I recently read a blog post of a mother in despair. 7 years ago she relocated to Australia with her husband for his job along with their son. From the outset the father was very happy with the assignment, enjoying his life and his successfully developing career down under but she had failed to settle. After 2 years she decided she’d given it long enough and wanted to return home. The couple's inability to reach a common decision meant finally the marriage broke up and the mother returned home to the UK with their 5 year old son, leaving her ex-husband to continue his life and career in Australia.
5 years on her son is now turning 11 and having maintained contact and regular visits (although often difficult) with his father he has decided he wants to go and live with him and his new wife in Australia. The mother details in the post how the whole family have explored the idea in detail and that the mature approach of the 11 year old to the situation means it is now a real consideration. The father’s new family are looking at new homes with an extra bedroom as well as researching schools and are evaluating how in practice it will really work, albeit with a heartbroken mother torn between her own wishes and her son’s happiness.
Whilst it’s a heart wrenching story to read and I hope there will be an outcome that is best for everyone, to me this story highlighted the long term impact of international assignment problems and the importance of understanding the bigger picture of an international relocation.
I can only imagine the impact the stress of the situation has had on the assignee and likely his performance at work. During the initial turbulent 2 years of the relocation, the dragged out court case that followed to establish custody arrangements for two parents on different sides of the world and now the potential upheaval of another move and arranging schooling and integration of an 11 year old in an unfamiliar family environment not many people could continue to be consistently at their best. Equally there will have been increased risk at many stages of the assignment failing and the employee leaving the company as a resolution to his personal issues, especially at the 2 year mark had he decided also to return home with his then wife.
Yes I understand that marriages break up in all sorts of situations, regardless of an overseas move, but accompanied relocations bring a unique set of challenges, not only is the employees ability to settle and adapt to their new home paramount to the success of a relocation but also that of the partner/spouse and accompanying family.
So what can employers do by way of their relocation programme to help maximise the chances of the long term success of a relocation and reduce potential spouse issues with international assignments?
Spouse support services
When a relocation involves a family there are often challenges associated with an international assignment involving only one partner. Spouse support programmes provides career support and settling in assistance to the trailing partner or spouse in finding work, retraining or career counselling if they wish and arranging childcare if necessary, or if the partner does not wish to work in introducing local organisations and groups to establish new social networks or find charitable work in the host community. We find support in this area reduces the risk of a failed assignment due to dis-satisfaction of the accompanying family and reducing concern and stress for the relocating employee.
Cultural training services
To help assignees and their families settle quickly and confidently into their host environment the cultural programme provides a highly practical and immediately useable set of skills, which draws on the assignee's personal experiences.
Cross cultural training helps the individual prepare for the cultural differences they may encounter in daily life or the business environment, helping to avoid issues caused by cultural misunderstandings that can cause stress and embarrassment. This is especially useful for families with limited travel or previous experience of living abroad.