Category Archives: Expat Spouse
DIgital Nomads

Contrary to what many might think, the term Digital Nomad isn’t an invention of the 21st century. The word, in fact, was first introduced in the homonym book “Digital Nomad” published by Wiley in 1997.

However, up until recently, people tended to connect this denomination with names of fancy Facebook groups where a small number of privileged and tech professionals were allowed. This is because until ten years ago, the typical graduate who entered the workplace would be shown their desk and be tied to it thereafter. If on the one hand, a few digital-first companies were already offering the possibility to work flexible hours and/or from home, on the other hand most employees could not even dream of working from a paradisiac location ten thousands miles away from the company’s office.

Nowadays, digital nomads are becoming a trend. In Global Mobility we speak of “Virtual Assignees” and “Digital Nomads” now as new assignment types. Millennials, are going to make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025, according to Inc.

In fact, in 2015, flexible remote work was already the top priority for Millennials and 85 percent expressed their preference for telecommuting 100 percent of the time (Flexjobs survey).

With this data at hand, it’s easy to see that we’re dealing here with a real new breed and not anymore a restricted circle of tech-savvy gurus. And at this point, it’s also easy to predict that the rise of this category of workers will obviously also have a strong impact on Global Mobility policies. 

The Six Points You Need to Make Sure to Check

Fatima is a young and determined woman who works as a freelancer. She has recently moved to Switzerland from where she continues to work, and she calls herself a Digital Nomad. If, like her, you too are a Digital Nomad and you’re about to or have just moved to Switzerland, this article might enlighten you on some fundamental technical issues that you need to be aware of in the Helvetic Confederation.

Despite this article being Swiss-specific, these points are worth considering wherever in the world you’re dreaming to live, either temporarily or permanently.  

This is an offer an overview of risks we see frequently. For deeper advice on your personal situation I recommend that you seek advice from specialists in the individual areas. I’m happy to introduce you to these specialists in Switzerland.

1 – Labor Law 

The labor law that applies to your case changes significantly whether you are classified as self-employed or employed. In Switzerland, being self-employed means that you work on your behalf, you are independent, and you assume the financial risk. You may decide on the type of company you build.

You will need your own infrastructure, you draw up invoices in your own name, you assume the risk of collection and you work out your taxes. Additionally, you decide on your organization and your method of working. You may outsource work to third parties and you work for more than one client. Based on this employed/self-employed differentiation, the aspects concerning your work permit vary as well.

It is as well possible that, due to different legislations across countries, the Swiss labor inspection authorities could qualify you as an employee of your current “employer” or “client”. This can happen even when in your country of origin your status is of self-employed or freelancer. If this should happen to you, you will need to provide various further documents to the competent authorities. 

Based on your host country you really need to familiarize yourself with the local employment law as well especially if you are planning to hire other people into your business.

2 – Immigration Law

If you share with Fatima the typical Digital Nomad spirit, you will probably travel often. Even during Corona-times, you will most likely travel more frequently than a traditionally employed person. For this reason, it’s important that you have the correct permits to enter the countries and actually work there. 

If you’re an EU / EFTA national not yet residing in Switzerland and working there over eight days per calendar year, you will need both a residence and work permit. If you only work here up to 90 days per calendar year your employer will have to register you via the online registration procedure. Usually, the permission will be given. However, you can then really only work here for 90 days in a calendar year. 

As a “third-country national”, you have to be aware that work visas are limited to quotas and they are therefore not so easy to obtain.  You are not allowed to work in Switzerland while on a tourist visa. You don’t want to get into trouble with the Swiss authorities.

The permits that allow you to work in Switzerland are L, B, C, and G. They have different purposes and durations. If you want to read more details about the characteristics of each permit, check our resources at the bottom. As an expat spouse you generally have the approval when you receive a B-permit. With the L-permit there is often a restriction.

Do you feel confused? Trust me, it’s normal. That’s why it’s always best to get advice from an Immigration Specialist. I suggest you contact Sonia Meier  of BecomeLocal

Special Digital Nomad Visas

You might be up-to-date already, but in case you didn’t know it, some forward-thinking countries have already introduced specific visas for Digital Nomads!

These visas are not for any Digital Nomads and every country has listed its own requirements and benefits, but it is worth it to check them out. Up to today, the countries that offer this opportunity are Barbados, Georgia, Estonia, Bermuda and Thailand, while Croatia is next in line. Check out our resources below if you want to find out more about the topic! 

With the Digital Nomad trend on the rise, Fatima wishes that Switzerland too will have this specific type of visa in the future, simplifying the bureaucratic burden she needs to go through.

3 – Personal Tax

Based on the Swiss federal tax law, you become a tax resident after living and working in Switzerland for a continuous period of 30 days, or after 90 days without earning any income. 

In Switzerland, you are responsible for paying your taxes. You are taxed only on the income generated in Switzerland and not on your worldwide income. This is regardless of whether you’re self-employed or not and it does not depend on whether you receive a one-time payment or a regular salary. 

It’s important that you learn to differentiate between your turnover and a potential salary that you are paying out to yourself. My most important advice is that you either find a good accountant like Joerg Blaettler of Winston Wolf or you learn accounting with a basic software such as Bexio.

4 – Corporate Tax

If you work for an international company without an office in Switzerland, be aware that your presence could create a “Permanent Establishment” for the company. This means that the company might have to pay corporate tax. If you decide that you want to keep  working from Switzerland, you should discuss this with them beforehand. 

If you own your own company and this is registered outside Switzerland, corporate tax issues could become even trickier, and you might incur in double taxation. Depending on the countries involved, treaties have their own specific clauses and you will have to look at your particular situation. 

5 – Social Security

For Digital Nomads like you and Fatima, it can become challenging to ensure at least basic insurance for retirement, disability or unemployment because social security is generally connected to the country of employment. 

The first thing you need to know is that Swiss social security is based on three pillars that I am going to briefly explain here. The first pillar is the basic insurance (old-age, survivors’, disability, and unemployment insurance): this is mandatory if you are a resident and earning an income in Switzerland.

If you are self-employed, you need to pay the full contribution through a self-declaration made to the authorities. If you don’t do this, the authorities will estimate and claim the contribution, and you incur a fine. 

Let’s focus on the pension scheme. When you reach the official retirement age, and if you’ve contributed for at least one year, you gain the right to claim the retirement annuity. Please keep in mind that the annuity is limited and calculated based on the years of contributions.

The second pillar is the employee’s pension scheme. This is mandatory and it covers the same risks as the first pillar, but it’s provided by the employer instead of the State. 

