Support services for accompanying partners abroad
The well-being of the accompanying partner on traditional corporate assignments is not only in the interest of the partner and the family but also in the interest of the company sending the family abroad. Countless studies show that a struggling accompanying partner is causing a higher ratio of earlier returns or unsuccessful postings. In this blog post, I am covering the different aspects of company support. You will learn what kinds of support aspects you might be able to receive and motivates you to take your own adjustment abroad seriously.
The important role of the accompanying partner
As mentioned, numerous studies conclude that the success of corporate postings is directly related to the satisfaction and happiness of the accompanying. If you are interested in the academic research behind this statement, I recommend reading through the research papers by Linehan (2002); Takeuchi, Yun, et al. (2002); Forster (2000), and Simonelli (2016).
The accompanying partner (in majority still female) is seen as the project manager and chaplain for the whole family’s well-being with a specific focus on the adjustment of children abroad. A positive correlation has also been found between a successful partner adjustment process and the expatriate’s work performance. As a result, support packages for expat partners have become a standard part of the assignment package at least in bigger corporations.
Typical aspects of support packages for the expat family
I summarized the most typical support offers for expat families in the table below. One can distinguish between logistical support, cultural support, and partner support.
Look and feel visit before moving
Real estate search
Opening of bank accounts
Budget for flights home
Country specific information
Expat Partner support:
Access to professional and or social networks
Job search & career coaching
So one could say that companies have realized the benefit of successful adjustment abroad and are offering a wide range of suitable services to help smooth the process. Why is it then that families are still struggling with the adjustment period and state that they feel not understood or supported by their employer?
Most companies offer support packages but either quality or communication is lacking
90% of companies offer some form of partner support and intend to either expand it or communicate it more clearly in the future, thereby increasing expatriate satisfaction and job performance, expanding the talent pool, and improving the company’s image as an employer (EY 2018).
However, looking at international HR practice and research, dissatisfaction of the expatriate partner – largely due to professional hurdles and identity issues – remains the most commonly cited reason for termination of assignments (EY 2018; BGRS 2016).
It is striking that the majority of expat families do not use existing offers or are unaware of them. For example, 70% of families have no direct contact with the sending company either before or during the assignment (Lazarova et al. 2015) and feel invisible due to the lack of communication. As a result, trust in HR departments is severely limited, and existing support services are perceived as unhelpful or lacking in quality (Expat Insider 2019 Business Edition).
What companies AND families can do to improve the situation
Improved quality of support, more frequent communication, and greater consideration of partners’ professional situations are imperative to support the expatriate adjustment process and preserve the talent pool from which potential expatriates are selected. However, logistical and cultural support services do not help partners solve their identity dilemma. It is therefore urgently recommended to expand offerings that target the professional and personal levels to address feelings of loss of control and the desire for autonomy and self-actualization (Braseby 2010; Herbolzheimer 2009; McNulty 2012; Shaffer and Harrison 2001).
At the same time, expat families should be more empowered to make use of existing support services. In case they are not happy with the expert they have been referred to, they can use their training and cash allowances to find a better fit for themselves. I made the experience myself. While our posting was organized by a big company I also got transferred to a big company for career support. However, the services offered have not been customized at all. The moment I realized that a large amount of money is simply spent on translating my CV (a task that I can easily do myself) I shifted the budget to a career coach who worked with me on my individual case and helped me figure out not only the HOW but most of all the answer to the question of WHAT my professional future could look like. I encourage expat partners to communicate their needs directly with the HR department and research suitable offers before.
Throughout the last 5 years in the world of expat coaching, I am happy to see a shift towards a more empowered accompanying partner (also triggered by the fact that more and more expat partners are men and are more vocal about their professional situation). I am in good faith that support services will be less from the shelf but more customized to the family’s needs and that communication of services will be prioritized. If you need support in preparing for your move, I can recommend my ebook on the topic of Packing your career or get in touch with me in person (firstname.lastname@example.org)