Relocating for a new job is exciting but also stressful, nerve-wracking, and scary. Supporting your new hire through relocation is not just buying plane tickets, providing moving services, and helping with visas. Investing in talent relocation means also investing in their family’s relocation experience. If their spouse or partner isn’t settling in, your new hire may not stick around for long.

The tale of the trailing spouse

Dual career couples are now the norm, and only some families would be able to survive off a single income in many major cities. This is why it’s not surprising that a 2018 survey revealed that 75% of companies reported that employees refused an international posting due to their partner’s career. 

Let’s say your new hire and their partner have decided to take the plunge and relocate for work. Now what some call a trailing spouse, their partner has given up their career back home or pushed pause on it, ready to step into the unknown.

First coined in 1981 (you’d think we would have come up with something better by now), the term trailing spouse refers to someone who moves overseas for their partner’s job. It’s not the most flattering term, so we’re not going to use it anymore in this post, but it alludes to hurdles the expat partner is about to face.

And there will be many hurdles. Culture shock, leaving friends and family, having to make new friends, learning a new language, leaving a career and now possibly having fewer career opportunities, and not being able to work due to visa regulations are just some of the challenges the expat partner may be facing. Not managing these hurdles properly can lead to loneliness, isolation, regret, resentment, loss of identity, and depression.

An unhappy expat partner can lead to family problems, a strain on the marriage, and unequal household duties. Plus, the expat partner may be at home with little more to do than look after children, leading to further isolation. Your new hire may thrive at work, but all this relationship strain could eventually lead to them leaving to return home.

How you can help

A survey found that 33% of employers saw an increase in performance when support was provided to their partners after relocation. The success of relocation depends not only on your new talent but also on their partner’s and family’s experience and how they adapt to their new city. In addition to providing a smooth move and introduction to the city, there are many things you can do to help smooth integration and to keep the expat partner involved in every step of the relocation process.

  1. Work permits

Providing a work permit for the expat partner is a no-brainer, but requirements and eligibility vary from country to country. Some countries will grant it automatically, and some may need an employer to apply on their behalf. Some countries recognize unmarried couples or same-sex partners, while others do not. Do your homework or enlist the help of an immigration specialist to help manage expectations.

  1. Networking opportunities 

Making new friends is one of the more challenging things about moving to a new country. Make sure you list local expat groups and other networking opportunities to help your new hire and their family meet people. Organize events within your organization so families can meet. But also look for local groups (both online and in-person) which can be joined. This could be anything from a sports team to a supper club, so long as local people are involved. Having a diverse network of friends is key, because only mingling with other expats can eventually get in the way of full integration. 

  1. Mental health support

Moving to a new country can be lonely and isolating. Keep an open dialogue about mental health and make sure everyone knows it’s ok to ask for help. Ensure that there are services available, like therapy, at any time. Normalizing conversations around mental health helps reduce the stigma surrounding it.

  1. Language classes

Your new hire will immediately be able to start a daily routine and make new friends at work, but this can be a lot harder for the expat partner. Learning the local language will help relieve some of the stress, making it easier to communicate with neighbors, store clerks, or potential friends. Offering language classes is also another good networking opportunity.

  1. Career-building opportunities 

There are often many opportunities for career building and development, but it’s a matter of knowing where to look. Estonia, for example, offers a program called Re-Invent Yourself, targeted toward expat partners wanting to enter the labor force. 

Volunteering can also be a great way of gaining local experience to add a CV and a way to meet new people. Offering help with CV revision, giving an overview of the local job market, practicing interviewing skills, and providing job leads are all easy steps to help the expat partner find a job. We already mentioned language classes, but cultural training could be an asset, especially if the workplace norms are very different from their home country.

There are instances where the expat partner can work, but their qualifications aren’t recognized, and they may not meet language requirements, like with many medical professions. In this case, you could also provide assistance with helping the expat partner requalify 

  1. Check in regularly

Check in with your new hire and their family throughout the relocation process. This can help manage expectations before the move and help you form a plan together for integration once everyone is settled in.

This may seem like a lot of extras on top of the support you’re already providing for your international hire, but it’s a worthwhile investment. In fact, the cost of offering expat partner support could be incidental when you compare it to the cost of rehiring someone to fill the same position when your initial hire decides to go back home because their family isn’t happy.

Remember, being an expat spouse is nothing short of heroic. They left their careers and friends back home, and your new hire would not be here without them. So why not help them in their journey to reinvent themselves?

Relocation services like Jobbatical know the ins and outs of immigration. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when it comes to supporting your relocating employees’ spouses and families.

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