What Really Counts When Relocating As An Accompanying Partner

The Argument for Accompanying Partner Support

International relocation trends surveys published in 2012 have shown that despite a preference from a cost perspective from many organisations for shorter unaccompanied assignments, longer term accompanied assignments are still very much a feature of the international mobility arena and are still the preferred choice for filling more strategic natured assignments characterised by leadership and management roles (Cartus 2012, Brookfield, 2012).

Challenges recognised by global mobility professionals in relation to the accompanying partner include the issue of dual career couples, which are enhanced by current economic trends and the resulting desire to hold on to two incomes, and the challenge of partner dissatisfaction and the families inability to adapt to their new lives abroad

Despite an awareness of these challenges when organisations were asked “what aspect of global management program is your organisation most interested in improving?” (Cartus 2012), family assistance was listed last with a 16% vote and there was no mention of partner support programs.

This articles reviews the assignment experience from the perspective of the accompanying partner and draws on contributions to the survey “Career Choice and the Accompanying Partner” the results of which were released on September 6th 2012.

What accompanying Partners had to say about their role in the assignment process.

• Many participants were professionals who had put valued careers either in jeopardy or on hold for their partners’ organisation and their partners’ career.
• Whilst some resented this, others recognised that having made the choice to relocate abroad it was important that they approached the experience with a positive and open minded attitude.
• Some partners (22%) chose not to work and elected to be at home and support their partner and/or family, 78% wanted to work and many demonstrated a positive, creative and proactive mindset towards this challenge.
• Partners didn’t expect organisations to “do everything for them” but some did express a belief that organisations could do more to recognise their personal contribution to the relocation.
• Partners frequently put the needs of their partner and family first. Many saw their supporting role as crucial to the success of the assignment.
• Some, who had relocated numerous times, saw themselves as “professional accompanying partners” and felt a certain pride about this role.
• Many partners appreciated the benefits of relocation in terms of experiencing new cultures, learning languages and traveling, gaining a certain level of assignment fulfilment from those aspects.
• The vast majority (82%) received no formal life or career coaching support from the assigning organisation.

Generally accompanying partners survived, some thrived and their feedback about their level of assignment fulfilment demonstrated this. Just over half (53%) of the participants were either fulfilled or very fulfilled by the assignment experience, conversely 47% were either neutral towards or unfulfilled/very unfulfilled by the assignment experience. This percentage increased to 58% when only considering the non-working participant population.

The question of assignment fulfilment cuts right to the core of the relocation challenge for accompanying partners. Having left behind their normal social, familial and work structures, partners are challenged to recreate their lives all over again in what is often culturally and linguistically a stretching environment.

They are also responsible, especially where children are involved, for keeping the ship afloat, providing the support the family but are rarely it would seem on the receiving end of external support for themselves.

What difference could support make to the accompanying partner?

• Help partners to be better prepared in terms of understanding the challenges and issues involved in relocation.
• Provide emotional and practical support when the going gets tough – and it always does at some point!
• Support partners to build quicker networks from social and professional perspectives.
• Understand better the career possibilities and realities in the new location so that they could plan appropriately, rather than simply waiting “to see” on arrival what could be possible.
• Create a feeling of “recognition”, an acknowledgment of the commitment that partners make to the assignment and often the assigning organisation.
• Feel a greater commitment to the assigning organisation and an associated pay-off in the way that they support the employee and commit to the current and future assignments.

Currently accompanying partners are placed on the periphery of the international relocation process by many organisations. At the very worst they are seen as an annoying, frustrating or difficult issue. Yet their potential impact on the success or otherwise of the assignment can be fundamental.

Perhaps it is now time for organisations to place the partner firmly in the centre of the relocation question, to see them as a potential asset in the assignment process and to treat and support them as such.

If you would like to read the summary report “Career Choice and the Accompanying Partner” you and download the report for free from www.accompanyingpartner.com

The two reports referred to were:
Brookfield, 2012, Global Relocation Trends 2012 Survey Report, Brookfield Global Relocation Services.
Cartus, 2012; Trends in Global Relocation, Global Mobility Policy and Practices Survey, May 2012.

Louise Wiles

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