The third pillar is additional, private savings that you’re free to undertake or not, depending on your preferences.

And if you have a foreign employer? 

If you have a foreign employer who has the rights to apply for a certificate of coverage, they might be exempted from Swiss social security. If not, the foreign employer might have the obligation to register in Switzerland and seek for a first and second pillar solution for you while you’re based in Switzerland. 

6 – Health and Accident Insurance

As a Swiss resident, Fatima needs to have mandatory health insurance in Switzerland. She’s entering her third month in the country and her time to stipulate one is almost over. You have, in fact, up to 90 days to sign your health insurance contract from the moment you set foot in the country.

All health insurers in Switzerland provide the same benefits under basic insurance. However, if you want to be covered for other needs such as better hospital accommodation, legal assistance and so on, you need to add a voluntary supplemental insurance. 

In Switzerland, each person must pay health insurance premiums. The premiums are independent of the individual’s income but vary depending on age, residence and health insurer, so you are free to choose the health insurance company with which you wish to take out basic insurance.

If you move to Switzerland but still work in an EU/EFTA country, you must be insured in the country where your employer is based. This also applies if you are self-employed. In this case, it is not possible for you to purchase health insurance in Switzerland. If you feel lost and need guidance in making the right choice for yourself, we personally advise that you contact Ralph Endres of ExpatPartners or Domenico Bilotta at Helsana

As you figured out already, there’s a lot on the list of items that you need to take into account when deciding to work as a Digital Nomad for Switzerland. Having a clear vision of how everything works isn’t easy, especially if you need to understand bureaucracy in a language that you don’t speak well. This is why we always recommend that you reach out to a trusted expert in the field. If Fatima worked it out, you can certainly do it too! And remember it will be worth it, Switzerland ranks number 1 in the world for quality of life! 

Kind regards 

Angie Weinberger

Definitions

Digital Nomad

Online dictionaries such as Investopedia.com or Urbandictionary.com define Digital Nomads as individuals who are independent from their location by performing their work using “new” technologies, i.e. deriving their income by working remotely. A Digital Nomad is not required to commute to the employers’ office / headquarters to be physically present, as telecommuting is their preferred way of working. The typical digital nomad can be found in a myriad of locations, including using public co-working spaces, a home office or travelling around the globe.

Permanent Establishment (PE)

According to the OECD, it is a fixed place of business through which the business of an enterprise is wholly or partly carried on. The term includes a place of management: a branch, an office, a factory, a workshop, a mine, an oil or gas well, a quarry or any other place of extraction of natural resources. A building site or construction site could also be a Permanent Establishment. However, tax authorities are adapting beyond this traditional definition. Overseas contractors, International Business Travelers (IBT), warehouse space, digital activities and so on could also create a PE.

Resources 

Giving back
Working from this hotel in Dubai? A dream coming true for us digital nomads.

If you need to make a self-employment declaration and you don’t know where to start from,  you can check these resources out: 

Social Security in Switzerland

https://www.ahv-iv.ch/p/2.02.d

https://www.svazurich.ch/pdf/Checkliste_se.pdf

https://www.svazurich.ch/internet/de/home/private/arbeitssituation/selbstaendig.html

How to Develop Your Business

Here is a lot of general business advice from us. We can discuss this further. Please email Angie for a first consultation.

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/GlobalMobility/growme/

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/GlobalMobility/solopreneur/

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/GlobalMobility/global-entrepreneurs

World-Class Copywriting Courses

Ash Ambirge – The Middle Finger Project

Best Course on Building Digital Courses

Amy Porterfield

Best Podcast on Building a Global Expat Lifestyle

Sundae Schneider Bean

Dominic’s Advice for Swiss Compliance for Digital Nomads

https://feibv.nl/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Dominic-Suter-MasterCourse-Human-Resources-and-Global-Mobility-Master-Paper-FINAL.pdf 

Details about the characteristics of the various Swiss work permits: https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/work-permits/29191706 

More about Digital Nomads and immigration into Switzerland: https://newlandchase.com/digital-nomads-is-immigration-law-keeping-up-to-the-hype/ 

The guidelines published by the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME)

 

Other Countries

More information on the application procedure, supporting documents and the requirements to obtain a Digital Nomad visa in the countries that offer this: 

Barbados: 

https://www.fragomen.com/insights/alerts/12-month-remote-work-visa-introduced

Georgia: 

The application process is not yet up and running yet but the government is updating their website

Estonia:

https://e-resident.gov.ee/nomadvisa/ 

Thailand:

The SMART visa program is not only but also for Digital Nomads.

Bermuda:

Apply for their Work from Bermuda visa visit https://forms.gov.bm/work-from-bermuda/Apply

 

Hotel Des Finances

As we already mentioned in previous posts “Digital Nomads” are the new black in Global Mobility.  A survey from MBO partners revealed that, only in the US, 4.8 citizens identify as Digital Nomads, while in the UK, the Trades Union Congress calculated that remote workers grew by almost 250,000 between 2005 and 2015. While in one of their Facebook Groups like FEMALE DIGITAL NOMADS I sometimes come across horror stories of visa issues, assaults and taxation issues

The idea of working from a beach in Croatia, a hut in Estonia or below palms in the Bermudas seems an attractive vision for Millenials. However, even trying to log-in to my G-Hangout from South Tyrole or sometimes even Germany can bring down that fantasy castle (in which I also look 20 years younger, have 20 kilos less and my nails are always immaculately painted red).

Despite being almost 50, I aspire to become a Digital Nomad as well so I thought I should dig deeper into what that actually means. We therefore present a series on the topic. 

  • Part 1 deals with the mindset you need to run a “Company of One”,
  • Part 2 explains the technical Global Mobility aspects of being a “Digital Nomad”,
  • Part 3 focuses on one method to become more productive which is the Kanban-style.

Paul Jarvis is one of my favourite creators. I read his “Sunday Dispatches”. I love his online course Chimpessentials, which taught me almost everything you are seeing on the Global People Club Sandwich and which also encouraged me to continue writing to you on a weekly basis by email in the age of social media.

I ordered several of his artistic books already. The latest book “Company of One” was a special delight. Okay, I might be crushing a bit on Paul J. He has an amazing voice too.  However, you really should read the book and follow him. Paul is one of the creators who runs a business from an island in Canada and is very successful with it.

I finally got confirmation that all I had done over the last 10 years as an entrepreneur was not completely wrong. No, instead of founding a “scalable startup” I had founded a “company of one”. And I believe that scaling is possible in my business. However, if I want to continue to stay aligned with my mission of bringing the human touch back into Global Mobility, I cannot scale, automate and robotize everything.

