How to bring your family on board when a long-term expat assignment is in the cards
RockMe! Retreat

This is an attempt at giving guidance out of the box. Many expats take difficult decisions. These decisions are not always to the liking of our partner or children, especially teenagers can be quite difficult when they find out that they have to leave their friends. Having worked in Global Mobility for a long time of my career, I would like to help you bring your family on board earlier in the process.

You might argue now that your partner knew when they married you, that you had an international outlook on your career and that you love the challenge of starting a new job in a new environment. You would argue that this person always loved your sense of accomplishment when you got a challenging job done within two to three years. You will probably also tell me, that your company will not ask you twice and that you basically do not have a choice.

We both know, that married life is not that easy and that the person you married five years ago might have changed while you have changed as well. Your spouse might have career aspirations or is just up for the next promotion.

Once you have children, your global flexibility might be even more challenged. Your kids might not want to move to another country and make new friends. Maybe they already have two native languages and do not feel like learning a third or fourth language.

 

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I read the German textbook “Interkulturelle Kompetenz” (intercultural competence) by Juergen Bolten. While this book has great ideas for intercultural trainers and coaches, as a Global Mobility Expert I was surprised to read, that Bolten claims that we have less international assignments, more commuters, and short-termers today than ever. And I hear that a lot from students in Germany. It seems that academia is convinced that long-term assignments have dropped significantly since the global financial crisis.

Most Global Mobility reports in the last five years showed indeed an increase in short-term assignments and project workers. There are also more “commuters”. We also see more international recruitment on local contracts, but the long-term expat assignment is still prevalent in most international companies. The numbers of long-term assignments are stable in many industries.* We don’t have less international assignment we just have more mobility.

In my view as an interculturalist, you actually need to be on the ground and immerse in the culture in order to perform certain roles. Despite digitalization success in business development, managerial roles and in relationship-oriented cultures comes with deeper business relationships and global competency. In other words: You have to be in the host country if you want to be successful.

A two-year assignment in my experience is generally a bit too ambitious. A three-year assignment is often needed to perform well in a new role in a new country. In reality, a lot of senior managers stay up to five years in the host country on classical expat assignments. (In my book I call those market-driven assignments.)

Any day now you could be asked to go on a three-year assignment to Mombasa or Mumbai. What would you do? How do you come to a decision about an international assignment when taking all aspects into account?

Over the years of working with expats and their spouses, I have seen a lot of bad decision making so this is an attempt to give you guidance while not knowing everything about your personal situation.

Focus on the learning you will gain from the role more than on the financial incentives.

A lot of expats base their decisions largely on package and numbers and forget to understand more about the role and the learning of the assignment experience. Ask yourself what kind of learning you will take away, what will your spouse learn and also how it will develop skills in your children. Have an open discussion about this at the dinner table.

Show your spouse and kids how they will live by taking them on a look-and-see trip.

If you have never lived in Mumbai or Mombasa or Stockholm it is hard to imagine what daily life will be like. Going on a look-and-see-trip still seems to be the most effective way to show your partner and family what will await them in the foreign lands. Expose them to the host language too by watching movies in the original language, explore and discover basic facts about the host country together.

Consider the international assignment as a family adventure and make sure that you are ready.

If you went on a hike to Mount Everest or a challenging world cruise in a sailing boat, you would expect everyone on the trip to be fit and willing to work as a team. Your relationship should be stable, both of you fit and healthy, your children well adapted in school and in general you should have an interest in your host location.

Packing
Packing

Take advantage of all programs such as intercultural training, language classes and spousal assistance programs that your company offers.

Too many times assignees tell me that they did not really know about what their company offers in terms of support. There are a lot of reasons for this and you need to take responsibility when it comes to claiming intercultural training, language classes and spousal assistance programs. If you rely only on the communication you receive from HR or Global Mobility you might miss out on some of these benefits as during your decision-making phase and in preparing for the new role you might not hear all the detailed information. Speak to assignees, who have been in the host location for about a year. They will give you good tips what type of support they received and what they only found out later in the process.

Once you are done with fact-finding, make sure that you listen to all the concerns that your family raises. See if you need further help in addressing some of the concerns. Then once you decide to leave your comfort zone, you will see what a great experience an international assignment can be for your whole family.

If you found this post helpful please share it with your best expat friends. 

Angie Weinberger

PS: If you wish to have a short chat with me you can schedule a 15-minute free call here.

The Global Mobility Coach
@angieweinberger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Check KPMG, Mercer and other service providers for data or email me and I will send you the relevant links.



3 thoughts on “How to bring your family on board when a long-term expat assignment is in the cards

  1. Excellet. The tips are really valuable. I shared with my network in Brazil.
    Can you pls send me the links of BGRS, Mercer and other surveys? Tks!

  2. All your tips are very valuable, thank you. Involving every family member, making sure everyone is on the same page – or in the sane boat – is what many assignees forget to do. Especially when they don‘t have a choice… Could you please send me the links for BGRS, Mercer and other surveys? Thank you.

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