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Passport to success?

first_imgRelated posts:No related photos. Passport to success?On 1 Oct 2002 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Article To combat high levels of partner dissatisfaction on internationalassignments, the US Department of State has introduced a scheme to help spousesfind employment and happiness. Marion Callahan reportsPartner satisfaction can make or break international assignments. More thanhalf of them fail, and the number one cause is spousal dissatisfaction. As thenumber of dual-income married couples soars, and the pool of young qualifiedcandidates willing to sacrifice their partners’ careers for their own continuesto dwindle, this is clearly a problem that is not going to fade away. In May, the US State Department launched a programme to help thousands ofoverseas employees’ spouses find jobs. Dubbed SNAP (Spouse NetworkingAssistance Programme), the scheme is being tested in 10 countries, wherenewly-hired local employment advisers are scouring the job market to place themin the right roles. These agents are skimming through local newspapers and classifiedsadvertisements, forging industry contacts and lining up interviews. Some arelaunching websites where spouses exchange job-finding tips, while other agentsare briefing them on the social nuances of their host countries. No job is guaranteed. But officials say the Department of State (DoS) isreaching out in unprecedented ways, fulfiling a recent pledge to boostrecruiting and retention efforts. Programmes such as SNAP are a priority nowmore than ever before, as both the public and private sectors are in the midstof a war for talent. Leading state department officials say one of the top retention challengesis dealing with the complexities of dual-career families. “The lack ofspouse employment opportunities was often a significant factor in decidingwhether to remain or resign,” says US Ambassador Ruth Davis, directorgeneral of the Foreign Services and HR director, citing a 2002 employeesatisfaction survey. Since SNAP began, more than a dozen spouses and family members have foundwork in their fields. Success stories are expected to multiply as the agents strengthen and widentheir network of contacts. Organisers now expect Congress to support theprogramme’s expansion in another 10 countries next year. “Spouse employment issues may have little to do with foreign affairs,but it is a big ‘quality of life’ issue and can impact the mission if ourofficers [staff] are unhappy,” says Debbie Thompson, who directs SNAPalong with other family support programmes for the DOS in Washington DC.”We know from our own reports that the most common reason for assignmentfailure was partner dissatisfaction. People were talking about leaving. Thatwas enough to make us concerned.” Today, few spouses are willing to suspend their careers or slice theirsalaries in half to accommodate an overseas move. Congress has poured $800,000(£520,000) into SNAP so that US foreign service spouses don’t have to makethese sacrifices. The bulk of this money pays the salaries of the employmentadvisers in the field, who are now helping to support the careers of 1,500employees’ spouses in Belgium, Canada, Chile, Egypt, Japan, Korea, Poland,Mexico, Singapore, and the UK. State department officials are now researching countries in which to placethe programme next year. As SNAP matures and networks become established, jobplacement goals are expected to jump from 20 to 80 per cent, Thompson says. “Right now, we’re in the early stages and we’re giving our adviserstime to build a strong base of contacts. If we help 20 per cent of our spouses,it’s 20 per cent more than we’d helped before,” she says.”Eventually, we believe if the support is in place and the rightinformation is in the right hands, spouses will find a job in their field in ashort amount of time. But it’s not an easy task, no matter where you are in theworld.” In the past, many spouses found the job-searching process to belong, tedious, and simply “not worth the hassle”, she says. Steve McKinney, a local employment adviser in Korea, says spouses becameoverwhelmed by the country’s hiring process and gave up. “This leads to either no employment, underemployment, discouragement,or a feeling of lacking worth, which causes stress for the sponsored spouse andunhappiness within the family unit,” says McKinney, who also serves asco-chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce’s Living in Korea Committee. Going Global president Mary Anne Thompson, an international relocationexpert, says spouses in foreign countries face a plethora of obstacles whenthey set out on a job search, especially if they lack guidance or expertise. “They don’t know what newspapers to read, how to write a résumé orwhere or when the career fairs are,” says Thompson, who has researched andpublished information on employment practices in more than 23 countries.”It could take a year to figure it all out.” Before May, the DoS provided in-country sponsors to help families settleinto their homes and adjust to the new culture. Some language training wasoffered, and spouses were given the right to apply for a work permit – one ofthe most difficult hurdles for married partners in the private sector toovercome. Despite the logistical support, employees were still talking about leaving,mostly because their spouses were unhappy. Already facing stiff competition forqualified candidates from a rising number of non-governmental organisations andprivate companies, the DoS turned to its family liaison office to draft a plan.Debbie Thompson zeroed in on establishing a career network, something whichforeign