Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Relocation Policies: Are We Being Set Up To Fail? by Expat Rachel Yates

Hi Everyone, Rachel Yates of Defining Moves: The Art of Successful Relocation wrote this great post for us, that we would like to share...

Relocation Policies: Are We Being Set Up To Fail?

We have lived in San Francisco for over a year, and I have yet to sign on with a doctor. I simply haven't had the time to find one whose opinion I trust, and I have had other priorities. I have been investing my time and energy in establishing a support network, ensuring that my children's educational needs are met, and recently spent 4.5 hours getting them admitted to a dental practice. Which is why I am convinced that the latest policies for improving spousal 'happiness' by investing in employment counseling are inherently flawed. We are being set up to fail, and here's why.

1. Time. The considerable time commitment that relocating and establishing a functioning household takes. The 'employed' partner is typically given between three and seven days to facilitate a move, but 63 percent of relocating households have one or more children, and move every three to five years. Thus the tasks that needed to be completed in any relocation (such as finding and furnishing housing, applying for documentation, establishing financial services, locating and enrolling with health care providers, finding appropriate education services) as well as time spent traveling, getting vaccinations and medical assessments, completing health, education, residency and legal checks, and of course the actual time spent moving house, fall to the accompanying partner.

The process is long term, and can up to six months to fully complete, leaving those on shorter term assignments destined for an endless cycle of tedious but essential research, driving and form-filling. Where destination support is offered, the limited time allocated means that housing and schooling are priorities, while services deemed less essential (such as waiting at home for utility engineers, establishing financial services, or finding medical care) are left to the accompanying partner to establish.

2. Invalid certification. Revalidating professional credentials takes a significant amount of time and effort and there are often delays in accessing the necessary courses. The shorter the assignment duration, the less benefit there is to be gained from the revalidation process, and where there is an additional cost implication, the overall 'return on investment' of recertification for career purposes is poor.

3. Inability to commit to new employment. Your resume may be stellar and your references glowing, but most employers are looking to recruit stable long-term team members. As an accompanying partner, you are unable to offer guarantees - you have already taken the decision to relocate to further your partner's career, and any future career decisions will almost certainly continue this trend. So if your partner's corporation decides to transfer, repatriate or terminate the contract, your dependent visa status means that you will be leaving too, regardless of how vital or fulfilling your new role is.

What Should Relocation Policies Be Focusing On?

1. Establishing realistic expectations. Far too many of us have embarked on life as an accompanying partner without fully understanding what we are signing up for. Including both partners in assignment planning meetings makes expectations clearer and more realistic. Is the move really a one off, or if it is successful, will the corporation be expecting further overseas postings? Is the time frame set, or is it likely to change according to the needs of the transferring employer? Answering these questions at the outset means that any plans made by the accompanying partner will be realistic over the entire expatriate time frame, rather on a single short term transfer.

2. The idea/option to work on a virtual basis. A great deal of work is outsourced or carried out remotely, so there may well be a way of maintaining your professional role from the new location. I know a CFO (Chief Financial Officer) who lives five hours from their former office, a real estate agent who uses Skype to give them a London office number but is actually taking the call in rural Wales, and a PR (Public Relations) agent who 'works' in the Heathrow area from a farm in Herefordshire. If career packages included identification of more flexible working opportunities and training in how to use remote networking tools, we could potentially make a smoother transition between locations, without having to change careers.

3. Encouragement and education around the idea of creating a new flexible career (as the accompanying partner). It may well be time to reinvent yourself. You have taken the decision to relocate for a reason, and it usually involves improving your family's quality of life and/or experiencing the wider world. Take it seriously, and invest time and energy in achieving those goals, and less time worrying about what you have left behind. If you are not simply taking a career break, but are intending to become a serial expat, reframing how you generate income and job satisfaction can open doors to opportunities that can move with you. Experts like Jo Parfitt and Robin Pascoe provide guidance on both a personal and professional transition to a new career and identity, and there are many online resources available, both for continuing education, career counseling and life coaching.

The good news is that we have far more flexible working opportunities than ever, and employers are increasingly outsourcing a huge range of tasks and roles to freelance workers and independent contractors. Web based job sites such as Elance, Monster and Craigslist feature thousands of opportunities that do not require residence in any particular location, and Ebay and Etsy provide a flexible way of running a retail business.

Final Words

Not every relocation policy lacks these ideas, but from anecdotal discussions with other expats, I suspect most do. What I suggest to the makers of relocation policy is that, as expat families, we could really benefit from a greater understanding of what options are open to us, and the tools to reframe our professional identity in a way that is congruent with the expatriate life, rather than in conflict with it. Do this to help us, and it's highly likely we'll stay longer on posting, and help you in return.

Rachel Yates, an expat trailing spouse from Wales, who has spent the last ten years turning relocation disasters into a worldwide traveling circus. Currently living in San Francisco, she has spent the last ten years routing through London, Nairobi, and Los Angeles, complete with two kids, two dogs and three cats. She has only once been upgraded on a flight. Current goals include making it into Virgin First Class, learning HTML and locating a perfect Lemon Drop Martini.

1 comment:

Expat Forever said...

Very good post that summarize everything. I am going to share it on my social networks. Thank you.

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