Foreign Talents and their Spouses Can Be on Equal Footing

Global mobility managers challenged to find top foreign talent have to add one more daunting task to the mix: how to keep their assignees’ spouses happy and fulfilled. The rules are no longer cut and dry, and partner or spousal arrangements have veered from the traditional arrangement of both parties staying under one roof.

Even if the marriage is doing well, there are still couples who prefer not to live together if one partner has accepted a foreign assignment. Sometimes, money is not even an issue. The organization might offer a way for the spouse to relocate with the assignee; still, the former just might want to stay put in their native homeland for their own reasons. It all boils down to a matter of choice.

Human Resources Online attributes this dilemma to the “dual-career syndrome.” Simply put, both partners are working. In one McKinsey study, 60 percent of the couples surveyed in the U.S. are both hard-working full-time professionals. 

This may seem like an ordinary occurrence, but the implications on global mobility are subtly significant. The expatriate and their partner see themselves on equal footing when it comes to their respective careers. This is in stark contrast to the paradigm shift of only a couple of decades ago, which had the expatriate’s spouse subordinating her (the spouse was mostly female) career to that of her husband’s.

This no longer holds true for global professionals today, especially millennials. Young assignees might be living their dream in an upwardly mobile, financially and professionally rewarding career. So are their spouses or partners — and in careers or professions that may not be linked to the assignee’s.

In short, each partner has his or her own professional life. That’s why the relocation of the spouse to the assignee’s new location of employment is no longer automatic. The global mobility manager cannot assume that the spouse will join the assignee, even if they have kids. Meanwhile, technology like Facetime, private chat groups, and online phone cameras can keep the communication and interaction going, reducing any loneliness or discouragement that both parties can feel at the separation.

A positive factor for the global mobility manager in this situation is that the assignee and their spouse will want to make the current global assignment and their own personal relationship work. They value their careers and recognize and respect that same trait in the other. More important, they will work on succeeding in both aspects. Chances are they will listen to the global mobility manager’s suggestions. Here are a few things that said global mobility manager can start with:

Frequent home leaves: This can work if there is only a short distance between the assignee’s new country of employment and their spouse’s original homeland. For example, flights between Silicon Valley and cities in Canada can make both partners look forward to the weekend. Jet lag would be minimal. If the distance is longer, like from the U.S. to India, then the home leaves can be spaced out every year, but the assignee would be allowed to stay in their native land for a couple of weeks.

Reverse home leaves: In this case, it is the spouse who takes a vacation from their job and instead joins the assignee in their new place of work. The organization can help and boost the morale of the assignee by paying for part of their spouse’s trip. An alternative perk would be giving the assignee more leave time that they can spend with their visiting spouse.

Part-time work for the spouse: This arrangement has the spouse doing part-time remote work for the assignees’ organization. A prerequisite, though, is that the spouse is professionally qualified to do the job, has passed all tests and screenings, and has the time and interest to fulfill the deliverables. This program also hits several birds with one creative stone: career advancement for the spouse, their growing appreciation of the assignee’s job, and more quality and quantity time for the couple. 

It will open the spouse’s eyes to the contribution that the assignee is doing for the company. Working for a foreign company can also add a lot of leave perks to her professional laurel. Doing the project remotely can also cut costs for the assignee’s company. 

At the same time, there would be occasional opportunities for the spouse to fly to the main office. They may be few and far between, but it’s a sure bet that the couple would enjoy every personal meeting they have once they clock out of the building. The energies unleashed in this exciting reunion hopefully will stream over for a long time to the workplace come Monday.