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Lucie Mitchell investigates what is on offer to families who have to relocate for work.
Relocating staff for international assignments can be a hugely complex and expensive process, so it’s crucial that organisations have robust global mobility policies in place to ensure employees moving abroad are appropriately supported and the relocation is a success.
However, when you add family into the mix, the right kind of support becomes even more critical, especially as research has shown that the reason many assignments fail is because of unhappy families.
“The average cost for an international relocation is £90K,” remarks Marion Wotton, senior family global mobility consultant at Parental Choice. “To compound this cost, 40% of international assignments fail, with 70% of these failed assignments being due to family issues.”
There are two key aspects to providing support to relocating families, she adds. “The first is the practical support elements of relocation that deal with the tangible aspects of everyday life. The second is the emotional and psychological support that will ultimately determine the success or failure of the relocation.”
Practical support could include, for example, organising visas, finding suitable accommodation, securing schools for children, setting up utilities, opening bank accounts, identifying access to medical facilities and obtaining a local driving licence.
Employers must also ensure that expatriates and their families are supported financially. According to a 2019 report by the RES Forum, 95% of organisations that sent employees and their families on long-term assignments provided a cost of living allowance to cover food, entertainment and so on; 92% offered a host housing allowance to pay for rental costs; 86% provided a home leave allowance to enable families to return home periodically; and 77% offered an education allowance to pay for school fees.
In terms of emotional support, the key is ensuring employees and their families have sufficient support to help them integrate into the host society and feel settled in their new location.
“This might mean language lessons, career counselling, club memberships or something else,” comments David Enser, founding partner of the RES Forum. “All of this sounds expensive, but cutting costs is short sighted. The bottom line is that failure to support an employee and their family leads to unhappy employees, unhappy families, assignment failure, costly early repatriation and potentially the loss of valuable employees to competitors.”
There is also the very real risk of isolation for family members, meaning specific family support in this area is vital. “The expatriate finds it much easier to integrate through work and colleagues, but families can find themselves isolated and can struggle to make new circles of friends, particularly if they don’t speak the local language,” remarks Enser.
Dr Maranda Ridgway, senior lecturer in Human Resources Management at Nottingham Business School – Nottingham Trent University, says that connecting dependants with networks in the country can help them to feel settled. “Allowing the employee time to support their dependants with the relocation is critical. New assignees are often dragged straight into the deep end of work and the logistics of settling into a new country fall to the spouse, which can only worsen issues of isolation.
Other support, such as language training and cultural awareness, demonstrate a company’s commitment to the employee and their family.”
Employers must also consider how to help spouses find a job, should they wish to do so. “A key frustration for many ‘trailing spouses’ is that they must sacrifice their own jobs or press pause on their own careers in order to support and accompany their relocating spouse,” remarks Wotton.
“Many organisations offer spousal support funds to provide spouses with opportunities to receive career coaching and support to help them find employment in the host country,” adds Enser.
The kind of support employers provide will also differ if an employee is away on a short assignment, leaving their family behind.
“This situation can put significant strain on a marriage and on a family, so the employer must be aware of, and empathetic towards this,” advises Wotton. “Practical ways of helping the employee and their family might be as simple as allowing the employee to make and receive video calls with their family during working hours. Another method may be to provide return trips home at certain intervals or fly the family out to join the employee at agreed intervals during the contract.”
Dr Ridgway emphasises that employers must take a ‘whole family’, personalised approach to expatriate support.
“Global mobility requires a bespoke approach; trying to adopt a ‘one size fits all’ method, particularly with the rapid pace of change in the world, doesn’t work. Recognising that every individual relocating will have different needs, depending on their own situation and the destination to which they will relocate, is key to getting it right.”