“Au contraire…” (you need to say this with a glass of Rosé in your hand), I really believe that Paul Jarvis hit the nail right in. There are companies who can and should stay small because otherwise they might lose their special “umpf”. And you know what I noticed? This is not a question of what kind of business you have right now. It’s more about where you are heading. If you are dreaming about leading a digital nomad life where you can live in the Italian countryside near a vineyard, spend the summer on Long Island, the winter in Kashmir and a lot more time in between with your elderly family members…then my friend you need to start to take action now.

When I decided to go fully digital in 2018 I knew that I would need to take a few side turns and that this will not happen from one day to another. What I hadn’t anticipated though was that I actually am quite old-school and that I prefer human interaction over online interaction. 

I also noticed that the more I work online (and COVID-19 has brought this to an extreme – online and at home 100% of my work time – ), the more I feel a need to write stuff on post-it notes and use paper to organize myself. For example, I used a Kindle a few years ago. This year during my vacation I had it with me but I preferred to read paper-books. I journal in a diary and I only use my laptops for calls and managing my business. When I now have to present I even print the presentation before because I don’t seem to see enough detail on my laptop.

However, the main idea to have a digital business that I could run from anywhere has been magnified by the corona crisis. Still, the main reason that keeps me in one city right now is my professional network and that a basic income needs to be made every month.

I think Paul is right. Obviously, it depends on your business model and if you are a creator, an artist or a programmer.  I love the creative part of my business but over the last few years I also always had to have enough “billable” time to make a living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. 

My friends in corporate are all wealthier now than I am and I have doubted myself a lot and I’m still not sure how I will manage to survive during my retirement. You might think now that I’m exaggerating and maybe you think that it can’t be that difficult with all my contacts and all the income streams that I have created. You might be right. 

However, I live in a very security-oriented environment and I also come from a family which was poor after the second world war so I have to practice to shake off this insecurity-poverty-story.

For me, the best way to get out of that spiral is through continuous education and ongoing learning. I notice that I am growing when I am implementing new technology or improving programs or just see faster progress with my clients because I could show them a hack. I buy into organic growth because it allows me to maintain my quality standards. In the corporate world I often see a lot of back and forth and low quality products. This is not what I want to create with my team.

How much income is enough?

As I’ve been following Paul’s work for a while I have been asking myself the “enough” question a lot. You probably heard me say this before but my relationship with money completely changed when I became an entrepreneur. I would say that I need only 60% of the monthly income that I needed when I was employed. The main reason, aside from lowering my base costs, is that I feel a lot more satisfied with my life since I started my business. 

Helping you directly through writing, coaching and training makes me happy.

Paul Jarvis asks three questions:

  • How much is enough?
  • How will I know when I got there?
  • What will change if I do?

He explains how he maintains a minimalist lifestyle and how this helps him to save and reinvest while also allowing him to take extended offline periods over the summer and winter. I’m working on getting better at taking these longer breaks as well.

I translated this into ongoing questions on what I would like to achieve financially in my business and when we are there it will help to have a buffer as well. My minimum income is 60k CHF gross. This allows me to survive, not necessarily thrive and the minimum turnover for that is around 140k CHF. You might need to calculate this for yourself but interestingly enough the minimum salary is exactly what has been determined as a substance for people living in Switzerland. 

I usually say that you should have 100k CHF in the bank before starting a business full-time. At the time I started mine, I needed this buffer to get through the first few years. Later on, I would find regular income mainly through consulting projects, interim mandates and classroom lectures or workshops. 

Now, these are usually onsite so they won’t fit a long-term digital nomad strategy. So for me the last question is easily answered: Once I have enough income to stop working onsite in consulting projects and I have a buffer for hard times I will be able to move around more in the world.

How can you digitize even further?

I think it is important that you go through your idea or your current offering and check if you can offer the same service remotely or not. For example if you are a consultant or coach, you might find it easy to digitize your sessions with clients by offering an online course or coaching via ZOOM.

However, if you lecture or run brainstorming sessions it might take more effort to change these sessions to online sessions. Or if you sell actual products, you might need a warehouse or similar production facilities. If you identify those you can start to think about replacing those income sources with digital income streams. You should consider active and passive income. 

Most of you will probably have either no business yet, or a business that could be a “Company of One”. In order for you to become a “Digital Nomad” you need to solve a lot more issues than if you just stayed in your home country. Assuming that you are an expat or expat spouse in Switzerland we will show you next week five technical aspects that you will need to consider if you want to become a digital nomad and run a location-independent business.

For now, I would start with the question of determining whether you want to have a home base and where that should be. I think that you probably also need a “home base”, a place you can call “home” and return to. This will also be relevant for taxation purposes. Your business needs a home as well.

Then I want you to start thinking like a CEO. If you are thinking about starting a company of one, I would suggest that we have a coaching conversation. Let’s have a 15-minute chat to see where you are at right now.

Resources 

https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/high-salaries-aren-t-what-they-seem-in-switzerland/45810010#.XzoYb0AgLTc.whatsapp

https://ofone.co/

https://www.audible.de/pd/Company-of-One-Hoerbuch/B07KFLTK58?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIxd7U_aWW6wIVyAJ7Ch3tsAcnEAAYASAAEgKb5PD_BwE&source_code=GAWOR12604212090BN&ipRedirectOverride=true&ef_id=XP4aQwAAAEgLUl39:20200812182957:s

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/d/digital-nomad.asp

https://tandemnomads.com/podcast/tn75-how-to-legally-set-up-portable-business/

https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/home-working-fifth-over-last-decade-tuc-analysis-reveals

References

Jarvis, P. (2019): Company of One.


We have been living in a world dominated by political and economic uncertainty for many years now. However, 2020 is proving to be a particularly exceptional and tough year and, in its first few months, it had already brought the entire planet down to its knees. The global health crisis caused by Covid-19 has basically impacted all aspects of life and radically changed the way we work. Obviously, the world of Global Mobility was also greatly disrupted.  Considered the extent of the impact caused by the crisis, it doesn’t take a fortune teller to foresee that Global Mobility teams will suffer the blow of the crisis in the years to come.

However, it’s not all bad news. Global Mobility teams continue to prove to be incredibly resilient and are constantly coming  up with immediate and particularly creative solutions to face issues that arise overnight. Imagine the difficulty of having to suddenly repatriate an expat (or an expat family) who was temporarily on holiday in a third country and remains stuck there without any other assistance. Or the complexity of finding a quick solution for someone who was about to go on assignment but suddenly had to postpone the departure, despite all their household goods having already been shipped to the host location. 

