“Not without my Spouse!”

How successful Companies do cross boarder hires today!

Companies are always keen on hiring the right person for an (overseas) agreement. They put lots of money, effort, hours and people into this mission. And very often this person doesn’t go alone There is a partner and maybe even kids involved. And Yes, many companies have a whole department dedicated to their “Expats” and helping them in settling down. But do they really help in settling down? Or is this a mere relocation job they are offering?

During my numerous coaching and trainings with lots of Cross boarder hires (and their spouses) I learned that many companies are really good in helping with lots of administrative stuff (housing, schooling, electricity,..), which is tremendously important for the Expats and their families to settle down first hand in their new environment. Don’t get me wrong! But on the other hand – unfortunately – many forget the “well being” aspect of the family. And I can see lots of readers rolling their eyes while reading these lines and thinking: “Oh boy, what do these spouses have to complain about? They have such a good life: they don’t need to care about money, they have so much freedom, everything is taken care of, “ And yes, dear companies: You are right! You do care for your expats – and sometimes for their families.

And still Have you ever thought about the changing role model of a family?

Partners of these Expats are most of the time very well educated and have a brilliant career they give up for their partner’s thriving? You can argue: “Yeah, that’s what they agreed on.” And again, you may be right. And it doesn’t help you, when one day the accompanying partner is so unhappy in their new location, that your employee can no longer do their job and quit in the end to go back to their home country or even worse: leaving the company

Have you ever thought about the costs of these loss?

Money, Money, Money

Let us talk Dollars here ;-) The cost of a failed assignment depends on multiple factors of course and can’t be measured exactly in an article, but the following example may give you some hints:

When we take a typical set of numbers for a family of four with two school-aged children, assuming the assignment is terminated within the first year:

  • Salary and benefits, $250,000/pa
  • Air Fare $5,000 x 2 for look-see trip
  • Air Fare $5,000 x 4 at beginning of assignment
  • Air Fare $5,000 x 4 at end of assignment
  • School fees (tuition for 2 $25,000/year)
  • Household goods shipment US $20,000 to the destination
  • Household goods shipment US $20,000 back to origin
  • Supplementary charges $40,000
  • Total hard costs = $430,000

And this – you may agree – is not one of the highest payed expats Even that the salary may have occurred anyway, but the other +40 % are totally on top – and don’t deliver anything to the company

And something else counts

If we go to the non-financial aspect we quickly find out – Thanks to more and more research on this topic – that the most underestimated and most cited cause of a failed assignment is the family’s inability to adjust to the host country environment. The typical adjustment problems include a spouse that doesn’t fit in, doesn’t create a social network and finally becomes disengaged.

What’s the reason for this? Accompanying partners give up their friends and family (aka their safety net!), their place in their community and very often they have also put their own career on hold in order to support their partner.  Their own qualifications may not be recognized in the new destination, they may only be able to work on local terms or maybe not at all.

Less often, but still of major concern, are kids that do not adjust well among their peers. Families often cannot find the support services they require for special-needs children or there may not be suitable childcare available at all.

It all boils down to an overall inability to fit in and assimilate with the local culture and language.

In order to keep the employee, it’s important for the spouses to give them the possibility to thrive. Many of my clients speak of being completely unprepared for the emotional roller coaster (Culture Shock!) that they found themselves on, or their isolation due to language difficulties and not to forget their loss of self-esteem as “a stay at home partner”.

So what’s next?

Companies could start by a better screening to assure the employees – AND their families – are well suited to the new location. Key is an appropriate and professional support for the personal needs of the whole family. Finding the right school for the kids to grow and thrive and also the right house for the family to charge their energy. Last but not least, language and cross-cultural training are other major components of these assignments.  Establishing contact with the expat’s partner even before the employment contract has been signed is one way of making this assignment working better. When you engage the partner, e.g. thorough a program like mine – the Expat Spouse Integration Program (ESIP) – this may ensure that these partners become active and positive decision maker and not just negative influencer. These programs can make the difference between succeeding or failing in your international assignment.

And now, dear reader, if you would like to learn more about the program and how to set this up I am happy to talk further with you. And I am very much looking forward to hearing back from you about YOUR experiences and learnings.