Tag Archives: expat spouse

We thought we should pull together the main reasons according to our experience that hinder Expat Spouse employment  in the host country. This is a non-scientific analysis based on opinions and experience. There are a number of studies (Permits Foundation, 2012; Silberbauer, 2015) dedicated to the topic though. Main Global Mobility providers research how family impacts expat failure. In my view this is not enough. We should investigate how we can bring down the barriers to Expat Spouse employment. Why is it so difficult for Expat Spouses to find work in the host country? Here is a short analysis of the issues.

Work Permit Restrictions

Finding a job is not as straightforward for many of my clients as it is in their home countries. Even if most top host locations allow Expat Spouses to work on the partner’s dependent work permit (NetExpat & EY, 2018), other countries present significant restrictions to Expat Spouse employment. In fact, while some of them do not issue work permits to any Expat Spouses at all, others may present subtleties linked to marital status or they might not recognize same sex-marriages.

Lack of Host Language Skills

Even though the expat might work for a global company, most jobs in the host country will require host language skills. Unless you move from the UK to the USA, you often will not have the language skills required to work in the host country. It’s important that you don’t underestimate this aspect and that you start learning the local language as soon as possible, ideally before relocating. The good news is that almost two thirds of employers already provide this as the main form of assistance (Permits Foundation, 2012). If there is a business need, companies generally pay for a 60 hour-course.

Additionally, in countries where expats are numero there are specific job search engines that filter for English speaking roles. If you are looking to find employment in the Swiss job market, you can look up www.englishforum.ch.

Lack of Recognition of University Degrees in Regulated Fields

While within the EU we can assume that university degrees will be recognized due to the common job market, a Brazilian doctor cannot work in a hospital in Switzerland. We call this a “regulated profession”.

In the best case scenario, you will need to go through a considerable amount of bureaucracy to get your degree converted, and this may cost you a good amount of money. In the worst case scenario, however, if you want to keep practicing your profession, you will have to get complementary certificates in the host country.

Lack of Transferable Knowledge

While within the EU we can assume that university degrees will be recognized due to the common job market, a Brazilian doctor cannot work in a hospital in Switzerland. We call this a “regulated profession”.

In the best case scenario, you will need to go through a considerable amount of bureaucracy to get your degree converted, and this may cost you a good amount of money. In the worst case scenario, however, if you want to keep practicing your profession, you will have to get complementary certificates in the host country.

Lack of Professional Networks

Another issue is the lack of a professional network, which gives access to the untapped and informal labor market in the host country. Often you can only join professional associations when you are in a corporate role or when you have graduated in the country.

Building your professional network in your host country will require time and trust. You will have to start from scratch and dedicate a considerable amount of time to this activity if you want to see good results. You will also need to understand that matters of trust and relationships are culturally different, so it’s important that you act in a culturally appropriate manner when attempting to expand your professional network.

Lack of Support in the Global Mobility Policy

Only very forward thinking global mobility and global recruiting policies address the need for support for “trailing” dual career partner. While ten years ago dual-career issues on international assignments were solved by sticking to a classical Western nuclear “family” models, we now want to adhere to the needs of dual careers, patchwork families, Eastern “family” models, same-sex partners and unmarried de-facto relationships.

Visionary Global Mobility policies address various support models ranging from providing a lump sum to spousal career coaching. As an intercultural career advisor, I also work with clients who decide to start a global, transferable business so that they can follow their life partner to other locations and become location-independent. Thanks to technology I can support clients in NYC as well as in Mumbai. We also support candidates to improve their personal branding in the host market, learn to network effectively, improve their interview skills and online presentations. But it’s crucial that Global Mobility Leaders  update their policies and promote spouse support services rather than pay lump sums.

Intercultural Bias of Our Recruiters

Our recruiters often do not understand intercultural differences. Recruiters often don’t understand resumes from another country and outsourcing of talent specialists into HR shared service centers has not improved the chances of “foreign” candidates in the recruitment process.

Most selection methods and assessments are culturally biased. For example, in Switzerland, psychometric testing and other assessments of candidates are used to assess candidates next to interviews. Riedel (2015) shows examples where highly skilled candidates from China fell through the assessment roster in a German company because of their indirect communication style.

