Those of us who work in the field of cross-cultural relations and intercultural communication have witnessed too often the negative impact of an overseas assignment on family life. Now, a recent international survey provides evidence that a lack of spouse or partner employment opportunities adversely affects global mobility of highly skilled international employees, adding weight to the argument that more consideration should be given to these employees’ family concerns.
Undoubetedly, the spouses and partners of internationally assigned staff tend to be highly educated, with diverse professional backgrounds and nationalities. However, as part of a foreign assignment, they soon become a much under-utilised talent pool.
One employer cautions: “In my experience most employers prefer to ignore spousal employment issues. However, from my personal observation how well a spouse settles is key in determining how an employee will perform. If spousal employment is important to that couple, then companies ignore it at their peril.”
The study suggests that there appears to be a clear link between working and positive feelings about a foreign assignment:
- Spouses who are working are more likely to report a positive impact on adjustment to the location than spouses who not working.
- Spouses who are working are more likely to report a positive impact on family relationships than spouses who not working
- Spouses who are working are more likely to report a positive impact on their willingness to complete the current assignment than spouses who are not working.
- Spouses who are working are more likely to report a positive impact on their willingness to go on a new assignment than those who are not working.
Importantly, spouses who are working are more likely to report a positive impact on their health or well-being than spouses who are not working. One unfortunate respondent explained:
“The implications of not working on my health (especially mental health) are so vast that I will never consider relocating to such a country. I was unemployed for 1 year when I came here… and that was the most miserable year in my entire life. I will not repeat that, and my husband stands by my decision.”
The report concludes that a few focused and simple improvements on the part of employers and governments can make a triple win for families, employers and the countries in which they work. It seems, therefore, that supporting partner employment is part of supporting your own staff.
Footnote: The survey examined the views of 3300 expatriate spouses and partners of 122 nationalities, currently accompanying international employees working in 117 host countries for over 200 employers in both the private and public sector. It was undertaken by the Permits Foundation, based in The Hague and was sponsored by the Industrial Relations Counselors (IRC). Conducted during late 2008, it was published early 2009.