In the next few lines, we will briefly outline the top eight Global Mobility trends to watch in 2020.

1 – GM will continue to diversify Assignment Types in guidelines

A constantly changing and diverse population like today’s requires closer alignment between mobility types and support levels, but also more flexibility and agility. The graph below represents the evolution of GM through the latest decades and particularly highlights the need for more flexible mobility types in 2020s, as envisioned by Deloitte (2019) and FIDI (2019).

Predictably, there will be more variety in the range of mobility locations as well. The “global approach”, which Global Mobility has seen increase over time, will become the leading type of move. 

If LTAs remain an important and widely used relocation model, it is also true that the deployment of shorter and more flexible approaches, such as STAs, business trips, immersive experiences and commuter models are constantly gaining traction (Deloitte, 2019). A GAPP Survey from KPMG (2019) confirms the same trend, with survey participants expecting to rely more on shorter duration assignments such as extended business trips (56%), STAs (75%) and developmental/training assignments (46%) over the next five years. On the other hand, a reduction in the use of traditional LTAs (51% is expected).

Companies increasingly make use of technology tools to avoid physically moving people across borders. This trend has become increasingly popular especially during the current 2020 pandemic and is bound to grow steadily thanks to the broad availability of improved real-time communication tools, video conferencing and even Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. These technologies are already being used to transform the employee on-boarding experience into the company and can be used to virtually meet colleagues in other countries, constituting new collaboration tools. Lastly, employees can virtually immerse themselves into new cities before deciding whether to move to another city.

 

The GM function has already increased its involvement in activities such as international recruitment,  global talent acquisition and location strategy, which includes attracting talent to remote locations as mentioned in this report from Stiftung Zukunft.li. According to Deloitte (2019), it will continue diversifying its scope in 2020 and beyond, and those additional responsibilities will keep strengthening the role that GM plays as talent enabler, strategic business partner and employee coach. 

2 – GM will need to be more flexible in dealing with the needs of a diverse workforce

For a GM program to be successful, it needs to work well both for the organisation and the expats. But having a policy both flexible and defined enough to be used as the foundation for any mobility scenario is a big challenge even for the most evolved GM programs, as recent data from Mercer’s Flexible Mobility Policies Survey report.

Flexibility has dominated HR headlines for several years. In fact, it continues to be a trending topic, driven by a number of factors such as a constantly changing expat population and assignment types, employee expectations, modern technologies and tools, but also the new unexpected global halt caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is acting as a stress test of flexible policies and raising important questions in flexibility debate (Mercer). Let us look at all those aspects in more detail.

Expat population and assignment types

Although a traditional LTA is also women’s favoured choice (53% of , shorter and more flexible STA are notably more popular among women than men. Did you know that? The proportion of men and women who prefer these short-term options are as follows. Frequent business travel, but based in home country: men 30% and women 37%; fly-in/fly-out commuter assignment: men 20% and women 21%;  very short-term assignment (less than six months): men 16% and women 27%;  short-term (6–12 months): men 33% and women 39% (PwC, 2016).

Nowadays, a more diverse population than ever is embarking on International Assignments. Employees are more diverse in cultural backgrounds, family situation, age, etc. and it is basically impossible to address all the needs of these diverse groups into a one-size-fits all policy.

Employee expectations

Picture this scenario: a leading multinational company needs to select somebody with the right skills to establish their first overseas division and they have two equally strong candidates. Alice just got married and, in their best intentions but without consulting her, leadership decides that she would not like to go on assignment as she is likely to be starting a family. The opportunity is therefore offered to George. 

What do Alice and George think twelve months later? 

Alice said she was really shocked about not being even consulted on the decision that leadership took. Her husband and she wanted to get the wedding out of the way so that she could pursue her dream of going on an international assignment. But it all worked out for her in the end: she is now working overseas for one of their competitors and is very happy in her role.

George knew that he was going to have to embark on an international assignment at some point. However, the company’s decision really came at the worst time. His wife and he were about to tell their families about their first baby. But he still said yes to the opportunity and eventually convinced her wife to try that out, but it was very tough on her and she ended up being sick through the whole pregnancy. When the baby was born, she had no support network. This situation also impacted his performance which was much lower than back home. For this reason, the company decided to bring him back. 

A more diverse workforce equals a larger variety of individual assignees’ expectations, with the result that if a proposition is very attractive for one employee it might be not appealing at all for another. This is clearly pinpointed by the 2018 How Global Mobility is Responding to New Dilemmas Survey: expectations from millennial generation employees are impacting mobility programs for 43% of surveyed companies, while the aging workforce has 36% of companies re-evaluating their program policies.

Technology

Today more than ever, technology is a great aid tool for managing assignee package creating and makes it possible for expat management teams to stay in close communicative touch with their expats abroad. The impact of technological and digital innovation on Global Mobility will be discussed more in detail later on.

 

Meaningful analyses and reports that evaluate the efficacy of mobility programs are now easier to obtain.

According to the Mercer 2019 Flexible Mobility Policies Survey, 37% of the companies already consider their current mobility policies flexible, and 43% hope to introduce some flexibility to their mobility policies and practices. On the other hand, around 20% do not include and do not intend to introduce flexibility in their mobility policies.

The primary benefits listed by the participants of the Flexible Mobility Policies Survey (Mercer, 2019) who intend to introduce more flexible policies are making packages more valuable for assignees and reducing exception requests. Driving cost efficiency was only 3rd in the list of most expected benefits companies think they will see. Interestingly, among the 56% of the companies who acknowledged the (perceived) benefits of the flexible packages they entail, more than two thirds indicated that their flexible policies also resulted in cost efficiency. 

The most popular policy elements for which participants introduced flexibility are family-related: housing, spousal support, child education, and home leave tickets are all items that can help improve the Expat Experience while on assignment.

With the crisis, the importance of duty of care over excessive flexibility was acknowledged: policies should not be made flexible if they are essential for the wellbeing of employees. Flexible policies have prepared some companies to deal more efficiently with urgent repatriations and unforeseen mobility scenarios. Other companies adopting flexible policies have found them inapplicable and inappropriate in the context of urgency. Once the emergency is over, it is imperative to evaluate which flexible policies have proved effective and which ones were incompatible with duty of care.

Not packages, but rather work arrangements was what benefited the most in terms of flexibility during the crisis. In fact, organisations were compelled to find enough flexibility to allow their mobile employees to do home office, sometimes even in a different country than the assignment country. A remarkable stress was put on business continuity and resilience at the forefront, leaving employee lifestyle and preferences in the background.

