Interpreting Dual Career Couples' Family Life-Cycles: Identifying Strategic Windows of Global Career Opportunity

By Harvey, Michael; Napier, Nancy et al. | Research and Practice in Human Resource Management, December 2009 | Go to article overview

Interpreting Dual Career Couples' Family Life-Cycles: Identifying Strategic Windows of Global Career Opportunity


Harvey, Michael, Napier, Nancy, Moeller, Miriam, Research and Practice in Human Resource Management


ABSTRACT

Dual career families are more resistant to undertaking expatriate assignments primarily due to the difficulties associated with the trailing spouse not being able to find a job overseas and the potential net financial loss for the couple. As reported in other research, the failure of spouse or family to adjust is the number one reason for expatriate failure, therefore, a model for selecting expatriate candidates that accommodates the dual career family should help international human resource managers. This paper examines some of the particular gender and sociological issues surrounding the dual career expatriate couple, such as family and career Life-Cycles, to identify 'strategic windows' of opportunities for relocating expatriates overseas. Several selection methods based on self selection, such as accomplishment review, plus corresponding appraisals by management are proposed as an alternative to the present dual career couple dilemma. The significance of this research lies in the necessity for organisations to be primarily aware of rapidly changing recruiting environments and to be willing to undertake the changes allowing for greater effectiveness of HRM process in global environments.

Key words Global assignments, dual career couples, emerging markets, family life-cycle

INTRODUCTION

As professional dual career couples increase as a percentage of potential overseas assignees they will have an increasing impact on the success/failure of expatriate candidates (Harvey 1997a, 1998, Harvey & Wiese 1998). In some cases dual career couples have refused expatriate assignments because of the difficulties of relocating a trailing spouse in a career oriented position overseas. Since the failure of spouse or family to adjust to foreign environments is the number one reason for expatriate failure (Tung 1981, Harvey 1985, 1989,Thornton &Thornton 1995) it would be logical to develop a selection method which is sensitive to the unique characteristics of dual career expatriate candidates. And while the ultimate destination of the candidate is relevant, with regard to the success or failure of the assignment, additional attention must, therefore, be attributed to the involved cultural and socioeconomic factors.

The issues associated with relocating dual career couples globally are complex and difficult to address by international organisations. In 1995 dual career couples accounted for nearly 60 per cent of all professional households (US Census 1999), and by 2005, as many as 70 per cent (US Dept. of Commerce 2006) of all families were defined as either dual income or dual career couples. This translates to 4.5 million dual career couples as of 1993 and nearly 8.0 million in 2005 (Reed & Reed 1993, US Dept. of Commerce 2006). In addition, the highly skilled and educated candidate for an expatriation assignment is more likely to have a similar qualified spouse, as evidenced by the fact the 65 per cent of United States (US) expatriates had a working spouse (Windham International 2006).

A distinction between dual career and dual income couples demonstrates the differences between the two groups. Dual career couples are engaged in continual professional employment (Bradbury 1994), are psychologically committed to their work (Burke & Greenglass 1987, Falkenberg & Monachello 1988, Bruce & Reed 1991) or are employed in upwardly mobile jobs with personal growth attached (Bruce & Reed 1991). In contrast, in a dual income couple, both members primarily work for a wage or at least one member's motivation is to supplement the family income (Harvey 1997a, 1998).The affective reactions and behaviours of an individual member of the dual career couple may be explained better by a combination of attitudes held by both partners, rather than one partner taken alone (Karambayy & Reilly 1992). Thus, the couple should be the unit of analysis, rather than the individual (Yogev & Brett 1985, Sekaran 1986, Harvey 1996, Harvey & Buckley 1997) when making global relocation decisions. …

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