Dual Careers and International Assignments - What Employers can do to help By Samantha B. Polovina The biggest obstacle to employee mobility is dual-career and family issues, according to participants in Mercer’s 2012 Worldwide Survey of International Assignment Policies and Practices. Although the barriers to international mobility faced by dual-career couples are not new, the issue retains its relevance. This is especially true as the current economic climate generates even greater uncertainty for assignees and their spouses than is traditionally associated with an expatriate career path. For many, loss of income in today’s economic climate is an option they cannot even consider. Furthermore, career uncertainty for the expatriate on return at the completion of an assignment has always been a concern, but, for spouses/partners, a gap in their résumé sets them apart, detrimentally, from other job seekers. And today, there are more couples where the partners actively pursue their own career goals and are less willing to sacrifice one career at the expense of the other. So, what can employers do? The following suggested interventions might help employers deal effectively with dual-career issues: Review existing policy, considering the concerns cited by assignees and their spouses/partners as barriers to accepting and continuing the assignment. Provide clear communication to spouses/partners about the assignment. Offer more support to spouses/partners who want careers or paid work abroad. Provide more flexibility to existing policies. Determine the right staff to be involved in the process. Recognize that the expatriate labor pool is changing due to demographics and globalization. Before writing a new policy or amending an existing one, consider what has been effective in the past. Here are some general tips on what has worked for our clients who have succeeded in expatriating dual-career couples: Make your policy flexible: Flexibility allows the assignee and spouse/partner to feel that they have options and that the company values the difficult decisions they make in choosing to accept an international assignment. Willingness to be flexible for the right employees ensures the organization’s competitiveness. Use an integrated, consistent approach: Although policy flexibility is important in incentivizing the assignee’s family, employers should be consistent in their communication with and support of both the assignee and partner. Show an interest in the employee’s partner by involving him or her in the process early on and keeping in touch all through the assignment. Consider providing ongoing support through HR and contractors with cultural training, orientation, job search, introduction to local support networks, etc. Make sure to do that consistently with assignees across geographies, which will enhance your expatriate program’s reputation and alleviate future issues. Apply foresight: With dual-career issues common, look ahead to address them systematically and make sure they are worth the trouble. Could the business need be filled with a short-term assignment? A short-term assignment of up to 12 months will lessen both the financial cost of the assignment and the impact to the career of the spouse/partner. If not, ensure mechanisms are in place to provide support for the family, with internal HR and third parties alike. And implement protocols to make sure trailing spouses/partners can have the support they need. By considering all factors – policy flexibility, communication efforts, appropriate resources, preparation, and careful assignee/assignment choice, among others – your company has a better chance of meeting employee needs without compromising its own goals. Samantha B. Polovina, a Principal at Mercer, is responsible for the Benefits & Specialty publications for Global Insights, a division of Information Products and Solutions (IPS) within Mercer's Talent group. Samantha is based in New York and can be reached at email@example.com.