When devising strategies to encourage effective international employee engagement in the time of Covid-19 and beyond, multinationals must seek ways to build and maintain trust with spouses and partners.
A joint decision
Let’s agree that the typical candidate for an international assignment is a dedicated, driven individual. They see an international assignment as a great career opportunity. But if they are married / partnered, moving to another country (perhaps another continent) is a joint decision, one that has been made more complex because of COVID-19.
The partner / spouse also recognises that this is a great opportunity for their significant other. However, unlike an assigned employee, they are unsure how they will fill their days in another country. Even if they conveniently have a portable career, they still have to go through a period of adjustment, build new social networks and find fulfilment outside of their occupation. In short, many ‘known unknowns’ await them.
Through our work at Global Connection we are reminded on a daily basis of the emotional challenges that expat partners / spouses must face before and after relocating to a new country, where they have no job and no social network. Some years ago, I was an expat partner, too. I had huge reservations about following my husband and delayed my departure. Even after I ‘took the plunge’, I had serious doubts about the assignment and contemplated throwing in the towel.
I share that personal story only to highlight that long before COVID-19 emerged, partners had their doubts, both before and during assignments. The pandemic has, of course, created new concerns for expat partners. Last summer, Global Connection sent out a survey to get a clearer idea of how partners in our community felt about current and future assignments in the time of COVID-19. More than 1,000 participants responded, and we are more than happy to share the results with any interested parties.
Through thick and thin
It is, of course, crucial that we know what is on the minds of the expat partners and partners of international hires in our community. That way, we can address their concerns and ease their anxieties. Yet, while circumstances have changed because of COVID-19, I wish to stress that, in essence, our approach remains the same. Pandemic or no pandemic, we provide personalised support to our clients’ expat partners so they can relocate to a new country with confidence, adapt and integrate within their community, view their expat lives on positive terms and successfully complete an assignment.
Give them confidence
Although the pandemic might very well see more focus on the importance of partners to Global Mobility, my fear is that the fortunes of partners are mostly tacked onto the general categories of health, wellbeing of family, and security. The danger here is that GM teams will overlook the importance of partners’ individual status and sense of self-worth. Let’s not forget they have passions and life goals, and an assignment presents them with opportunities, too.
The bottom line
So, here’s my advice: engage them, offering personalised support, not only to reassure them on matters of health and security, but also to earn their trust and give them the confidence so that they can feel fulfilled and succeed as an expat partner. Last, but not least, if the bottom line is under more focus because of COVID-19, this is also a cost-effective approach with a significant payoff for multinationals.
Jacqueline van Haaften, Managing Director Global Connection Expat Partner Support