Global Careers in the Long Run

To retain talented international career couples, employers need a long term perspective. Here we are global (HWAG) is currently doing research on International Career Couples (ICC). Here is a glimpse of some of our results.

From the perspective of the employing company, surveys consistently show that the partner’s career has become the number one factor that reduces international mobility of staff. As result, companies are missing out on a fair number of talented individuals. This does not help in the current situation where skilled workers are increasingly scarce. What is more, these numbers hide a (big) number of talented individuals who are not going to work for particular employers in the first place, because they have given up on international mobility by lack or a valuable perspective for their dual career couple.

Our research thus far has found that companies are not really grasping the problem. Not that they do not support the mobility of staff, their partners and family. Many do, yet with a short-term focus. That’s surprising given the fact that large companies invest a lot in the long-term development of their staff. For example they offer leadership development programmes, management traineeships, facilitate MBA programmes or fund tuition and college debts to attract talent. Most of those investments only pay back for the employer after several assignments.

A change in perspective is needed

When it comes to facilitating international mobility, the focus is on the short term, i.e. how to get the staff member to move on this particular occasion and this particular location. Some companies are still rather generous and are bucking the trend of reducing cost in expatriation. Support from employers for ICCs is limited to short-term, single assignment support only. Employers are often focused on one individual – the employee – in order to make the employee mobile for a particular assignment. Hence, even if their a menu of choices, it comes down to a one-size-fits all support usually tailored to “trailing” homemakers or secondary-career partners, not to full-career partners. Support mainly concerns cross-cultural and language training, information about local networks and social activities as well as local job hunting support. All aimed at making sure the spouse has something to do, after having given up a job to move abroad. Whereas the expatriation often is supposed to fit a long term career plan, there is little or no such concern for the spouse.

As a result, some couples end up making compromises on their life style, values and identity as a dual career couple. Others simply refuse. Companies seem to take this refusal too as a short term thing: they fail to see that the couple misses a long term perspective. They simply assume that the couple is not mobile now, and may well be in a year or two.

What can employers do for Dual Career Couples?

When it comes to ICCs, the obstacles to international mobility nowadays most often arise from the career situation of the one “who is in fact most affected by a move” and “loses” more.  Hence the advice is often directed towards fixing the “trailing spouse”. Arguably, as the ICC is first and foremost a couple, in anything the obstacles are at the level of the couple rather than the individual. Solutions therefore need to be found at the couple level. Consequently, rather than the trailing spouse the couple as an entity needs to redefine their identity or rebrand their profession.

About the authors

Jannie Aasted Skov-Hansen (Danish) is a Human Resource professional, specialized in global people mobility. She heads up here we are global – an evolving global community and international HR consultancy.

Dr. Paul Vanderbroeck (Dutch / Swiss) has a background of managing talent in multinational organizations. He is an Executive Coach specialized in career transitions and women leadership. He is an accomplished researcher and sought-after speaker on leadership and career development. http:/

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