According to statistics, the vast majority of expatriates who leave their postings early cite “family adjustment” as the main reason for their return. And while the definition of “family adjustment” is very broad and can contain a lot of different issues, for the purpose of this blog post I’d like to focus on just one.
The spouse/partner career issues come up both in statistics and in my own practice of coaching expatriate spouses. Almost 80% of the spouses I coach come to me citing either their difficulty in adjusting to life without a career or in justifying taking a few years off or in feeling confident enough to look for and find a job in their new country of residence. These struggles put a lot of strain on their well being, their families’ well-being, and, by extension, the success of the expatriate assignment — which, in turn, greatly affects the company’s ability to retain talent and the company’s bottom line.
So what can companies do to help their expatriate families in terms of this issue? Short of finding a great job for the spouse, what tools and resources can companies provide? My suggestion would be to start with these three and add more if necessary:
1. When preparing an employee for expatriation, inquire if the spouse/partner is interested in continuing her/his career while abroad. If that’s the case, make sure you offer that spouse/partner the kind of cross-cultural training that’s focused on job and corporate culture. The list of traditional do’s and don’ts is nice but it doesn’t help when someone wants to find work.
2. There are web sites out there that offer job searches specifically for expat partners. Some require subscription but the amount of money you’d spend on subscribing to them will definitely pay off as you won’t lose the money you spent on expatriating someone who wants to come home 2 months later.
3. Pay for the first three to four coaching sessions with a certified expatriate/cross-cultural coach for the spouse/partner. Coaching is a great tool of empowerment that helps people adjust faster and better. You don’t have to commit to cover coaching costs for the entire time of your employee’s expatriation — but if you cover the first few sessions, they will continue on their own. The support and the skills that coaching offers will contribute to your efforts in creating the best expatriate assignees out there. We work with HR departments and specialists to offer this kind of initial session service — please contact us here for more information.
There are many more things that companies can offer and I’d love to hear other people’s suggestions in the commentaries!
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