Last week, I walked over to Andy's apartment before racquetball, and he was quite excited about this article on the BBC web page. As he described it, "It's an entire article just about us!" The article wasn't actually about the foreign service, but the themes were applicable.
[C]ompanies from Shell to Dupont are looking at the factors that can lead to successful stints abroad for their employees. A happy spouse has long been, and continues to be, the best predictor of a successful move.
"The number one reason for assignment failure is the family's inability to acclimatise and adjust to the new location," says Andrew Walker, the director of global mobility at WorleyParsons, which oversees more than 3,000 employees who move abroad.
"As long as I've been in field, it's been an issue," he says. "But it's only within the last five or 10 years that organisations have been more pro-active about addressing it."I actually think that the moving employees is one of the largest expenses in the foreign service. It's a necessary evil, but the article discusses the "trailing spouse." I would preface this by saying it could be much easier when you aren't working on government salaries, but trailing spouse happiness is usually a defining element on how long an employee stays overseas.
As recently as 20 years ago, most of these so-called "trailing spouses" were women who stayed at home with the family.
But over the past decades, more and more are looking to find work.
Kathleen van der Wilk-Carlton, the director of the Permits Foundation, which lobbies governments to allow spouses to get work visas, warns: "Employers ignore this at their peril."Yup, that sounds like the foreign service about 20 or more years ago. Ironically, in our building, we have, I think, 7 trailing male spouses. In fact, I think all the trailing spouses are male. With that being said:
According to a 2011 study of global employment trends, 60% of trailing spouses were employed before relocating, but only 15% found work after they moved - down significantly from the peak in 2006.
"This is a huge problem for corporations because they are now finding it increasingly difficult to find a significant talent pool candidate to staff these overseas assignments and these transfers internationally," says Scott Sullivan, executive vice-president at Brookfield Global Relocation Services, which produced the report.
Brigitte Hug, who runs Dupont's global relocation office in the US, says that the company tries to tailor relocation packages to the employee, and that the package typically includes some sort of career coaching both before and after the move, as well as relocation support and job assistance for spouses.
But even though the number one reason for assignment failure is spousal unhappiness, only 18% of spouses felt they had been adequately supported by their partner's companies, according to a 2009 survey conducted by the Permits Foundation.Finally, it's not always possible for spouses to work. Diplomats enter the country on a diplomatic visas. If the host country doesn't have what is called a bilateral trade agreement with the US, US diplomats cannot work in that country without a work visa. Some countries are extremely protectionist about doling out work visas. Speaking from experience, I know that the Thai government limits the amount of work visas that English companies can give out based on the capital invested in the business or the number of Thai workers employed there. So, even if firms want to hire more foreign workers, they're not always able to do so. The BBC calls this the "visa trap":
The general trend in granting spouses work visas has been toward protectionism, says Peggy Smith, chief executive of Worldwide ERC, a global mobility industry group. She cited China, Japan, Brazil, and India as places that were particularly difficult for spouses looking to work after they had relocated.
Ironically, Australia is singled out by almost everyone as being particularly hospitable to spouses who want to work as expatriates.I don't want to publicly state any opinions, but the issue of spousal employment and satisfaction is starting to enter the zeitgeist.