service officers stressed was most apparently lacking after spouseswere plunged into foreign countries. Families wanted contacts well-versed in acountry’s culture and hiring procedures, she says. “We realised that one professional working in the field could savespouses what could amount to a year of job-searching, navigating through localbureaucracies and hiring customs,” Thompson says. McKinney is especially proud of a recent success in the Korea office. Hehelped to place a career-track spouse in a position at the Korean office of oneof the world’s top accounting firms. “The successful spouse is elated. She gets to continue her career andis actually improving her résumé by getting this international experience withone of the top companies in the world in her chosen field,” McKinney says.He was also able to help two of his placements negotiate salaries exceedingthose their US jobs. In other countries, stiff requirements for special certifications and evenmore schooling can add to the frustration. DoS hired Going Global to providespouses with employment manuals detailing job conditions and academicrequirements in dozens of countries. Therefore, employees and their spouses aremade aware of the employment challenges before they accept an assignment. “We are getting more and more spouses who are doctors andlawyers,” says Going Global’s Mary Anne Thompson. “And you can’t justwalk into another country and practice medicine or law.” Spouses withtechnology expertise are the easiest to place. Most DoS spouses have careers ineducation or medicine, two professions which often require additionalcertifications to practice abroad. SNAP’s Debbie Thompson says that while permits are granted, countries arenot bending the rules to make room for accompanying spouses. “Spousescertainly won’t glide through,” she says. “There are no shortcuts andwe’re not asking for any.” In some countries, the programme simply wouldn’t work. From the start, SNAPwas limited to countries able to support it. Language difficulties, the localunemployment rate, gender limitations and ambassador co-operation wereimportant factors during the selection process. “Our hopes were dashed with Argentina because of the strugglingeconomy,” Thompson says. “We considered Israel, but we had someserious security concerns.” Saudi Arabia was eliminated from the list of potential sites, she says,because of the language difficulty and the inability for women to work incertain sectors or drive on public roads. To narrow the selections, Thompson rated each country on these factors: – Is there a work agreement in place for diplomatic spouses between the USand the country in question? – Are there enough spouses to support the programme? – Is the country’s economy stable? – Are salaries in the country comparable to those in the US? – Are security concerns an issue? – How difficult are the language barriers? – Are multinational or US corporations located in the country willing toco-operate? “When you are starting a programme like this from scratch, you want tobe in places that give you the best opportunity to succeed,” Thompsonsays. “We wanted to jump as few hurdles as possible.” Statistics– 23 per cent of companies helpspouses find employment– 35 per cent of companies help spousesnetwork– 45 per cent of companies offereducation or training   benefits– 20 per cent of companies helpspouses find volunteer work– 7 per cent of companies pay forspousal lost income– 59 per cent of companies areseeking alternatives to long-term assignments– 70 per cent are expanding use ofbusiness travel without relocation– 16 per cent of expatriates arefemale, up from 13 per cent in 1995– 69 per cent of expatriates aremarried– Spouses accompany approximately 87per cent of married expatriates– Before an assignment, 43 per centof spouses are employed– After an assignment, 14 per cent ofspouses are employed– 80 per cent of companies reportthat cross-cultural preparation was a successSource: Global Relocation Trends2001 Survey (research on 150 companies worldwide, representing 33,340expatriates.)Case study: Relocating to Mexico CityExpatriate Ellen Jones, an embassyemployee spouse based in Mexico City, hasn’t yet found work as a primary schoolteacher. “I’m getting closer to finding what I want,” shesays. “Still, it’s a very complicated and involved process. You hit aroadblock everywhere you turn.”But the SNAP programme has helped her family. Her localadviser, Nadja Giuffrida, helped place Jones’ three accompanying children – allover 21 years old – in well-paying, professional jobs.  Giuffrida helped Jones’ daughter Daniellefind a job teaching the Graduate Management Admissions Tests for a branch ofthe Princeton Review in Mexico City.”Nadja was able to connect with people,” saysDanielle, adding that Giuffrida helped her draft a r‚sum‚ and line-upinterviews. “Without her, I would have had to continue dropping offunsolicited r‚sum‚s. In this country, finding a job is about finding the personwho can get you the job you want.”Guiffrida says ‘making friends’ is the key to findingemployment in Mexico. Many business transactions, including recruitment,”demand a certain amount of warmth and a mutual bond before a deal isclosed,” she says. “In Mexico, it is perfectly normal – especially inhigh circles – to be greeted by a strong hug if you are a man, or a kiss on thecheek if you are a woman.”While Guiffrida says cultural differences are a glaringobstacle for job seekers, the Jones family points to the country’s bureaucracyas another source of frustration. Although family members of embassy employeesare eligible for an FM3 work permit in Mexico, they still must go through along, laborious process to get one. Even then, not