Companies should provide training on Inclusion and Diversity in the attempt to eliminate unconscious biases and ensure all worthy candidates are being considered for global mobility. This practice is not yet spread. According to KPMG, 39% of employees surveyed aren’t aware of inclusive leadership training within their organizations.

Unconscious Bias of Sending Home Sponsors

PwC issued a study in 2016 on female expatriation where it appears very obvious that a lot more women would be interested in an international assignment than the ones that are actually sent. As a matter of fact, some types of assignments (like short-term, very short-term, and fly-in and out commuter assignments) are notably more popular among women than among men.

If women make up 20% only (PwC, 2016) of the internationally mobile population across all sectors, it’s probably due to the unconscious bias of the sending home sponsors who assume a female manager is not mobile even though she might have mentioned it several times. I speak from experience.

If you want to guarantee that the selection of women and other underrepresented groups is fair and objective, you need to measure the relative inclusiveness of mobility assignments and ensure policies on equal access are working. If you find out they are not working, intervene as soon as possible.

Lack of Research to Measure Impact of Dual-Career Programs

In 2012, ETH Zurich conducted extensive research with several European universities on barriers to dual careers within the EU and EFTA countries. For most companies (NetExpat & EY, 2018; Atlas World Group, 2019) the presence of dual-career couples negatively affects the decision to relocate. There’s more: the spouse’s unwillingness to move because of his or her career is the first reason for turning down relocation. After all, it’s 2020, and the increasing number of households relying on two salaries should not surprise us. While in the past, small firms were relatively less affected by spouse/partner’s employment than medium and big firms, in more recent times, the impact has been similar across company size. 

There is evidently still a lot to do in order to integrate the needs of dual-career couples  in the expatriation process. If you want to keep pace with reality and stand out with a far-reaching Global Mobility policy, please keep this issue top priority. 

On the receiving end, I can report that more and more expat spouses are male. There is hope.

If you want to see how all this works in practice and would like to receive a proposal from us, please drop a line to Angie Weinberger (angela@globalpeopletransitions.com). I am happy to support you!

Further Readings: 

https://www.sirva.com/learning-center/blog/2019/12/20/supporting-accompanying-spouses-partners-during-relocation

Why Building Professional Relationships is Harder for You

The Modern Professional’s Guide to Avoiding Career Stagnation

My favourite Productivity Hacks – Seven Tips to claim back your Diary

Global Recruiting – Helping Global Talents succeed in Switzerland

Offline and Online Presence is the Way Forward for Modern Professionals

References:

Atlas World Group. (2019). 52nd Annual Atlas Corporate Relocation Survey. https://www.atlasvanlines.com/AtlasVanLines/media/Corporate-Relo-Survey/PDFs/2019survey.pdf

KPMG. (2018). Inclusion and Diversity: How Global Mobility can help move the Needle. KPMG International. https://assets.kpmg//content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2018/06/global-mobility-inclusion-and-diversity-how-gms-can-help-move-the-needle-FINAL.pd

NetExpat & EY. (2018). Relocating Partner Survey Report. https://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/ey-2018-relocating-partner-survey-final-report/$File/ey-2018-relocating-partner-survey-final-report.pdf

Permits Foundation. (2012). International Mobility and Dual-Career Survey of International Employers. https://www.permitsfoundation.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Permits+Global+Survey+2012nw.pdf 

PwC. (2016). Women of the world: Aligning gender diversity and international mobility in financial services. PwC. https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/financial-services/assets/women-of-the-world.pdf

Riedel, Tim (2015): “Internationale Personalauswahl”, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Gottingen.

Silberbauer, K. (2015). Benefits of dual-career support for expat spouses, International Journal of Business and Management, vol 3, no. 2. DOI: 10.20472/BM.2015.3.2.005

Weinberger, A. (2019). “The Global Mobility Workbook”, Global People Transitions, Zurich.

Weinberger, A. (2016). “The Global Career Workbook”, Global People Transitions, Zurich.

