Relocating internationally for a job is a big decision, further complicated when there is a partner’s career and well-being to consider, as well. It’s a dilemma that employers are tuning into more and more, motivated by recent data that shows how many mobile employees are sensitive to what employers will provide for their respective partners in a move. A major 2018 study conducted by NetExpat and EY polled over 3,400 respondents from 121 host locations. 81 nationalities, 320 senior HR representatives from corporations and international governmental organizations, over 2,000 mobile employees and over 1,000 expats were represented. This overwhelming response provided rich data that employers and HR professionals can use to position themselves in a more competitive way when facilitating successful relocations.

Partners are Key in the Decision-Making Process

The survey illuminated just how concerned mobile employees are with what their employers are providing to their partners, particularly to how their partner’s career will fair once they move. The most common reason for an employee not accepting an international relocation within their organization was that their partner was unwilling to move because of their career. The next factors of resistance included other family issues, destination location not attractive, relocation package not attractive, partner unwilling to move not related to career and the new assignment was not inline with career objectives.

Employees of all age groups saw the happiness of their partner as crucial when asked, “How critical is the happiness of your partner to your success on an assignment?” Married expats were slightly more sensitive, but there was almost no difference either between male and female expats regarding the importance of having their partner happy abroad. 97% of mobile employees actively engage their partners in discussion prior to accepting an assignment.

Similarly, once a relocation has taken place, the number one reason for a failed assignment, mentioned by 71% of corporations, is an unhappy, unintegrated partner in the host location. Following that were job satisfaction, employee performance, children issues, host country satisfaction and safety/security.

Who are These Relocating Partners?

The study showed that the education level of relocating partners has increased significantly over the year, with 82% holding a bachelor’s, master’s or PhD (close to 91% for mobile employees). Prior to assignment, 77% of partners are working and contributing to family income, with 67% of baby boomer partners being professionally active, 86% of Gen X partners and 90% of Gen Y partners. While on assignment, 66% of partners are working or looking for work while on assignment.

Current Solutions and Support Available

Employers are motivated to stay abreast of the struggles the “trailing spouse” faces by offering support. Their objectives for a partner support policy were 71% wanting to increase assignment satisfaction, 62% to facilitate assignment acceptance and 20% to increase their image as “employer of choice.”

The FMCG, Financial Services, Healthcare/Pharmaceuticals and Travel Industries offer the most partner support benefits, with 100% of the corporations surveyed affirming their support. More than 80% of Automotive, Aerospace, International Governmental Organizations, Energy and Chemical Industries offer support. Typical benefits include language training, intercultural training, career and job search support, work permit support, acclimation/integration support, education allowance and a cash allowance. Notably, of the 37% of corporations offering a cash allowance to support accompanying partners, 16% noted that they don’t believe cash solves the relocating partners’ issues.

Outlook on Partner Support and Best Practices

With increased awareness and an already robust sensitivity to trailing spouses, 28% of employers plan on increasing their current relocating partner benefits, and none planned on decreasing the benefit. Employers stated that improving communication with partners, improving visibility of support, increasing benefits, and increasing cash allowance were among the top priorities. Best practices that emerged from the study included talking to mobile employees and their spouses before planning any change, joining NetExpat’s Global HR Think Tank to stay current on the scope of options for relocating partners, revisiting policies regularly and monitoring KPIs and the positive impact of policies put in place. Mobile employees and their partners have made their concerns to their international employers known – addressing the partner’s well-being is essential to successfully managing international mobility – and employers are listening.