3 – Dual-Career Expat Couples 

The 2017 Worldwide Survey of International Assignment Policies & Practices (WIAPP) survey report pinpointed dual-career/family-related issues and cost as the main barriers to mobility. Similarly, the expected advantages of a flexible mobility program were also closely related to these issues. Also the report published by Crown (2019) highlights the same issue. But if this is not a new phenomenon, why is it considered a megatrend to watch in 2020?

Because many more households, globally, rely on two salaries. This means that when an employee is asked to take on an international assignment, the economic impact on the family is greater than in the past. As a consequence, an increasing number of companies are struggling with the challenges posed by the dual-career demographic and they are in search of creative solutions. 

To deal with the dual-career factor, companies have put in place several strategies. Many have put in place policies to support split-families, offering more frequent home leave. However, this is generally limited to 12-24 months, after which the employee runs a higher risk of suffering from burnout with a negative impact on work productivity as well. Another solution is the increase of commuter assignments especially across the EU where distances are limited. The downside of this could be that after some time, the commuter status will impact the employee and their family, as well as the morale of the team in the home and host location. Another strategy, the one for which we advocate, is putting Expat Spouse support at the core of GM policies. According to Crown’s 2019 Policy and Practices report, today, only 56% of companies address spouse/partner assistance. The most standard support comes in the form of reimbursements for job search assistance, professional affiliations and credential maintenance.

4 – GM will learn to facilitate and organize “Virtual Assignments”

The first trend highlighting the continuous diversification of GM also encompasses a higher number of Virtual Assignments. Differently than managers who oversee a region or frequent Business Travelers who might occasionally be involved in operations abroad from remote, a virtual assignee does remotely the same job as an assignee who has relocated to the host country. 

The COVID-19 crisis is changing all the debate around the possibilities of home office and Virtual Assignments since never in history have so many employees worked remotely in order to guarantee essential business continuity. Obviously, Virtual Assignments also raise a lot of new questions. However, Mercer suggests that if they are implemented at a great extent, they could present opportunities beyond the end of the crisis and will lead to companies having to reassess what is meant by GM.

Virtual mobility does not necessarily imply that employees remain in the home country while being responsible for operations in other locations. It can also mean allowing employees to work in a third country of choice (not the home country or the location benefiting from the task performed). Implementing a larger number of Virtual Assignments also means acknowledging and accepting that working arrangements are changing fast in response to technology, generational changes, and sudden business disruptions. 

Of course, as Mercer points out, there are limits, the most obvious of which is the fact that not all jobs can be performed from remote, and that is also one of the reasons why virtual mobility will not replace traditional mobility. Another barrier, and potential risk, can be presented by tax and compliance issues. A further obstacle can also simply be that the company has no existing operations and no wish to have a Permanent Establishment in the location where the employee would like to be based. Last but not least, some organizations are concerned that Virtual Assignments could hinder company culture and teamwork, with the risk for the employee to feel a perpetual outsider. The final point worth considering is that cost saving is not necessarily automatic: in case the assignee wants to live in a high-cost country, there could be additional costs. 

It is now easier to see how the popularity of virtual mobility is closely related to the increase of a more dispersed international workforce. As companies upgrade their technology and become more agile, they could decide to assign projects and tasks to mobile people rather than moving defined jobs as such. In other words, instead of trying to fit assignees into predefined boxes, the aim is to manage a diverse workforce in a more fluid and coordinated way (Mercer). 

Moving jobs to people instead of moving people to jobs is not going to substitute the traditional way of thinking GM, but it is one more tool that companies can use in their global operations. In fact, we live in an era in which recruitment is not limited by geography, and hiring can occur in any global location to fill open positions. As organizations gradually embrace best practices to manage a distributed international workforce, it will be essential for Global Mobility teams to adapt to a new way of thinkinking and to learn to implement virtual assignments successfully. 

The COVID-19 crisis has perhaps exposed even more the weaknesses and inconsistencies in current mobility management practices in relation to talent mobility. And if, on the one hand, it shows the limit of rigid organization policies, on the other, it also forces HR teams to be more creative and agile in addressing the business’s needs and assisting assignees. The hope is that talent mobility professionals will indeed retain some of this reactivity born out of the crisis as to be in a good position to help organizations recover in the post-crisis times. 

5 – GM Managers will expand their skills and become more agile 

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, multi-skilling is “the practice of training employees to do several different things, or of using employees who can do several different things”, or, in other words, the ability to master a wide range of skills relevant for different types of functions and jobs. Research from Hershbein and Khan (2018) provide broad-based evidence of how firms demand even more upskilling from workers when the local economy suffers a recession. Thus, this practice is likely to be even more useful in the aftermath of the crisis, when more agility will be required in all areas of business. 

The future of work is skill-driven and the expansion of the gig economy brings proof to the statement. Since organizations are becoming more flatter and more digital, corporate positions or job titles will not matter as much as skills and the capacity to update and renew these skills. 

Mercer listed a series of skills that will matter for talent mobility professionals and that will contribute to more relevant and strategic for the organizations. Below is a summary.

Now more than ever global mobility teams are asked to be advisers to the business and to help anticipate risks and compliance issues. Mobility professionals should basically function as bridges between departments and geographies and serve as facilitators to coordinate arising issues. One possibility is that the mobility functions will be gradually more oriented towards consultancy. In one sentence, Global Mobility teams need to master compliance issues.

Another necessary step will be making sure that the basics are in place in terms of metrics and cost tracking, but what really makes the difference for HR professionals will be the ability to turn the results of newly developed metrics into concrete suggestions to improve people management.

It is also fundamental that mobility professionals are able to speak the same language as general management and finance and that they have the capacity to link mobility with compelling business cases.

Another crucial point Global Mobility teams need to  bring to the top of their agendas is developing the ability to be good storytellers. Explaining the bigger story behind talent mobility and to what extent employees’ tasks relate (even distantly) to the overall economy and the society’s well being is a differentiator. Storytelling is also about being able to summarize clearly what the main principles underlying the mobility program policy are or what the very mobility program entails. 

Today we live in an unprecedented abundance of information. Making sense of the information or where to find the information is not the problem anymore. The crucial issue is determining which data are true and relevant and how they should be interpreted in order to draw relevant conclusions for the business. Another objective for GM professionals is to have a role to play in the digitalization of companies and to become more familiar with the concepts and technologies revolving around AI.In other words, develop statistical and technology literacy.

Last but not least, now that companies diversify more and more their compensation approaches, Global Mobility professionals need to dig deeper into Expat base pay, benefits, short-term and long-term incentives as to have a wider financial understanding of the implications of an international move. It’s time to broaden reward skills. 