Family Separation

We talked about how family challenges and marital issues greatly impact the outcome of international assignments. We also saw that a large number of companies list the Expat Spouse’s unhappiness as the primary cause of “Expatriate Failure”, highlighting the importance of the Expat Spouse and Partner career support programs.

This week, we will talk more extensively about the kind of support you can give to Dual-Career Expat Couples and why that matters if you work in HR and Global Mobility.

I have always advocated for Global Mobility Managers to be more proactive about involving Expat Spouses. Sometimes I sound like a broken record though. Anyway, it’s 2021 so I reiterate what I’ve been repeating for years.

We want to be proactive!

The days of the passive “trailing spouse”, when they were marginally involved in any decision of moving abroad, are definitely gone. Today, according to the 2018 Relocating Partner Survey, 97% of mobile employees actively involve their partners in the discussion before accepting an assignment, so why shouldn’t you?

We want to be inclusive!

Employers cite a variety of reasons for supporting Dual-Career Expat Couples via policy and practice. The primary reason is to increase staff mobility. Some employers also do it to reduce the costs of assignment refusal or early return and promote family-friendly policies. Others want to support diversity or gender initiatives.

One figure, in particular, stands out in the latest KPMG report: 39%. This indicates the percentage of surveyed companies pointing out that sexual orientation is the main demographic reason leading an employee to refuse an assignment. But 39% is also the percentage of companies indicating that the employees’ dependents impact their decisions to accept an assignment. Perhaps, in your career as GMM, you too have witnessed these scenarios and you aim now at broadening the pool of talent by making it more diverse and inclusive. 

Here is how you can still help your company achieve its Diversity and Inclusion goals, improving brand, reputation, and global market competitiveness.

  • Review the demographics of your global mobility team based on diversity and change policies accordingly.
  • Diversify international assignment terms. 
  • Adjust policies for selecting candidates.
  • Broaden communication about opportunities.
  • Offer training to reduce unconscious bias.

We want to bring back the Human Touch!

What you can do to help Expats and Expat Spouses is to ease the external stressors to their relationship caused by the international assignment. Most importantly, take the Expat Spouse seriously!

Here are seven provisions you can take up in your guidelines.

1 – Review all your Global Mobility Guidelines

Today’s mobile employees are no longer interested exclusively in the financial aspect of their international assignment package. They are also very concerned about the impact of the move on their spouses’ careers while abroad. This is a consequence of the increased levels of equality within the couple: 77% of Expat Spouses work before the assignment and 82% of them secure a bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. degree (2018 Relocating Partner Survey). In short, the current mobile population won’t accept being treated like their predecessors. 

Even if 62% of employers wish to encourage employee acceptance of an assignment by offering support to Expat Spouses, most employees are still frustrated by what employers are offering today.

An increasing number of Dual-Career Expat Couples depend on the income of their spouses during international transfers. Today, dividing Expat Spouses into the “working” and the “non-working” categories is too simplified. 

Employers should therefore ensure that their partner policies support these choices equally for working and non-working partners to avoid any form of discrimination.

According to a report published by Permits Foundations in 2012, only 33% of the companies surveyed provided career support to Expat Spouses under a formal written policy. Another 11% had informal guidelines, while 27% of them assisted on a case-by-case basis. 29% provided no support at all. 

With an Expat Spouse and Partner Support Guideline in place, you will more easily become a more attractive employer.

2 – Involve the Expat Spouse and Partner in the Pre-Assignment Phase

During this phase, there are probably lots of questions going on in the Expat Spouse’s head, and feelings of euphoria and anxiety often alternate with each other. They might be wondering what impact the move will have on their children and whether they will be able to find employment in the new country. It is part of your role as Global Mobility Manager to offer early career assessment for the Expat Spouse as well as information on international schooling options. Additionally, since Expat Spouses are often in charge of the logistics behind the move, you must be able to connect them with relocation services and immigration providers ahead of the move.

3 – Help with the Work Permit

Nowadays, Expat Spouses are allowed to work on a dependent work permit in the vast majority of the top host locations accounting for 80% of today’s global mobility (2018 Relocating Partner Survey). This huge achievement is the fruit of the Permits Foundation, which fights for the rights of relocating partners to be able to work on their dependent permit. 

