It’s a family affair

first_imgSiobhanCummins looks at whether the issue of dual careers is driving organisations tochange their expatriate policiesDespite the recent downturn and periods of volatility in world economies,international assignments remain essential to the competitiveness and survivalof multinational organisations. Accepting an international assignment of three to five years can not onlyhave a major impact on a family’s lifestyle, but also disrupt the accompanyingspouse’s career and significantly reduce the family income. Most internationalassignees continue to be male, but the situation is gradually changing, withthe number of female expatriates on the rise (see Chart 1: Expatriatedemographics for the 21st century). To attract the best talent for an international assignment and ensure theexpatriate’s success in the assignment location, employers face increasingpressure to provide sufficient support (financial or otherwise) to theaccompanying spouse or partner. Organization Resources Counselors’ (ORC) fourthDual Careers and International Assignments Survey report focuses on thepolicies, practices, and trends of 300 multinational companies in managing dualcareers and international assignments (see Chart 2: Key Survey Findings). Almost 80 per cent of the survey respondents say they have a formalexpatriate policy in place which includes provision for some form of spousalassistance, recognising the need for such support as part of the assignmentpackage. This finding represents a significant change when compared withprevious ORC surveys in which formal spousal assistance was provided by only 19per cent (1992) and 38 per cent (1996) of respondents, and informal support by48 per cent and 42 per cent, respectively. A quarter of the survey participants have developed new international policiesand practices to take account of these dual-career concerns, whilethree-quarters intend to add a provision for spousal assistance to theirinternational assignment policy. This finding indicates another importantchange from the joint ORC-CBI 1996 survey, when only 17.6 per cent of companiesplanned to develop a dual-career policy. Clearly, increasingly more companies are taking the concerns of dual-careercouples more seriously and are also responding to these concerns by providingactual support. Although the type of assistance offered to a spouse or partner differs fromemployer to employer, movement in this direction is promising. Assistance Depends on Stage of Assignment While organisations generally provide spousal support during all stages ofan international assignment, the amount and type of assistance is typicallyhigher and more focused once the assignment has actually started rather than inthe period before the family relocates or when the family returns to their homecountry. For example: – The provision of cross-cultural orientation to the family is part ofpre-assignment preparation – Language training is available both before and upon arrival; careercounselling, work-permit assistance, CV/résumé preparation, and reimbursementfor further educational studies tend to be offered during the assignment andupon repatriation Based on policies reported by the survey participants, the following are theprevalent types of assistance in each stage of an expatriate assignment: – Before the assignment. All types of pre-assignment spousal support, withthe exception of company employment, have increased in the last 10 years. Themost routinely-provided assistance is cultural orientation for eligible familymembers, with language training a close second. This result represents asignificant change from the previous surveys, in which cultural orientation wasnot even viewed as a part of spousal assistance. Language training has alsomarkedly increased in recent years. The next most common types of supportinclude help with work permit applications, job search, career counselling, andCV/résumé preparation – During the assignment. Confirming the trend towards increased assistance,the level of support provided to the spouse or partner while living in the hostlocation has doubled in comparison with ORC surveys conducted in 1992 and 1996.Language training is by far the most common form of spousal assistance,followed by cultural orientation, payment toward further education, and workpermit and job search assistance. Companies also offer career counselling andCV/résumé preparation – Post assignment (repatriation). Job-search help, CV/résumé preparation,and career counselling are the most prevalent types of assistance when thefamily is returning home However, there has been a slight decrease in thenumber of organisations which offer support in these three categories. Thisresult is surprising, considering the following points: (1) according to thesurvey, employers recognise the significant impact that dual-career issues canhave on the success or failure of an overseas assignment, and (2) although theassignment may be over, repatriating the employee and spouse/partner continuesto be an important step in the overall process. Chart 3: Common types of assistance provided to spouses and partners, givesa more in-depth overview of the different types of assistance typically offeredto expatriate spouses and partners. Tackling the challenge: early repatriation and failed assignments With increasing awareness of dual-career issues and their impact oninternational assignments, more employers realise the importance of assignmentacceptance, but also successful completion. The desire to attract the rightperson for the job is accompanied by the need to prevent a failed assignmentdue to unmet business or career development objectives, or, perhaps, localproblems. Such local concerns might include, for example, difficulties in thefamily’s adjustment to the new location, different management or work styles,and issues arising over cultural and language differences. Consequently, employers are increasingly looking for alternative ways ofdealing