6 – The Human Touch will be the key to successful Global Mobility programs

According to Deloitte (2019), mobility professionals rank Expat Experience as top strategic priority. For employees, this results in a heightened focus on wellbeing, development and recognition. At the same time, Expats have started perceiving global mobility differently and if they once used to see compensation as the primary incentive for global relocations, they now tend to value a human‑centric global mobility experience providing validation on both a personal and professional level. Nowadays the global workforce is attracted and motivated by a more personalised, agile and holistic experience which predictably results in a better relationship between employees and employer.

Deloitte has come up with three actions to ‘humanise’ global mobility, namely setting people at the center of the mobility experience; making mobility more personal than other aspects of the talent lifecycle; and building the experience around the specific person going on assignment.

Enhancing the Expat Experience has been on top of the priority list of many employers for quite some time. However, it would be unfair to deny that too often, it is difficult to prioritize it if teams are too busy focusing on the many operational aspects of the mobility program. 

As a matter of fact, a well designed human‑centric global mobility program does not simply consider employee needs, but also takes into account the rest of the stakeholders involved. Deloitte predicts that enhancing Expat Experience will keep being a key priority focus area for many leaders in the years to come. Organisations who wish to embrace a human-centred global mobility program successfully should focus on the following four core aspects:

  • Operational Support. Structure of operations, and satisfaction with external vendors.
  • Financial Welfare.  Rewards, benefits and other support provided to the employee. 
  • Professional Engagement.  Successful integration into the host location, and career progression.
  • Expat Well Being. Employee resilience, and focus outside of work life.

The COVID-19 crisis has particularly highlighted the very last aspect of the above list, Expat Well Being. According to Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends, 80% of the respondents identified well being as an important priority for their organization’s success over the next 12-18 months, making it this year’s top trend for importance. Yet, only 12% feel “very ready” to address this issue, meaning that there is clearly a “readiness gap”.  Expat Well Being definitely does not stop to healthcare considerations and should not be a priority only during emergencies.  It also entails social, emotional and financial aspects, in other words, areas in which highly mobile employees are automatically more at risk. Factors such as stress, mental health, family and financial issues, but also demotivation and failed assignments should put the mobility team on full alert. There is no doubt that the current crisis is pushing companies to accelerate their strategies to ameliorate Expat Well Being, potentially enabling a better work-life balance. In fact, the investments made towards an improved well being come with valid reasons: burnout impacts employee retention, employees with higher well-being are more likely to feel engaged at work and recommend their organizations, and, to some extent, well being drives organizational performance (Deloitte, 2020).

7 – Harder immigration compliance 

Even before this global pandemic, the waiting time organizations had to face before holding all the authorizations required for an employee to travel abroad for business were becoming increasingly longer. The quicker visa to obtain, that for short-term business travels, are not intended for productive work or long-term assignments, and many countries are more actively enforcing measures against illegal employment, with a larger number of employees having not only to pay pricey fines but to undergo criminal punishments. 

Problems only increase when the employee is accompanied by dependents who travel on a holiday visa and then try to find a job in the new host country or get a local driver’s license. 

Undoubtedly, the unexpected crisis caused by the widespread presence of COVID-19 will make immigration compliance an even more complicated matter for organisations wanting to send their employees abroad, repatriate or transfer them to a third country. 

In a world where business travel, secondments and overseas relocations are routine, the resulting level of disruption caused by the restrictions on movement that governments set in place to combat the spread of the pandemic is unprecedented. With companies working hard to prioritise their staff well being, another whole set of legal challenges arise. In such a rapidly changing scenario, it is not uncommon for mobile employees to remain stranded in their host country or a transit country or to risk overstaying their visa. Some of the measures that governments around the world are enacting are temporary but others could have a more negative effect on business in the near future. Two measures in particular could have a more long lasting impact on Global Mobility: 

  1. Entry restrictions and an increased number of admission criteria for certain countries, including bans on some high-risk locations.
  2. Heightened eligibility criteria and application requirements where visas are being issued, including suspension of visa waiver agreements and more detailed document requirements for new applications.

8 – Digital Innovation

In the past 24 months, many organizations have put a major focus both on digitisation (moving to more digital formats) and digitalisation (strategically shifting to digital processes and activities) of the mobility function. According to Deloitte and Fidi, this will continue being a global trend in 2020 as well. One of the biggest challenges of Global Mobility will be to bring digital innovation at the core of companies’ business models, evaluating how the technology available today can augment their human workforce. 

Companies’ level of ‘digital engagement’ obviously depends on how “digitally mature” their global mobility programs already are. Some might be just  ‘exploring digital’, using robotics to carry out simple and repetitive tasks,while others might be already ‘becoming digital’ with a formal digital strategy set in place. 

Automation

Mobility functions are already experiencing success where this technology is implemented to perform tasks that humans would normally be assigned, such as ending routine emails or copying and pasting information from public or private sources. In turn, workers can be repurposed to high value tasks for the benefit for the mobility function. By adopting and introducing those techniques  into existing processes, Global Mobility teams will be able to focus on diminishing costs, increase productivity by improving operational efficiency, and retain talent. In fact, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology is already being used to speed up administrative/transactional processes in mobility functions. Equally important is that automation can also reveal itself crucial in reducing hierarchical thinking.

Workplace tools

Core office technologies such as telephone, word processing platforms and email have already evolved as to expand the possibilities of connected and collaborative working. Employees can now access the latest information, join video conferences, share and work on the same documents or workspace at their convenience, from a device and location of their choice. The next generation of workplace tools will create even more opportunities in areas such as collaboration, training and learning, and it will as well provide business leaders the opportunity to deliver a better experience to their teams and assignees. Even more importantly, new ‘digital learning’ means that organizations will be able to make fun what is hard stuff in life. For instance, Augmented and Virtual  Reality (AR and VR respectively), can be used to transform the employee’s onboarding experience into the organisation, or it can provide the possibility to meet and collaborate with colleagues in other countries. Additionally, it can be used as well to virtually recreate cities so that one can immerse oneself in the new environment before deciding to move there.

Artificial Intelligence

According to Deloitte (2020), AI is projected to add US$13 trillion to the global economy over the next decade. Thus, it is no wonder that in their 2020 Global Human Capital Trends Survey, 70% of the respondents stated that their organizations were exploring or using AI to some extent. At this point, the question is not anymore whether AI will affect jobs, but rather how. As a matter of fact, reducing costs by replacing workforce with AI technology is not the only viable path: 60% of the surveyed (Deloitte, 2020) organizations are using AI to assist rather than replace workers. 