However, some countries present exceptions and subtleties linked to marital status. Non-married partners from opposite sexes, as well as same-sex couples, face more challenges accessing work permits. In countries that do not allow Expat Spouses to work, securing a work permit is almost impossible.

It is therefore your duty to help Expat Spouses navigate the world of bureaucracy specific to each assignment. 

4 – Research Work Opportunities for Expat Spouses

Career stagnation is a major stressor to any relationship. Therefore, as one way to avoid putting the success of assignments in jeopardy, your employer could provide work opportunities to the Expat Spouse if they work in a similar field or area. What I’m also doing is to check with other companies if they have availability for the Expat Spouse especially when they work in a related field.

In this initial exploratory phase, it is also important to verify that the Expat Spouse’s degree is in line with what recruiters expect to see in the host country: qualifications obtained in one country are not necessarily recognized in another.

The 2018 Relocating Partner surveys highlight how career and job search support is now offered by 71% of employers, a sharp increase in comparison to previous data.

5 – Provide Transition Coaching For The Expat Couple

Coaching for the Expat Couple is also an option. In my experience, it is also helpful if one person of the couple is going through a coaching program. Your company should take over the cost within the Global Mobility guidelines. Companies offer Expat Spouse Career and Life Support programs to assist Expat Spouses. Most Swiss-based companies provide up to 7’000 CHF in services. This is a lot of money!

Transition coaching for Expats and Expat Spouses is becoming a more and more prominent concept in companies around the world. As a Global Mobility Manager, you already probably know that supporting Expats and Expat Spouses through each different adjustment stage they experience leads to a higher satisfaction rate with the assignment and the service of Global Mobility in general. 

The sad part is that Expat Couples often don’t claim support as they haven’t seen the GM policy and have not been involved in the decision-making process.

6 – Offer Host Language Course

The most common forms of assistance already in place addressing spouse career concerns are language training, provided by almost two-thirds of employers (Permits Foundation, 2012). If there is a business need, companies generally pay for a 60-hour course.

7 – Pay for Support for Children and Teenagers

Not only Expats and Expat Spouses, but their children too, need support during the assignment. After all, children are the most critical asset in the expatriation process. One of the tools you can offer them is intercultural training, especially if the children are in local schools. Giving training to Expat Children has a lot of value, and you will see that once you make the children happy, you will have a higher ROI, higher retention rate, and a better satisfaction rate in your KPIs.

When Family Separation is the Best Option

Sometimes, things just don’t work out and the result of that international assignment is family separation. There are also instances where the Expat Spouse and potential children should stay in the home country. One reason could be schooling, another reason health and safety. Consult with me if you have any questions about how can bring the #HumanTouch back into your Global Mobility Program and Team.

Kind Regards,

Angie.

PS: We open HireMeExpress for Sale

We developed the HireMeExpress program to support more Expat Spouses and Partners to find a job in a new country. All of the twelve modules and more than 36 worksheets can be used for other expat hubs from Berlin to Bombay. However, our best network is in Zurich, Zug, and Basel, Switzerland. Hence, we can help best here. If you need help in other locations, contact us anyway, as we have contacts globally.

References:

KPMG. (2018a). „Inclusion and Diversity: How Global Mobility can help move the Needle”, KPMG. Retrieved May 13, 2020, from https://assets.kpmg//content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2018/06/global-mobility-inclusion-and-diversity-how-gms-can-help-move-the-needle-FINAL.pdf

KPMG. (2018b). „Inclusion and Diversity in Global Mobility”, KPMG. Retrieved May 13, 2020, from https://assets.kpmg//content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2018/06/global-mobility-inclusion-and-diversity-how-gms-can-help-move-the-needle.pdf

NetExpat & EY. (2018). Relocating Partner Survey Report. https://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/ey-2018-relocating-partner-survey-final-report/$File/ey-2018-relocating-partner-survey-final-report.pdf

Permits Foundation. (2012). International Mobility and Dual-Career Survey of International Employers. https://www.permitsfoundation.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Permits+Global+Survey+2012nw.pdf

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Dr. Jens Schmidt, A German Executive in Shanghai

Dr. Jens Schmidt is an expat. The company’s corporate headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, assigned him  to improve efficiency at the company’s manufacturing plant in Shangai, China. During his first 90 days he came up with a list of quality issues and he shared this list with three of his direct reports (Mr. Zhu, Mr. Cao and Mrs. Ping). 

