The Changing World of Work and Accompanying Partner Support

7 key trends that are shaping the world of work and how organisations are responding
By Wendy Wilson and Claire Snowdon
Co-Chairs - Families in Global Transition UK (FIGT UK)
The world of work and the scale and nature of global mobility is changing. The number of international assignments is growing and the nature of the mobility landscape is shifting 1. The number of expatriates worldwide is predicted to rise significantly over the next 3 years and is expected to exceed 56.8 million by 20172
The changing world of work – the bigger picture.
Not only is global mobility increasing significantly, but the very nature of how we live and work is also changing - but in what way? What is the current picture of this ever shifting world of work that is influencing the relocation landscape and setting the agenda for global mobility practices and policies for the future?
FIGT UK has taken an in-depth look at published research on global mobility and workforce issues from the last 3 years to identify the key trends and drivers that have been changing and re-shaping our economies, societies and organisations. Perhaps the most comprehensive report on this issue is ‘MEGATRENDS: The Trends Facing Work and Working Lives’. Published by CIPD in 2013, MEGATRENDS 3 considers some of the big changes of recent times in work, the workforce and the workplace and identifies 7 key trends that are shaping work and working lives in our advanced economies:
  • De-industrialisation and the rise of knowledge-based services
  • Technological change and globalization
  • Demographic change – an ageing population and migration
  • Increased female labour market participation
  • Increased educational participation
  • The decline of collective workplace institutions
  • Greater diversity in employment relationships and how we work
The New Reality for a Globally Mobile Workforce
We know that these megatrends are continuing to transform the nature of work, the workforce and the workplace, but in the context of international relocation if you scratch under the surface of the changing demographic issue alone, a much more detailed picture of exactly what has shifted begins to emerge.
In particular a new economic and financial reality in the West has contributed to a shift in the breadwinner demographic.
The traditional family model is changing with the demise of the male breadwinner/’trailing spouse’ expatriate profile being overtaken by the individual worker career profile. 73% of expatriates were classed as ‘individual workers’ in 2013 2. Also dual income requirements and expectations are now making dual careers a workforce reality.
Changing workforce expectations is also a reflection of the new Gen Y demographic now entering the workplace and their expectations for greater flexibility and portable careers, better work life balance and a desire for a greater sense of fulfilment.
The profile of the accompanying partner is also changing. More women are becoming assignees, 23% in 2013 representing a 6% increase in 3 years, and the proportion of male spouses/partners is also rising 4.  Organisations need to respond to these ongoing demographic shifts and changes.
How are organisations responding?
But how agile are organisations in reacting and responding to these changes? Shifts in the demographics and expectations of an increasingly global workforce are now propelling issues relating to the dual worker and portable careers to the very top of the agenda. Yet it would seem that organisations are at different stages of their understanding and action with regard to the impact of this new global reality.
The following data provides a snapshot of how this demographic shift is impacting organisations:
66% of employers state that the partner career issue impacts upon their ability to attract employees to international assignments. 5
51% of employers have had employees turn down international assignments due to partner career employment concerns. 5
There is a shift in expat loyalty from the company to the individual as a result of the change of the expat/employer relationship. 6
Many organisations are changing their compensation policy from Local Plus to Localization. This change in the traditional financial bond between the expat and employer, whilst ensuring cost savings for the company is resulting inreduced loyalty from the expat.
If the removal of financial incentives is not replaced with what expats want (career development and re-assignment), then there is a massive void in expectations, leading to expat reduced loyalty and issues with employee retention.The result for those companies who have not placed partner support and career planning at the top of their agenda is an issue with regard to talent acquisition and retention.
What Does the Research Highlight?
Although the dual worker issue has clearly moved up the agenda, partner support has actually decreased.
The 2013 Brookfield Relocation Trends survey clearly highlights this in reporting that family concerns remain the sensitive aspect of international mobility and continues to be the number one reason cited for assignment refusal.
The report also states that the third most common reason cited for assignment refusal is spousal or partner career. Yet despite this fact it also reports that less assistance is being provided by companies for partners, including a decrease in reimbursement for partner career enhancement, lump sum allowances, education/training assistance and work permit assistance. Cross-cultural training is also down to 46% from last years reported 60%.
Three quarters of spouses and partners who are not working whilst on assignment want to do so.
The Permits Foundation in The Hague, which advocates for the improvement of work regulations for the partners of expatriate employees who wish to work, has conducted an impressive piece of research, a large-scale study surveying over 3,300 accompanying spouses and partners based across the world in 117 host countries for 200 employers. Findings highlight that although 89% of individuals were employed prior to their partner’s expatriation, only 35% were employed once relocated.5
What is it that partners want?
