In May this year, the Brookfield Global Relocation Services released their latest survey results: Global Relocation Trends Survey 2011.
The people responding to the survey were Senior HR or mobility professionals. Compared to previous years this survey was considerably more upbeat with over 61% of respondents saying that they expected to see an increase in assignment numbers over the coming year.
What about cultural and family issues?
My specific interest was the provision of the “soft expatriate support services”: support to partners and families.
The number of assignments that are incomplete due to early return fell from the historical average of 7% to 6%. However the top reason for early return continues to be family concerns, cited by 43% of the respondents. This was followed by returning early to take up new positions 22% and early project completion 21%.
Respondents reported that the following forms of family and partner support were provided by their organisations:
- Language training for the partner – 75%
- Educational training and assistance – 32%
- Employer search or job finding fees – 32%
- Sponsored work permits – 32%
- Lump sum allowance – 31%
- Career planning assistance – 30%
- Reimbursement for career enhancement activities – 17%
- Identify volunteer activities, find support networks – 16%
- Club memberships – 16%
- No support is provided – 8%
- Compensation for partners lost income – 1%
- Other – 6%
Cross-cultural training pre-relocation was offered by 74% of companies, 49% provided this support to the whole family. However only 25% of organisations made cross-cultural training and preparation mandatory.
Organisations recognised the most critical family challenges as being:
- Partner resistance – 47%
- Family adjustment – 32%
- Children’ education – 29%
- Location difficulties – 25%
- Cultural adjustment – 14%
- Partners career – 12%
- Inability to speak the language – 12%
- Need to support other dependant members – 4%
How do these statistics compare to your experience of partner, family and cross-cultural training support?
In 2002, I conducted a survey in Portugal amongst the expatriates in relation to organisational support and the expectations that people had of that support. You can read more about that research here.
The research found a link between organisational support and expatriates’ general adjustment.
So support assists in adjustment to a new life abroad but as the Brookfield report shows it is not provided extensively to families and partners.
I wonder whether this is because the needs of partners and families can vary extensively and it is very difficult for an organisation to cater for every variety of need.
So perhaps the onus lies on us, the partners and the families to be proactive! To identify more clearly our own needs and then from that understanding to seek to influence where we can.
To research and understand the potential challenges and issues that we will face in a new location and then decide:
- What support would be helpful to my family and me?
- What support would not be necessary?
- What matters to me most and what does not?
- What do I want to influence and change about the support provided to me?
The cost of a two-year assignment is estimated to be equal to five times the expatriate employees annual salary. This is quite an investment, in order to generate the best return, spending tight budgets in a focused, needs driven and responsible way has to be attractive to organisations.
The reaction to the recognition that family concerns can have a negative impact on assignment success has been slow BUT perhaps we can speed this process up by being clearer and better at influencing. Organisations are keen to move to more flexible expatriate provisions – time to make the most of these provisions persuasively.
Or am I being far too optimistic? I would love to hear your views!