On International Assignment: When Expat Career Spouses Can’t Work

Providing vital support to career spouses on assignment doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor.

Just as companies have come to view globalization as among their primary objectives, two opposing trends in international assignments are making it difficult for them to find candidates for overseas assignments. The first is the growing number of dual-career families. The second is the drive toward keeping down the overall dollar compensation of assignments.

How can companies help expatriate candidates in dual-career families “justify” an international assignment — especially to those countries in which spouses are not permitted to work for financial compensation — without replacing spousal income?

Adequately addressing this challenge offers progressive companies an opportunity to further distinguish themselves among expatriate candidates — an increasingly important benefit as American companies continue the drive toward building global operations.

With only 3% of companies currently providing any compensation for lost spousal income, and a mere 1% providing lost spousal income tied to actual earnings, smart companies are directing their attention toward assistance and services in lieu of income. Emerging assignment policies focus on:

  • Providing financial support for education to further the spouse’s career/professional or intellectual development;
  • Providing guidance or financial support toward the non-profit application of the spouse’s career skills during the assignment; i.e., a list of local charities searching for skilled volunteers, or introductions to non-profit placement agencies;
  • Creating or backing spouse support associations or organizations, especially in more difficult locations or hardship areas;
  • Providing childcare assistance to enable the spouse “hands-free” time to build a network in the local society;
  • Funding business trips back home;
  • Providing career support in the form of assistance and/or money upon the spouse’s return home. Such support might include job search assistance, resume preparation or catch-up professional training.

Where spouses are able to work, progressive companies are forming “job clubs” in areas populated by other American multinational companies. Job clubs are networks of human resource personnel committed to keeping each other posted about job openings, and giving preferential candidate status to expatriate spouses.