What assignees want is practical, professional and social support. They also want more respect and to be included in the decision making process. 7 This respect for the partner and access to the communication shows that the company acknowledges and respects this important role.
The evidence from McNulty’s global study of 264 spouses in 54 different locations 8 supports this call for practical, professional and social support and highlights the importance for accompanying spouse/partner adjustment:
Practical support:
  • Better preparation prior to relocation including coaching support and presentations that give a realistic overview of the upcoming process.
  • Immediate and ongoing support for the first three months from another experienced accompanying partner or a go-to person who is already established in the new location.
Professional support:
Networking assistance to help start the job search process including:
  •  A list of employment agencies, access to a corporate jobs board and access to other companies in the location.
  •  Access to an expatriate partner association, liaison officer, or local contacts who can provide assistance with finding a job.
  •  HR with relevant skills or a process in place that provides access to relevant expertise in location, cultural and practical issues.
Social support:
  • Assistance with socializing to facilitate introductions in the new location.
  • Support for non-working accompanying partners e.g. access to an expatriate partner association, liaison officer, or local contacts such as another accompanying partner who can act as a ‘goto’ person to support the settling in process.
  • Sufficient time for family adjustment. These types of support for accompanying partners can be put in place without impacting heavily on the organizational budget but require planning and engagement by all relevant parties including the organisation.
What are the gaps in the research?
The number of female expatriates with male accompanying partners is increasing and this trend of dual-career couples and non-traditional families moving abroad for work is expected to continue. Yet thus far there has been little attention from HR departments to this demographic shift and there is very little knowledge about the experiences and specific needs of this shifting demographic.
Given the constantly changing ‘family’ demographic, both male expatriate accompanying partners and same-sex partnership profiles represent a surprisingly under-researched area.(9) A study of male accompanying partners also reveals major gender differences in terms of specific issues encountered during the adjustment process. (10) This gap in research needs to be urgently
addressed to ensure that global mobility and international HR managers have the relevant data to be able to review and update their policies.
What does the data tell us?
It’s clear from looking at the research data that 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.
There is no longer one type of assignee; the term ‘expatriate’ now covers an ever widening and diversifying set of individuals. Yet the evidence suggests that many organisations are slow to recognize and respond to this new reality on the ground and to adapt their partner support policies accordingly. There is
evidence to also suggest that many organisations have understood but are either choosing to ignore or are resistant to act upon the current data findings.
The changing world of families in global transition
FIGT has been supporting and researching the transition, adaptation and integration of globally mobile families for over 12 years and is aware that the profile of the ‘family’ has been changing and that the need for accompanying partner support is greater now than ever.
The family profile is now more diverse and the changing world of work has resulted in the creation of multiple profiles of the globally mobile individual and‘family’. This demographic change, evidenced by the research, has been understood by the mobility industry for a long period of time. However perhaps this shift has reached a tipping point where the increase in diversity of the expatriate and accompanying partner profiles have now reached such significant numbers, that from an organizational ROI perspective, in relation to global mobility support programmes and talent retention, they can no longer be ignored.
As this trend in the diversity of the worker profile continues, the need for global mobility research to stay ahead of the curve is imperative. Families in Global Transition (FIGT) supports this important research agenda and will be hosting its 2014 conference in Washington DC with a focus on ‘The Global Family Redefined’.
Hopefully a more focused research agenda such as this, which relates to the diversity and changing needs of the accompanying partner, will provide much
needed evidence to persuade and engage organisations to better manage and support globally mobile individuals and accompanying partners in this era of modern mobility.
1Santa Fe Global Mobility Survey, 2012: ‘Exploring the Changing Future of International Mobility’
2Finnacord, 2014: ‘Global Expatriates: size, segmentation and forecast for the worldwide market’
3CIPD, ‘MEGATRENDS’, 2013: The Trends Facing Work and Working Lives’
4Brookfield, 2013: ‘Global Relocation Trends Survey’
5Permits Foundation 2013: ‘Enabling Dual Careers in the Global Workplace’
6McNulty, Y. 2009: ‘Measuring Return on Investment in Global Firms’
7Cole, N. 2011: ‘Managing Global Talent – solving the spousal adjustment problem’
8McNulty, Y. 2012: ‘Being dumped into sink or swim’
9Selmer. J., & Leung, A. 2003: ‘Provision and adequacy of corporate support to male expatriate spouses’
10Cole, N. 2012: ‘Expatriate Accompanying Partners: the males speak’
Paper presented by Wendy Wilson at the TASIS England and FIGT UK networking event, 31st January 2014