What About the Family?

What About the Family?

Liz Thompson

An international assignment won’t be successful if the family’s not happy

Mobility professionals strive to deliver “the ideal employee experience” for relocations and assignments. They realise this should encompass the experience of the whole family – the partner, kids, other family members … even pets!

One of the most important factors in a successful relocation or international assignment is the happiness of the family members. And one of the most common reasons key employees join a competitor, turn down an assignment or cut one short is the impact on their family.

During recent discussion sessions at insideMOBILITY events in Miami, Geneva, London and Beijing, industry insiders zeroed in on some critical issues that organisations should keep in mind regarding successful assignment experiences.

Measure the Family Experience

When evaluating mobility programmes, employee experience surveys are the norm. But many attendees, at the Beijing event especially, made the point that the opinions of partners should be solicited as well.

After all, the days are long gone when partners simply tagged along on an international assignment for the “adventure.” More often than not, partners have their own careers, and they’re equally, if not more, engaged with their family’s dependents on a daily basis. Clearly, they’re the right people to ask about how ideal the assignment experience is for their family.

This more inclusive survey feedback can be valuable for two reasons:

  1. The organisation may want to consider revising its policies or exception practices if the surveys indicate the programme is not addressing common family situations
  2. Employees talk. Partners talk. The last thing an organiation needs is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction related to family experiences that might keep others from stepping up for important assignments.

Integrate organisational Diversity & Inclusion initiatives into the assignment process

There’s a very clear connection between Diversity & Inclusion and family-friendly mobility benefits. At the insideMOBILITY sessions, Mobility teams described how they’re working hard to make their policies and programmes free of bias. They know they can’t structure their relocation plans and assignee benefit packages assuming every couple is legally married, opposite sex or single-income.

Furthermore, a family may be a single parent with children. A family might be multi-racial. Families might span three generations.

If any of these or other family situations are not approached inclusively or are frowned upon (or worse) in certain destinations, the team is prepared to step in wherever possible to make sure these family relationships can be maintained and supported.

You can find more about mobility perspectives and strategies in our recent blog: Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in a Global Workplace.

Address family assignment situations through policies, exceptions – or both

Mobility leaders are also challenged with the process of structuring programmes to accommodate all possible family circumstances. Do they make the polices broadly applicable and then address individual circumstances through exceptions? Or do they make their programmes more complex, built from the ground up to accommodate all possible circumstances?

These two general approaches present clear trade-offs regarding cost, administrative workload, precedents and complexity to the assignee. Both methodologies, though, can successfully address the needs of families, defined in the broadest sense.

Sponsor no-cost family mobility initiatives

During several of the insideMOBILITY sessions, attendees mentioned low or no-cost solutions their organisations had implemented to support relocating families. Here are two examples:

  1. Family Networks – Some organisations connect the departing family to other families who have been in, or are in, the same situation. These experienced assignees can describe day-to-day cultural differences, share partner support strategies, advise on childcare and education and generally share their stories and lessons learned that can help make the transition easier and less stressful.
  2. Pet Exchanges – Primarily for short-term assignments, some organisations connect employees who are willing to offer pet care while the pet owner is on assignment. In some cases, the company pays for the pet transportation between the two homes.

Six quick tips on how to enhance the family assignment experience

  1. Familiarity – Facilitate pre-assignment trips and interaction with others who are familiar with the location and the lifestyle
  2. Technology – Make sure family members are quickly connected before and in their new location so they can maintain contacts in the home country and orient to the host location using maps and other apps
  3. Maintain the lifestyle – Try to ensure that housing, schools, transportation and other daily elements at the host location are similar to the home country
  4. Orientation – Provide cultural training that includes language, currency, transportation, local laws and regulations, etc.
  5. Support home connections – Provide the family with periodic trips to the home location as well as opportunities for home-based direct family members to visit the host country
  6. Support the two-income family – Help the assignee’s partner maintain and further their career in the new location with career counselling and job-seeking services. Help enable a dual-career lifestyle by offering babysitting, shopping, cooking, pet walking or housecleaning services.

A final word about pets

And speaking of pets, these “family members” frequently found their way into the family experience discussions!

Are pets part of the family? That’s a decision that organizations need to clarify. Some consider pets to be “family” when it comes to their transport to the host country, but not in the context of periodic home visits, for example.

Which animals are pets and which animals are … animals? Again, organisations should be crystal clear on this distinction. One of the best differentiators we heard is that “a pet loves you back.”

Then again, how do you know if your parakeet loves you or not?

Do you need help sorting out the best strategy for creating exceptional family experiences? Our Mobility Strategy team has decades of experience on both the client and provider side to draw from and can work with you to define and design policies that reflect your business, you and your team. Contact us to get started today!

Liz Thompson