The "great resignation" is making headlines all over the world. The causes and scale of this phenomenon, first seen in the United States but now evident in many other countries, still need to be fully explored. The fact is that many employers now face a real battle to retain skilled talent.
To prevent mobile employees from being lost to the great resignation, it is necessary to have a better understanding of the issues that affect them and their employment expectations.
Companies will need to set clear priorities to deliver effective support programs for all their mobile assignees.
Contact us to learn more about family and partner support
We have asked Alain Verstandig and Laurette Bennhold-Samaan from NetExpat to share their views on employee and family experience.
Why does the concept of family experience matter?
Family experience is a central pillar of employees’ overall assignment experience. It has become important due to the rise in dual incomes and new types of assignment.
Several transformative forces are putting the spotlight on family experience, including:
- The impact of the pandemic: in many households, the pandemic has changed the dynamic among family members. Bonding is often stronger, for example. When employees are asked why they want to work remotely, a top answer is that “something changed in the dynamic of my family”. Appreciation of family life has grown while the need for business travel and the importance of loyalty to a company is starting to be questioned.
- The role of the partner, from involvement to shared decision-making. The partner’s situation is a key reason for refusing an assignment. When asked about the partner's involvement in deciding to take an assignment, the clear trend seen across all cultures and age groups is that the partner’s personal development is a significant part of the discussion. Making the move with their partners was of considerable importance to 97% of respondents (NetExpat Relocating Partner Survey 2019-2021).We should be more cognizant of shared decision-making instead of viewing the partner as merely being involved.
- The challenges of dual-earner couples: statistics show that the number of dual-earner couples has been increasing steadily; for example, they represent two-thirds of couples in the Western world. The figures are even higher for the Generation Y demographic, with 90% having a working partner. Consequently, families are grappling with whether they are willing to reduce family income by moving abroad.
What approaches support families most effectively?
Often, a company’s leading effort is to provide cash allowances to employees to address the issue of family support. Unfortunately, employees barely realize or remember the purpose of lump sums they receive as part of their relocation packages. Thus, they often don’t value these provisions and instead ask for additional practical support. More specifically, they appreciate high-touch approaches designed to help their partners continue their careers.
When comparing the impact of a cash allowance and a service, assignees and employers have different perceptions. Those who receive an allowance often take a negative view that the company owed them something anyway because relocation may have derailed their partners’ careers. In other words, the allowance is compensation for a disruptive outcome. It damages the employer’s branding instead of reinforcing its favorable image. On the contrary, companies helping to solve the dual-career problem gain a more positive identity as caring and supportive employers.
Core-flex approaches have gained popularity in recent years. However, too much choice could have negative effects. Several months often pass before employees and their partners take the partner support option offered by a complex core-flex policy. Companies using this type of approach have good intentions, but the choice is quite difficult for employees to make and the money is spent too late to have an impact. Employees need clear and simple guidance on how to make their choices. A core-flex approach is not a bad thing as long as family support is an integral part of the core benefits.
Split families: a risky alternative
The company and employee may be tempted to try various commuting arrangements to avoid a family relocation that would force one’s partner to take a new job. This could save the company money in the short term and allow talent to be more mobile. However, even when employees are willing to make such a sacrifice for the sake of their partners and family, this is rarely a good solution.
There has been a drop in employees accepting commuting arrangements and temporarily splitting the family, and 77% of policy owners view such choices as challenging. Only 6% find it to be a good way to solve the partner and family component of the decision-making process. Employees have an even stronger view: 85% reject splitting the family as a viable solution.
Building the business case for enhancing family support
Improving the family experience brings benefits both to the employees and companies throughout the assignment cycle.
During the pre-assignment phase, employees struggle somewhat when faced with multiple options. Partner support is not always part of the discussion. A good practice is to apportion part of the mobility allowance to such support. For example, of a USD 15,000 assignment allowance, USD 5,000 could be reallocated to it. The overall budget remains the same but part of it is used upfront as family support funding. In a way, the allowance thus becomes a talent attractor. Support at this early stage helps the family decide whether to accept the assignment and highlights the company’s dedication to family issues.
The exact return on investment of family and partner support is hard to measure but there are several positive indicators, one being that 62% of mobility managers report that family support has helped to sell assignments. Also, 33% of them reported seeing improvement in job performance throughout assignments – an emerging indicator of the support’s continuing benefit.
Upon repatriation, the impact of provided support is still visible. Many employees who did not receive support harbor the strong belief that the employer derailed their partner’s career. They feel resentment due to a perceived loss of income. On the other hand, assignees whose families received support are more likely to have a positive view of their experience, thus reinforcing the employer’s brand image.
Family experience: who is in charge of supporting it?
Creating a positive family experience is a shared responsibility of the different HR teams, service providers as well as current and former assignees. Nowadays, mobility packages are under pressure as companies try to contain costs. The relocation package component related to helping the family settle in may be reduced to a minimum as relocation vendors are forced to cut some of their services. The focus is increasingly on managing administrative issues and less on communicating with families to create a welcoming and inclusive environment in their new home cities.
Linking mobility with talent management makes a difference and limiting attrition is a high priority for such management’s teams, which can support the mobility teams and provide a better picture of the cost of replacing skilled talent.
Laurette Bennhold-Samaan, VP Global Advisory Services NetExpat, is an international executive with over thirty years of experience in world-class organizations including Accenture, The World Bank, Honda of America, and The Peace Corps.
Alain Verstandig, President of the NetExpat Group, is an engineer who has passionately embraced International Mobility and Talent Management through personal experience.