He asked them for input on how to mitigate the issues within the next 90 days and what the “low hanging fruit” were. He emailed them on Friday evening and asked them to respond by Monday morning, enough time to review over the weekend. While Dr. Jens Schmidt was sorting out his moving goods that finally arrived from Stuttgart and settled into his apartment, Mr. Zhu, Mr. Cao and Mrs. Ping went for lunch. They did not appreciate that they had to leave their families on the weekend but they knew this was important. On Sunday night Mr. Cao, the most senior, eldest and most experienced manager responded to the email.

“Dear Dr. Schmidt, thank you for the trust you are giving to your senior managers by sharing this report with us before sending it to the headquarters. We are fully on board with you and we think you and the quality assurance team in the headquarters will give good guidance on how to mitigate the issues presented in the report. We kindly ask that you inform us of any changes once you have discussed this report with the headquarters. With kind regards, Mr. Cao”.

On Monday, when Dr. Schmidt came back to the office, Mr. Zhu handed in his resignation. Two weeks later Mr. Cao and Mrs. Ping also resigned.

Now, Dr. Schmidt had to lead 50 engineers directly. He was using everything he knew that worked in Germany — especially in terms of performance appraisal, and yet the Chinese employees seemed to be losing efficiency and effectiveness by the week. After 90 days, many engineers had moved to other companies and Dr. Schmidt had a hard time to explain to HR why he needed to hire new engineers and managers in the middle of a global crisis. His 180 days report looked bleak. The quality issues had become worse and Dr. Schmidt had nothing to show for but failure.

It took quite some time and effort on Dr. Schmidt’s part to recognize that what worked in Germany in terms of critical and to-the-point feedback was actually demotivating to the Chinese employees, who were used to more positive reinforcement than pure critique. These positive comments motivated them to increase productivity and put forth that extra, discretionary effort. Once Dr. Schmidt changed his feedback and his communication style in general he noticed that productivity improved again. He was also able to win the managers and some of the employees back once he understood the importance of relationships and the concept of “face” in the Chinese culture.

Three years later he managed to leave the country with a good feeling. 

Feedback is Completely Misconstrued

According to the original mechanistic definition feedback occurs when an environment reacts to an action or behavior. For example, ‘customer feedback’ is the buyer’s reaction to a firm’s products and policies, and ‘operational feedback’ is the internally generated information on a firm’s performance. 

Originally, the idea was that feedback changes behavior. Criticism or praise is considered  feedback only if it brings about a lasting change in the recipient’s behavior. While I am generally critical of this assumption, I would like to explain here three major feedback styles that I have seen over my career. Often they work in a monocultural setting or when they are framed well. For example, critiques work well for writers and bloggers, the sandwich works well in an Anglo-Saxon environment and Hindi-style generally works well in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

One major issue is that feedback often is NOT delivered well. Another issue is that often it is full of projections and that it has to be abused to justify why a good performer was not promoted. That is one of the key issues with feedback. For the next three styles we will assume that the feedback is well delivered, the feedback receiver asked for feedback and the feedback is not used as a justification for non-promotion or a performance rating.

German-Style: Pure Direct Critique

The German Style
The German Style

Clearly, people in Germany do not generally provide and receive feedback in the same way that people in China are used to doing. In fact, appraisal feedback can be very different across different cultures. Although not many like to do it, we know that critiquing – in a constructive and empowering way – others’ work is a crucial part of a manager’s job. However, critiquing someone often brings unwanted results and ends up hurting others even when this wasn’t the initial goal. This generally happens because criticism embodies two of the things that human beings hate the most, i.e. it calls for submission and it devalues. 

