Magazine article Workforce

Expert Help for Dual-Career Spouses

Magazine article Workforce

Expert Help for Dual-Career Spouses

Article excerpt

A poorly adjusted family is bad odds for a successful global assignment. So when you encounter a spouse who takes his or her career seriously, you know you have some work to do.

It used to be so easy. The spouse (a.k.a. "wife") obligingly played the agreeable hostess to her husband's business social functions and kept herself busy by taking care of her family and their home. But now, as the social climate in America shifts, there are more and more two-income families.

Chances are if you have employees working placed on international assignments, you've already learned about the importance of culture training and language lessons. You probably have a global relocation policy that incorporates occasional visits back home. You may even have a destination service that's ready to show your expat families around. And in spite of all of this, every once in a while you have a disillusioned family return early. The reason could be that you're not handling your accompanying spouses any differently than their nonworking predecessors.

GLOBAL WORKFORCE assembled a team of experts to help you grapple with this issue. And after animated discussion, three key suggestions surfaced that will help you head off problems before they bring your overseas project to a screeching halt. Our global round table consisted of:

Noel Kreicker, president of International Orientation Resources, based in Northbrook, Illinois.

Bonnie Michaels, president of Managing Work & Family Inc. based in Evanston, Illinois.

Rebecca Rolfes, managing editor of Imagination Publishing based in Chicago and former accompanying spouse of 12 years.

Carrie Shearer, manager of global compensation for Caltex Petroleum Corp. based in Dallas.

Chuck Steel, manager of expatriate administration for ALLTEL, based in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Marian Stoltz-Loike, Ph.D., vice president and director of cross-cultural and intercultural programs for Windham International based in New York City.

Collect firsthand information.

It only makes sense. The less your expat couples know about a particular destination country and its culture, the more difficult it will be for them to anticipate the questions they'll have when they arrive. And the more unanswered questions they have, the more unsettled-and unsure-they'll feel when they finally get there.

Sure, a house-hunting trip is a start-but even that isn't a real-life experience. It doesn't help when the spouse has relocated with the intention of starting a business from home, only to learn that the permit he'll need won't be available to him; or the certification she'll need is only awarded after passing an exam-in Thai.

What your expats and their spouses need is the inside scoop-and preferably straight from other expat couples who have lived in the same location. Bonnie Michaels explained: "The well-meaning HR manager will give 10 really great ideas of what the spouse can do, and none of them will work because they don't exist in that country. I would suggest to HR managers that they interview expatriate spouses who have already gone over and come back-because they're the ones with the wealth of information."

Michaels also suggested trying to get your hands on realistic case studies, with an eye for country-specific issues. Try calling HR managers at other multinational companies. Even ask if you can talk with some of their expats-especially if you don't have employees of your own who have been there. Arrange for your employee's accompanying spouse to meet with an accompanying spouse of a dual-career couple during the house-hunting trip.

And seek out a global relocation consulting company that has specialized knowledge in the country you're interested in. Just remember: You can't talk to too many people. You may discover it's easier to gain employment in the Far East because there are more jobs than there are qualified people. …

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