The Changing World of Work and Accompanying Partner Support

Date Created: 07.04.2014

The Changing World of Work and Accompanying Partner Support

The world of work and the scale and nature of global mobility is changing. The number of worldwide expatriates is increasing significantly, expected to exceed 56.8 million by 2017, and the very nature of how we live and work is also changing.

Recent research has identified 7 key megatrends that are now shaping work and working lives in our advanced economies:

·         The rise of knowledge based services

·         The impact of technology and globalization

·         Demographic change due to an ageing population and increased migration

·         The impact of more women in the workplace

·         The impact of a more educated workforce

·         A shift towards the individual worker profile

·         More diversity in the workplace and in how we work

So what does this new reality mean for a globally mobile workforce?

There is no longer one type of assignee; the term ‘expatriate’ now covers an ever widening and diversifying set of individuals. The traditional male ‘breadwinner’/female ‘trailing spouse’ expatriate profile is being overtaken by the ‘individual worker’ profile and dual income requirements and expectations are now making dual careers a workforce reality.

The profile of the accompanying partner is also changing  – more women are becoming international assignees (23% in 2013) and the proportion of male accompanying partners is also rising.

How agile are organisations in responding to these changes?

The shift in demographics and expectations of an increasingly global workforce is now pushing the dual worker and portable career issue to the very top of the agenda. However research shows that organisations are at different stages of their understanding and action with regard to the impact of this new global reality.

66% of employers state that the partner career issue impacts their ability to attract employees to international assignments and 51% have had employees turn down international assignments due to partner career and employment concerns. Yet in the past three years organisational support for accompanying partners has actually decreased.

What do accompanying partners actually want?

The evidence from a global study of 264 spouses in 54 global locations highlights the need for 3 areas of support:

Practical support:

·         Better preparation prior to relocation including coaching support

·         Immediate and ongoing support for the first three months from another experienced expat or a go-to person in the location.

Professional support

·         Networking assistance to help start the job search process

·         Access to a liaison officer or a local contact that can provide assistance with finding a job.

·         HR to have the relevant knowledge/skills or a process in place to support cultural and practical issues.

Social support:

·         Help with facilitating introductions in the new location – eg: a local contact or another accompanying partner who can act as a go-to person to support the settling in process.

·         Sufficient time for family adjustment.

Accompanying partners also want more respect, to be included in the decision making process and to be given a realistic overview of the upcoming process.

What does the data tell us?

The type of practical, professional, social and networking support that accompanying partners seek can easily be put in place without impacting heavily on the organisational budget but it does require planning and engagement on behalf of the organisation.  

The research speaks for itself - the accompanying partner support agenda is shifting significantly and will continue to do so over the next three years. This shift is reflective of the new world of work and the changing demographic of the globally mobile worker. However evidence also suggests that many organisations have yet to be persuaded that supporting their globally mobile employees and accompanying partners in this era of modern mobility, is the right thing to do.

But maybe we’re now reaching a tipping point where the increase in diversity of the expatriate and accompanying partner profile, has reached such significant numbers, that from an organisational ROI perspective, they can no longer be ignored?

Measuring how quickly organisations respond to this shift over the next three years will be crucial to establishing a more modern agenda for partner support that best fits our new world of work.

Wendy Wilson and Claire Snowdon

Families in Global Transition UK (FIGT UK)