With a focus on what needs to be improved, this method works extremely well for writers, bloggers and co-creators. In many instances, authors actually request it. It’s also often used in educational circumstances, training contexts and examinations. Here it is important to focus on the work, instead of the person. For example, “In this report, capitalization is not applied consistently.” or “This paragraph is hard to understand because it contains a lot of passive constructions.” Germans love “Sachlichkeit” so the focus here is on the object, the piece of art, the work output, rather than the person delivering the work. The intention here is to improve the overall quality of the work output.

US-Style: The Sandwich Feedback

The original sandwich feedback technique entails something positive to warm up the discussion, followed by some criticism which is the real feedback one wants to give, and it wraps up with more praise, i.e. again something positive to soften the actual feedback. In other words, the sandwich feedback method involves discussing corrective feedback that is “sandwiched” between two layers of praise.

There are two ways to put the sandwich feedback technique in practice: 

  1. You start off with a positive comment, add constructive feedback with an explanation of how to improve, and end with another positive comment. 
  2. You begin with a contextual statement (I liked…because…Now/Next time…) and conclude with an interactive statement, e.g. a question based on the work done.

The Sandwich Feedback Model
The Sandwich Feedback Model

This method is particularly helpful to managers when they want to discuss problems with the employee’s behavior. It is especially useful for those managers who find it difficult to deliver corrective feedback. It is important to note that you need to ask for permission to give feedback and also find examples of where you observe what you find worth changing. Here you should focus on behavior, rather than the person and soften it with “tend to” and “I observed” and “what this does with me…”. Speak about how it affects you. This approach takes the name of Non-Violent Communication (NVC) and it was developed by the  American psychologist M. Rosenberg.

Hindi-Style: Focus on the Positive

Thumb Up
The Hindi Style Feedback

In Bangalore, I learned another feedback style which I call “Hindi-Style Feedback”. Basically, here you focus on the positive and remain silent on the negative. In order to save face you don’t confront the person you are addressing directly. If you have negative feedback you would tell this to an intermediary who then decides about how to approach the topic with the person.

This method works well in the Asian context or when you generally already have a high-performing team and nothing major goes wrong. Focussing and reinforcing the strengths and the positive behavior will lift employees up and encourage them to do more of this behavior. Also, I think it is important to build a personal relationship before delivering feedback and better to deliver it 1:1. If you are only correcting errors and you have agreed a more direct style to do that it is acceptable if you have a good relationship with your team members.

In the SIETAR conference in Dublin in a pre-congress workshop my colleague Adrienne Rubatos and I co-created a feedback map with the participants.

The Feedback Map
The Feedback Map (Rubatos, Weinberger, 2017)

We also suggested that feedback usually creates more harm than support and as humanistic coaches we therefore would propose to stop using performance management systems, Management by Objectives and certainly feedback. Where we feel feedback is helpful ONLY would be in learning situations, transitions and when it is explicitly demanded by the feedback-receiver.

I’m aware that this is a complete paradigm shift and that it will change our approaches to promotions, compensation, benefits, hierarchy and basically completely turn around how we work in organizations.

We are demanding a new approach to feedback. We promote an approach that is mindful, supportive and transcultural. 

Delivering Feedback like a Global Virtual Leader

Even if in a new cultural setting it’s useful to learn the cultural rules, perhaps through a cultural mentor, don’t assume that “going native” is always and necessarily successful. Most of the time, you will have to adjust your feedback style and create a blend with which you feel comfortable enough in the given setting and with the person you have in front of you. 

More and more often teams are global virtual teams (GVT) and there are no rules other than the rules the teams co-create.  We have vast experience working within global, virtual teams and you find further blog posts via https://globalpeopletransitions.com/?s=global+virtual+teams.

Alternatively, you can join our RockMe! program or the RockMeRetreat where we discuss these matters based on your leadership challenges.

by Tracy Hope

When I was 22, I moved from New Zealand to California’s Santa Cruz, from one ocean-loving, laid-back community to another. I was young, I was excited, I was a newlywed on an adventure, and I couldn’t imagine the culture shock that I was going to experience there.