all the hurdles have beencleared.Once a work permit has been promised, a recipient may obtain ajob and go to work. But until the permit has been received, no pay can beissued.”The Mexicans have a saying, ‘poco a poco’, which meanslittle by little, and it applies to everything, including obtaining a permit,which could take as long as three months,” says Danielle Jones. She shouldknow: she has been at work for more than two months and has yet to be paid.The lesson for private businessPrivate companies cannot afford toignore the warnings of unsuccessful international assignments. And, accordingto a recent survey by Windham International, the National Foreign Trade Council(NFTC) and the SHRM Global Forum, more than half of them do fail.”And the number one reason is spousaldissatisfaction,” says Brenda Hagen, Director of Global WorkforceDevelopment at Prudential Intercultural, an arm of Prudential RelocationInternational. She has reviewed both the Windham survey and its internalsurvey, Many Women Many Voices.Such reports are pushing family issues to the forefront of theglobal hiring market.  Most transfereesreturn home before the assignment ends and, even more disconcerting, leave thecompany once they repatriate.”Employees are not leaving because they lack the technicalskills to do their jobs,” says Hagen. “The biggest factor is thefamily’s inability to adjust to the new environment. And companies aren’t doingenough to help them.”With the average expatriate assignment costing $1.5m(£960,000), companies can’t afford to ignore the unhappy partners, she adds.Larger corporations, battling similar retention problems as theUS State Department, should adopt programmes like SNAP, says Steve McKinney, anemployment adviser in Korea, as such an investment may be too financially steepfor smaller firms.”It all comes down to the war on numbers. The cost perperson is much higher than an internal programme, but the cost of losing a welltrained employee and moving expatriates more often, clearly outweighs the priceof a personalised transitional programme for a few spouses.”Plus, it is a clear boost for morale and the retention rate, hesays. “We can now sit down with these spouses, confidentially assess theirbackground and career goals, and then devise a customised plan that takes allthe cultural nuances of our adopted country into consideration,” McKinneysays.”This brings them great satisfaction. And even if theycannot get exactly what they want, they understand the limitations and whatthey are. We’re people, not machines, and it is the human resources of acompany that makes the difference at the bottom line.”Among the major employers providing support for accompanyingspouses is Motorola, whose officials say it is important to support the a poolof people who are willing to go abroad with their families.The electronics manufacturer, which has more than 1,000expatriates worldwide, backs spouses with a financial stipend and offersassistance with continuing education, says Motorola spokesperson JenniferWeyrauch. She says the money can be used for search firms, r‚sum‚ coaching andother career placement services.NFTC’s senior director of global HR, Bill Sheridan, has noticeda shift in the type and duration of expatriate assignments which also affectspouses’ situations.”We are seeing more six and 12-month assignments, and webelieve this is in part due to the dual-career challenges companies arefacing,” says Sheridan. “Gone are the days of the male employee withhis stay-at-home wife.”A new generation of professionals is emerging, says IleneDolins, vice-president of GMAC Global Relocation Services.”Couples are now partners and there is no such thing as atrailing spouse. Everyone wants the best opportunity without neglecting theirpartner. A spouse’s self esteem and career are more important than money.”Barbara Fitzgerald-Turner, president of Human ResourcesStrategies in Maryland, says companies need to communicate with theiremployees, not pay them off with housing perks or company cars.Fitzgerald-Turner was a seasoned HR executive when she decidedto accompany her husband on his job in Paris in the 1990s. Upon arrival, shebecame mired in paperwork, and vividly recalls one document in particular.”To live in Paris, I had to sign a paper saying I wouldnot work in France,” says Fitzgerald-Turner, who was annoyed by thecountry’s restrictive policies. “These are the surprising issues spousesface.”One hurdle is countries battling with high unemployment ratesare reluctant to grant work permits to foreigners. Work permits are availableto DoS employee spouses in more than 100 countries because of formal andinformal US bilateral agreements. However, these permits are not alwaysavailable to spouses of employees in the private sector. Those who do get themoften confront high work permit fees, laws preventing employment of expatriatespouses, cultural differences and language barriers.”This is a big issue,” says Fitzgerald-Turner.”I saw people who thought they could deal with taking time off from work,but it drove them crazy. Then add the stress of being in a new country. Someindividuals really couldn’t find a place for themselves and just ended up goingback home.”Effects of relocation on spouses’employmentThe DoS says 65 per cent of USgovernment employees’ spouses work when based in the US. After relocating on aninternational assignment, that figure plummets to 35 per cent, nearly a 50 percent drop. Of the 35 per cent of spouses working, more than 75 per cent takejobs paying less than an average of $30,000 (£19,000) annually. The remainingspouses telecommute, freelance or seek jobs in the local economy. 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