By using smart devices to predict, detect and prevent risks in moving people around the globe, AI is already helping organisations to go beyond traditional ways of managing the global workforce. With the huge increase of the data volume available to organisations, the emergence of advanced AI-based algorithms and the growing availability of data scientists, systems become increasingly self-managing and potentially self-defending against risks.  

 

Resources (Websites)

https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/insights/article/2020-buzzwords-and-what-they-tell-us-about-mobility

https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/insights/article/virtual-assignments-cultural-and-inclusion-issues

https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/insights/article/the-rise-of-virtual-assignments https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/insights/article/assessing-the-feasibility-of-virtual-assignments-a-checklist

https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/insights/article/delivering-flexibility 

https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/Insights/article/Global-mobility-policy-flexibility-in-practice

https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/solutions/data-solutions/policies-and-practices-surveys/flexible-mobility-policies-survey

https://www.imercer.com/products/WorldwideIAPP

https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/Insights/article/Upskilling-the-Mobility-Function

Books and Reports

Baker McKenzie. (2019). ‘The Global Employer: Focus on Global Immigration and Mobility.’ Baker McKenzie. Retrieved May 27, 2020, from https://www.bakermckenzie.com/en-/media/files/insight/publications/2019/12/the-global-employer-focus-on-immigration-and-mobility_041219.pdf

Beck, P., Eisenhut, P. and Thomas, L. (2018). „Fokus Arbeitsmarkt: Fit für di Zukunft?”. Stiftung Zukunft.li. Retrieved 28 May, 2020, from https://www.stiftungzukunft.li/publikationen/fokus-arbeitsmart-fit-fuer-die-zukunft 

Bertolino, M. (2020). ‘How Covid-19 is disrupting immigration policies and worker mobility: a tracker’. Ernst and Young. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from https://www.ey.com/en_gl/tax/how-covid-19-is-disrupting-immigration-policies-and-worker-mobility-a-tracker

Hauri, D., Eisenhut, P., and Lorenz T. (2016). „Knacknuss Wachstum und Zuwanderung: Hintergründe unde Zusammenhange.” Stiftung Zukunft.li. Retrieved 28 May, 2020, from Knacknuss Wachstum und Zuwanderung

Robb, A., Frewin, K. and Jagger, P. (2017a). ‘Global Workforce Trends: The Impact of the Digital Age on Global Mobility.’ Deloitte. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/tax/deloitte-uk-global-mobility-trends-latest.PDF 

Robb, A., Frewin, K. and Jagger, P. (2017b). ‘Global Workforce : Digital Innovation in Mobility.’ Deloitte. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/fi/Documents/tax/deloitte-uk-digital-innovation-in-mobility.pd 

References

Deloitte. (2020). ‘2020 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Survey. Deloitte.’ Deloitte. Retrieved May 27, 2020, from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/insights/us/articles/us43244_human-capital-trends-2020/us43244_human-capital-trends-2020/di_hc-trends-2020.pdf 

Deloitte. (2019). ’Global Workforce Insight 2019.’ Deloitte. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/ch/Documents/tax/deloitte-ch-Back-to-the-future-global-workforce.pdf

FIDI. (2019). ‘2020 Vision: A Focus on Next Year’s Trends.’ FIDI Global Alliance. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from https://www.fidi.org/blog/2020-vision-focus-next-years-trends 

Hershbein B and Khan, L. B. (2018). ‘Do Recessions Accelerate Routine-Biased Technological Change? Evidence from Vacancy Postings.’ American Economic Review. Vol. 108, no. 7, pp. 1737-72. Retrieved May 27, 2020, from https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/aer.20161570

KPMG. (2019). ‘Global Assignment Policies and Practices Survey.’ KPMG International. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2019/10/2019-gapp-survey-report-web.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


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 Expats and their spouses in Zurich

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.


Stop me if you have heard this before, but the general belief among people seems to be that separation rates among expatriates are higher than those among the native (aka stay-at-home) professionals. I would like to point out that this is not the case. The reality is in fact that this idea comes from the fact that the impacts of family separations are much greater. Think about the difficulty of handling separation and potential custody disputes through geographical boundaries.

Discussion among multinational Global Mobility circles is centering on the issue of Dual-Career Expat Couples. 

Why You Need To Care About This

You may be wondering, how do their personal relationships and related problems impact businesses? The answer is simple: 

People would choose to leave their international assignment in order to save their marriages or as one Partner in one of my former GM Leader roles once said “Happy Wife, happy Life”.

In fact, a McKinsey study shows that 70% of expat assignments fail, meaning the position gets vacated, companies have to spend extra money to replace and train personnel, meaning their growth slows down.  Businesses therefore have a vested interest in seeing these relationships continue to succeed. 

To get the perspective of the professionals, research conducted by PwC found that most employees listed the spouse’s career as a barrier to mobility. 

Many would not choose to disrupt their spouse’s established careers and move them to another country.

Reports from Crown and Brookfield pointed out that family challenges of international relocation remain a top reason for assignment refusal and assignment failure, while a growing body of anecdotal evidence suggest that many expatriate marriages fail often at huge cost to organizations (McNulty, 2015). In fact, nearly 70% of expatriates and their spouses reported “marital breakdown”as the most important reason why relocations fail (Lazarova et al., 2015; Lazarova & Pascoe, 2013). 

The reasons for Expatriate Failure are usually not well captured. There is a data hole here and we have to assume that family reasons are a major reason for expatriate failure rates. This lack of data is something that needs to be addressed in the near future as the importance of this issue rises, like a recent survey from Mercer highlights. According to the NetExpat and EY Relocation Partner Survey 71% of the companies they surveyed claim that Expat Spouse’s unhappiness is the primary reason for Expatriate Failure. 

In the light of all these findings, improving spouse and family assistance as well as spouse career support clearly need to feature at the top of the list of challenges and priorities of Global Mobility programs.

When it comes to Expatriate Failure rates, one example that I tend to criticize is that often assignments end prematurely because of business considerations, expats accepting a new role in a new location or ending school years. However, the assignment was still a success. 

The current definition of Expatriate Failure would categorize such an assignment as a “failure”

In contradiction to “Expatriate failure”, “Expatriate Adjustment” is used as a common way to measure “success”of an  international assignment or project and often equalized with carrying out the assignment during the assigned period.

There isn’t a quick or easy solution to this issue, especially with the data hole present. Let us therefore look at possible solutions to this issue, how to improve the Expat Experience (XX) for your spouse or life partner and how best to handle the issue in case the worst outcome becomes inevitable.

