As a result of increase of globalization and economic growth the number of assignments abroad increase accordingly. Such a challenge is often accepted with limited and insufficient preparation.
The preparation and briefing by the employer is often limited to the more technical issues, like labor conditions, the move, schooling for children, et cetera. Occasionally, culture training is offered.

When the euphoria regarding this ultimate promising move in the career has diminished a little, and the stress of the move is left behind, a new situation commences.

Commencement of problems

An expatriate, in most of the cases this still is the man, is expected to work 24/7 to gain as much profit from the high employers investment. Whether or not explicitly mentioned, the accompanying spouse is expected to support her husband by all means and play a minor role.

The germ for a feeling of huge solitude has been sowed. If, next tot hat, it appears to be hardly possible to establish a personal (social) living, this solitude often leads to the question if the choice for an existence as spouse of the expatriate far abroad has been a right decision.
Accompanying children also can face huge emotional problems. Abandoning of family and friends in the home land, a new (international) school, language problems and the unavoidable adaptation to a foreign and unknown culture and way of life in the host country can lead to family stress.

It is not surprising that the number of divorces and other problems in the expatriate population increases, with a return of the family to the home country or an entire ending of the assignment as a consequence.

The consequences of a divorce abroad are incalculable. Although an assignment agreement often contains a paragraph that the home country legislation is applicable, the question must be raised if a court abroad is willing to accept such an agreement. If so, the next question is if such a court has the necessary expertise of home country legislation to assess the differences with legislation in the host country to come to a verdict.

To cope with other family problems the provisions in the host country can often be considered as insufficient.

Being a good employer

To my opinion, being a good employer means that the expatriate and his family are also briefed about the risks as mentioned before, even if that would lead to waive the expatriation offer: better to stop half way than to persevere in an error.

After materialization of the assignment abroad the employer remains responsible to prevent as much as possible that problems arise and the bomb bursts.

A possible solution

Without pretending that with the following procedure all family problems abroad can be prevented, I think a workable solution can be found by involving a psychiatrist of the expatriate illness insurance company in the expatriation. This procedure could be:

• Before the assignment materializes, the psychiatrist contacts the expatriate and his accompanying family members intake by phone for acquaintance (baseline assessment)
• Three months after commencing of the assignment the expatriate and his family members will have a contact by phone again to assess if the expatriate and his family have “landed well” in the host country.
• During the whole assignment these contacts by phone remain every 6 months (or more frequent if necessary). The objective is to follow the expatriation and find out if problems occur, that can be treated before the situation has become unbearable and irreversible
• Three months after termination of the assignment a final contact takes place to assess if any aftercare is advisable

Based on medical and privacy considerations the psychiatrist is not allowed to report to the employer about his findings without explicit consent of the expatriate and/or his family members. He, however, can advise the expatriate and/or his family members to contact the employers International Mobility Manager to discuss the situation and from there search for a solution that is suitable for both parties.

There is no doubt that such a procedure costs money. However, if in just one case a preliminary ending of an international assignment is prevented, the return on investment is evident.

I have gained experience with this procedure. The only fact that the employer shows that he, in advance, has attention for possible negative effects of an assignment on the family life, and has a procedure for that, leads to emotional peacefulness with the expatriate and his family members: if problems occur, they are not alone, even far abroad.
Rian de Jong
Manager Global Mobility &
Compensation and Benefits