Global Mobility
Our Global Mobility team are expatriates themselves so they know how stressful relocating can be; it’s important that you seek help and advice from experienced professionals to make your employee’s expatriate experience is as seamless as possible. If you’re looking for support for your Global Mobility function, we offer consultancy, policy reviews and benchmarking, compliance audits, vendor management and more to alleviate the mobility burden. To find out more, get in touch with our experts today.