August 19, 2014

When Expat Families Fail to Thrive

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Aug

19

When Expat Families Fail to Thrive

“Failure to thrive” is a condition sometimes diagnosed in infants whose weight and physical development lag behind the norm. Elderly people can also fail to thrive due to illness and depression. But what about a situation in which an entire family fails to thrive?

This phenomenon sometimes occurs in families who have relocated because an adult member of the household has accepted a work assignment in a new city or country. Perhaps some (or all) of the family members are ambivalent about the move. The relocated employee may be struggling to find his or her way with new responsibilities among new co-workers in a new location and is so immersed in work challenges that the family’s distress goes unnoticed or unaddressed. If one parent stays at home, she or he may feel all the stress of providing emotional support to family members and of taking the lead in such matters as handling schooling, shopping, and landlords.

These scenarios are all part of a family’s failure to adjust to and thrive in new surroundings—according to our Cartus 2014 Policy & Practices survey, one of the top three reasons for assignment failure. How can these family crises be averted?

It is key to send the right people on each assignment, and to determine this well in advance. While technical skills are important to the success of an assignment, so is the family’s ability to adapt to new, unfamiliar situations.  The use of a formal candidate program can help all parties determine their suitability for the assignment. Assigning a leader in the home country to be the assignee’s sponsor can help the assignee stay in touch with the home office while on assignment. A pre-move orientation trip will allow the family to preview available homes, schools, and recreational options, while simultaneously learning about the people and culture in the destination location. Up-to-date information on availability of work options for the accompanying spouse/partner should be shared, if applicable. And the entire family can prepare for culture shock if key tools such as cross-cultural and language training are offered to the entire family. Providing accurate, honest information up front will go a long way toward ensuring a productive—and thriving—assignee and family.

Please visit our Relocation Research site for this and many other topics related to families on assignment.

Picture of Patrice  Heinzer

Posted By

Patrice Heinzer

About Patrice

Patrice is vice president, Intercultural & Language Solutions and Consulting. She has held a wide variety of leadership posts at Cartus since 1989. She also successfully completed extended business assignments in Singapore and Australia.

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