Family considerations, including the spouse/partner’s career, have traditionally been the number one reason for reluctance from relocating employees. According to Worldwide ERC®, real estate concerns eclipsed family and career considerations during the Great Recession (imagine having to sell an “upside down” house and give up a spouse/partner’s job during a recession), but as the real estate market recovers, personal issues are again rising to the forefront.

Dual-career families have become the norm. Ozzie and Harriet are gone: according to the U.S. Census bureau, men are the sole breadwinners in only one out of four married couples. So even with a great offer on the table, most families are reluctant to embark on a domestic relocation unless the spouse can either continue his or her job in the new location or find a new one. International assignments bring special challenges as many countries limit or outlaw spouse employment.

Today, successful talent mobility includes not only identifying the best employee for the role but also addressing family considerations that might prevent the chosen candidate from accepting the job—or result in its failure later on. When employee relocations and global assignments fail, it is almost always due to spouse/family dissatisfaction. Then the company loses not only a substantial investment but more importantly for its future, a valued employee.

Continuing with the current employer

If the spouse is happy with the current role, it is certainly worth investigating whether a transfer to an office in the new city or a transition to virtual employee status is possible. Companies today want to retain employee talent and might be more flexible about employment terms and location than you think. Technology has made it much easier to do a job from thousands of miles away, and often a well-developed proposal keeps the position secure. For example, the spouse can offer to work virtually most of the time but travel to the office location when needed. (Of course, if the employee is relocating abroad, extreme caution is advised, as even virtual work can be prohibited. The family could be deported and the employer liable for hefty fines. The visa and immigration specialist who assists with the employee’s move will advise what is, and isn’t, permissible.)

If continuing isn’t an option

Perhaps the spouse’s company doesn’t have an office in the new location, or maybe it’s a role that simply can’t move. This could be an opportunity to investigate other appropriate opportunities within the company with more flexible terms. It can also be a chance to make a clean break and pursue a new opportunity in the new location.

Before committing to a job, a potential transferee and spouse/partner should carefully go over the employee relocation package and discuss what is being offered. If there is no allowance for helping a trailing partner with a job search, ask your company to add it to the package. They might be unwilling, but they might also realize that it’s what is needed to cinch the deal and get you to move.

And don’t assume companies only offer partner support to married couples. A recent survey found that 24 percent of responding companies provide assistance to same-sex partners and 30 percent to unmarried partners.

The shape of assistance

Assistance ranges from informal and perfunctory to generous. About half of companies today use professional career placement services to assist the spouse or partner in finding a new job. Many cap this benefit, but the amount might be negotiable as part of overall relocation package negotiations with relocating employees.

TRC’s support programs include a dedicated Career Consultant and make good use of technology. Our experts work with job seekers to:

  • Explore next career steps, including alternative career options
  • Assess the changing marketplace
  • Create a plan that defines an ideal opportunity, location and salary
  • Research hiring employers and recruiters and their open positions
  • Uncover hard-to-find opportunities
  • Develop marketing strategies and tools
  • Establish or enhance online presence
  • Successfully navigate employer hiring technologies
  • Apply or post a resume online for maximum effect
  • Use our research tools to stay up-to-date
  • Interview and negotiate to land the best opportunity

For spouses/partners who are part of  international assignments where paid work is not an option, we look for other enriching opportunities that can benefit the spouse/partner’s career when he or she returns home. Not surprisingly, TRC has learned that sensitive management of personal considerations, especially dual-career situations, when relocating employees can not only determine whether or not a relocation is accepted but also its ultimate success.

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