with the dual-career issue, such as the use of shorter-termassignments. This trend is confirmed with three-quarters of the participantsreporting that they use short-term international assignments, which representsa significant jump from 1996, when only 25.7 per cent did so. Companies alsoreported using the following alternatives to the traditional long-terminternational assignment: – International business trips (57.2 per cent) – Unaccompanied assignments, whereby the expatriate’s family stays in thehome country (more than 50 per cent, compared with 23 per cent in 1996) – Commuter assignments, whereby the expatriate’s family stays in the homecountry and the employee returns home on a regular basis, often weekends (45.9per cent, compared with 19 per cent in 1996) – Virtual assignments, conducted from the home-country office, that do notrequire the employee to travel abroad (15.6 per cent) Proactivity increases the organisation’s appeal Unlike the early days of expatriation, success in attracting and retaining aglobal talent pool of employees, who are willing to accept an internationalassignment, depends greatly on the willingness, attitude, and circumstances ofthe employees’ spouse or partner. The new generation of expatriates, whosespouse or partner is very often employed in a professional position,exacerbates the need for support for both spouses and partners. While trying to find the right combination of assistance to satisfy employeeneed without being overly costly to the company, more and more employers arestarting to look at assignment options. Depending on employee circumstances,location, and business objectives, companies are offering alternative forms ofworking through short-term and more flexible types of assignment. In the future, companies will increasingly need to provide innovativesolutions to the dual-career issue, along with other family-friendly policies.Chart 1 – Expatriate demographics for the 21st century                                                                        Averagepercentage                                                            Maleexpatriate             Female expatriateMarried, accompanied                          67.5%                          38.1%Married, unaccompanied                      8.1                               7.2Unmarried, accompanied                      5.3                               4.4Unmarried, unaccompanied                   19.1                             50.3Chart 2 – Key survey findings– The percentage of femaleexpatriates is on the rise– More companies are formalisingspousal assistance within their expatriate policies– Spousal or dual-career issues arethe most common reasons cited by employees for rejecting internationalassignments– While all types of spousalassistance have increased in the pre-assignment and (substantially)on-assignment stages, organisations have reduced some of the services offeredon repatriation– Companies are proposing a varietyof alternative assignment types to overcome dual-career barriers, with asignificant increase in the number of short-term assignments that generallylast from a few months to a yearSource: ORC’s Dual-careers andInternational Assignments Survey    Chart 3 – Common types ofassistance provided to spouses and partnersPre-assignment            On-assignment              Repatriation      Stage                            Stage                            Stage    Career counselling                                                                    12.6%                         23.4 %                         17.6 %CV/r‚sum‚ preparation                                                              12.2                             23.4                             19.8Company Employment                                                              1.8                               8.3                               2.5Job search assistance                                                                14.4                             32.7                             19.8Retraining                                                                                 3.2                               11.9                             5.8Language training                                                                      59.0                             73.7                             5.8Cultural orientation                                                                    62.2                             39.6                             8.3Voluntary work assistance                                                        2.2                               11.5                             2.2Work permit assistance                                                             28.4                             34.5                             4.3Payment towards further education                                            7.2                               36.0                             5.8Payment towards business start-up                                            2.2                               4.0                               1.4Partial financial compensation for loss of spousal income            2.9                               10.8                             0.0Full financial compensation for loss of spousal income                0.0                               0.4                               0.0Other                                                                                       8.3                               14.7                             5.8Source: ORC’s Dual-careers and International AssignmentsSurveyThe authorSiobhan Cummins is managing directorof the London office for Organization Resources Counselors. (ORC) and directorof ORC’s International Compensation Services for Europe. Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Related posts:No related photos. It’s a family affairOn 1 Oct 2002 in Personnel Todaylast_img

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