It was only years later, when I had moved back to New Zealand and was preparing to move yet again, this time to Zürich, Switzerland, that I really took the time to analyse why returning to NZ from Santa Cruz was such a relief. I never found my niche in California, and it never felt like home. I made few friends there and had a permanent sense of being a fish out of water. And that was in a country where I spoke the language and grew up watching Californian TV shows and movies; the thought of living in a culture with another language (or two) with no prior experience was both exciting and terrifying, and I decided I was going to enter this new adventure with a firm plan to make it home.

 

There were many reasons why that first relocation felt like a failure. Don’t get me wrong: I loved living there and the opportunities I had for travel and new experiences. But I had expectations from TV and media that left me disappointed and disillusioned, and the culture of forming relationships with others was vague and confusing to me as an outsider. I read books and articles about life as a foreigner in Switzerland and set my expectations low when it came to making friends there.

 

I bought novels and biographies, learned about the history of the country, followed blogs and instagrams and researched my husband’s new employer, a global tech corporation with a large European headquarters in Zürich. We spent hours trawling through the company’s relocation tips and processes, and finally one day he pointed me to a page announcing a network just for spouses and partners of employees. Nervously I registered, noting the strict protocols to confirm that I was indeed married to an employee and therefore wasn’t joining just to learn company secrets. When my registration was confirmed, I was given access to a whole world within Zürich that I would never have known existed: a community of women and men in the same situation as me, learning to get along in a new country.

 

I read every webpage, browsed every topic in the mailing list archives, found the answers to questions I had and conversations that reassured me that everything would indeed be OK.

 

By the time I arrived in Zürich, exhausted and hungry on a snowy Tuesday evening, two children and a husband and a wagon full of suitcases in tow, I had already planned playdates with other families and had tips on how to get from the airport to our temporary apartment. Within two weeks, we had solved all of our new-arrival problems from registering at our local Gemeinde and choosing public transport passes to finding an apartment and buying new furniture. As soon as we moved into our new home (and assembled our Ikea furniture), I opened our apartment up to the community. Ten women came to introduce themselves and offer me their support and advice. Within a month of arriving on the other side of the world, I had found my home.

 

Having something with as much value as this built-in support network has been the most valuable tool for my relocation, and it’s turned me into something of an evangelist for plus-one networks for internationally relocating families.

 

There may be nothing more useful to a new arrival than this existing support network, made up of people who have already experienced what you are experiencing, and can give you not only helpful advice but the reassurance that it is survivable.

 

International HR researchers and RMC’s such as Brookfield publish extensively about this topic. They have found that more than 80% of international assignment contracts that fail, do so because the employees’ spouse or family is unhappy. Having a strong support network for spouses and partners of a company’s employees can drastically reduce the number of cancelled contracts.

 

The purpose of a plus-one network may vary wildly depending on the country and the community itself. My own community provides support for job seekers, language support, financial advice, social events and even regular welcome activities for new arrivals, giving them answers to the questions everyone has in their first months. The community can serve as a bridge between the company’s culture and the culture of the country, finding ways to connect foreigners with locals and open communications.

 

It seems unlikely that something so crucial to a successful family relocation can be so hard to find, but there it is: in the city of Zürich, a hub for international companies’ European offices, only one company and one university boast a network just for employees’ partners. In the case of the university, an entire department exists to support families of employees, while the company’s Plus-One network was founded and is managed entirely by volunteers within the community.

 

And here’s my point: anyone can make such a community exist. Whether in the financial, pharma, or academic sector, any like-minded group of partners or spouses of employees can create something that will boost the chances of a successful relocation, and hence the success of a company’s international employee contract. With solid support from HR, a company can increase the likelihood of their international employees’ contract lasting the distance. When the family is settled and happy, it should go without saying that employees are settled and happy.

 

A small amount of time and energy can go a long, long way towards happy relocations.

 

Want to learn more about how to create a Plus-One network? 

About the Author

Tracy Hope does not consider herself a “trailing spouse”. She finds new ways to support recent arrivals in Switzerland through integration events and small business support, and teaches English to children on the side. Kiwi by birth; community builder, writer and teacher by vocation, she will try anything once. Her business, Language Plus, is an English-language school for Swiss and bilingual children, but its boundaries are limitless.