Besides Expat Spouse’s career, KPMG identified another main demographic reason that leads employees not to take up an international assignment: sexual orientation. 

In 2018, only 40% of the companies they surveyed had Diversity and Inclusion objectives as part of their Global Mobility strategy, while only 20% had actually planned to review their policies after reassessing the demographics of their globally mobile employees based on diversity. 

Additionally, excluding gender, other points such as ethnicity, age, religion, disability status, have not yet been captured in the global mobility space. 

Like in most of today’s international companies, you too have probably come to recognize the proven benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace. However, if you are in a same-sex relationship the reality of Global Mobility can be complex. Even if your Global Mobility Manager is open you could be faced with immigration challenges and prejudice in the host country.

How we Define Expat Spouse

As most countries require you to be legally married to enter their borders, I will be using the term Expat Spouse for life partners as well. Also, this term applies to all genders and same-sex relationships. For the sake of clarity, with the gender neutral ‘spouse’ is meant the expatriate’s life partner and the term is also commonly included in contracts and policies for international assignments. We will also use the term Expat Couple. For further definitions and terminology you can consult “The Global Mobility Workbook”(2019).

What you can do: Eight  Ideas to Avoid Family Separation on Your Expat Assignment

1 – Involve Your Spouse 

It is crucial that you (the Expat) appreciate and contribute in any way possible in order to not let your Expat Spouse compromise their career. Many Expat Spouses can probably relate to the experience of living in a country which is not always of their choosing. 

Often, they also have very high professional qualifications and years of solid work experience behind them. Suddenly though, they are left without any employment despite real efforts to find work, and might even struggle to have their degrees recognized in the new country. 

The most important point here is that you involve your Expat Spouse in the decision-making process from the beginning, not only when the moving truck pulls up the driveway.

2 – Understand Immigration

Many countries do not automatically grant the right to work to the Expat Spouse. You need to check if your company will support your Expat Spouse with obtaining a work permit. You can check the host country’s immigration websites for initial guidance.

3 – Support as Long as necessary 

Assist your spouse in getting a job or starting their own business by being financially supportive. You can agree on a temporary loan so they don’t feel dependent on you. Discuss the financial situation during the assignment and what it will mean for their old-age pension and other saving plans they might have. Make sure you aren’t troubling them by overemphasizing.

4 – Spend Quality Time Together

A new place can feel daunting and scary, often lonely. Spend quality time with your spouse so they don’t feel alone in a new place. Plan weekends away so you get to know the positives about living in a new culture, not just the daily life. Explore the new culture and meet other people to build a network of friends fast.

5 – Consider Joining A Support Group

Joining a support group of people who are going through similar experiences can also guide your Expat Spouse in adjustment to change. There are several online and physical communities around the world that are worth looking into. And when it comes to Switzerland alone, the choice is large: from the well known Internations to Expatica, and from the Zurich Spooglers to the Hausmen of Basel, the opportunities to connect with fellow Expats and Expat Spouses in the country are plenty.

6 – Help Your Spouse In Finding Volunteer Work 

In Switzerland a lot of associations depend on volunteers. Search for English-speaking groups your Expat Spouse could support, like SINGA Switzerland or Capacity Zurich. If you have children , you can also offer your help to international schools and kindergartens. Generally, this is easier done by joining parents’ associations like the one at the Leysin American School in Switzerland, or at TASIS, but also at the Zurich International School or at the Inter-Community School Zurich.

7 – Give them a Coaching Voucher for a Session with Angie

I have a lot of experience with helping clients to mend their broken relationships. One session can already help to shift the Spouse’s mindset from victim to self-reliant, strong, and active professional.

8 – Step Back For The Next Career Move Of Your Spouse

Even though this one idea is pretty self explanatory, it is hard to do in practice especially if your income is a lot higher than the income of your Spouse. Take turns in whose career is leading the decision for the next assignment. That means stepping back when it is your spouse’s turn to move up in their career.

Kind Regards,

Angie.

Resources

If you cannot afford our program you can still profit from our expertise if you purchase “The Global Career Workbook” (2016) and read these blog posts.

Hit post No. 1

How to Get a Swiss Recruiters Attention Through Well Written Cover Letters & Organised Testimonials

Hit post No. 2

Top 10 Tips for a Killer Linkedin Profile

Hit post No. 3

Bourne Effect

Other helpful posts:

References:

Black, S. J., Mendenhall, M. E., Oddou, G. (1991). „Toward a Comprehensive Model of International Adjustment: An Integration of Multiple Theoretical Perspective”, The Academy of Management Review, DOI: 10.2307/258863

Bruno, Debra. (2015, March 18). „Divorce, Global Style: for Expat Marriages Breaking Up is Harder to Do”, The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 29, 2020, from https://blogs.wsj.com/expat/2015/03/18/divorce-global-style-for-expat-marriages-breaking-up-is-harder-to-do/

KPMG. (2018). „Inclusion and Diversity in Global Mobility”, KPMG. Retrieved April 30, 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

Hsieh, T., Lavoie, J. & Samek R. (1999): „Are you taking your Expatriate Talent seriously?”, The McKinsey Quarterly. Retrieved April 29, 2020, from https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-63725939/are-you-taking-your-expatriate-talent-seriously.

Lazarova, M., McNulty, Y. & Semeniuk, M. (2015). „Expatriate family narratives on international mobility: key characteristics of the successful moveable family”, in Suutari, V. and Makela, L. (Eds), Work and Personal Life Interface of International Career Contexts, Springer, Heidelberg, pp. 55-76. 

Lazarova, M. & Pascoe, R. (2013). „We are not on vacation! Bridging the scholar-practitioner gap in expatriate family research”, in Lazarova, M., McNulty, Y. and Reiche, S. (symposium organizers), ‘Moving Sucks!’: What Expatriate Families Really Want (and Get) When They Relocate, Symposium at 2013 US Academy of Management Annual Meeting, Lake Buena Vista, FL.

McNulty, Y. (2015). „Till stress do us part: the causes and consequences of expatriate divorce”. Journal of Global Mobility, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 106–136. https://doi.org/10.1108/JGM-06-2014-0023

McNulty, Y., Selmer, J. (2017): Research handbook of expatriates.

Weinberger, A. (2019a): „The Global Mobility Workbook“, Third Edition, Global People Transitions, Zurich.  

Weinberger, A. (2019b): „The Use of Digital Intercultural Coaching with Expats and Implications for Transition Plans in Global Mobility”, Master’s thesis, The Institute for Taxation and Economics, Rotterdam, from https://feibv.nl/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Master-Thesis_Weinberger-Angela_Jan-2019_Final.pdf