Is Your Global Mobility Policy Stuck in a Bygone Era?

Diverse family situations pose new challenges for relocation assignments

By Kathy Gurchiek Feb 26, 2016
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Times have changed since the days when a typical employee on a long-term assignment to a new location was a man accompanied by a trailing wife and children. Now there are dual-career families where a spouse—male or female—may no longer be willing or able to move. Divorced families, single parents and same-sex couples also add a layer of complexity. How can companies adjust?

Global companies should make sure their mobility programs and policies are aligned with the different types of family situations found among their employees, according to Crown World Mobility’s recently released “2016 World Mobility Perspectives: 2016 Global Mobility Trends” report by Lisa Johnson, global practice leader for the consulting service.

“What’s different [today] is shifting priorities are driven by a commitment to diversity and inclusion,” and the definition of “family” has shifted in the process, she told SHRM Online.

Mobility policies should meet the needs of different types of assignments and assignees and have the flexibility to be implemented successfully in countries with strong economies such as Hong Kong and the U.K. and “some of the most challenging, emerging or developing economies,” such as Argentina, Egypt, Myanmar or Nigeria, Johnson said in her report.

An employee in a dual-career family, for example, may have a spouse who wants to stay in the home country—a trend Johnson is seeing within Asia.

"Split-family scenarios (the employee moves and the family stays behind) are often driven by dual-career situations or children's education or extended-family responsibilities. They can also be driven by the (real or not) perception that the home location is better or safer. Split-families are a shift we see globally, but especially in Asia," she said in an e-mail.

That raises the question of how long such an arrangement can be sustained and whether the organization’s policies should address such a situation.

A move involving an employee who is divorced and has child custody may require the employee to obtain permission from the other parent to move the child out of the state or country. In such cases, does the organization pay for the other parent to visit the child once or twice a year? And a single parent may face child care challenges that could prove a barrier to accepting an assignment requiring a move. These are scenarios that organizations can address in their mobility policy.

Cultural Issues

Organizations also need to consider whether their mobility policy takes cultural issues into consideration. In Asia, for example, including an employee’s parents in a move should be addressed because in that culture the parents are recognized as dependents of their child, Johnson said. Doing so can be costly and can affect the housing and cost-of-living allowance an organization provides the assignee, as well as including the parents in the employee’s medical benefits.

Companies are realizing, though, that enlarging the definition of “family” in mobility policies provides guidance in putting together the employee’s relocation benefits—such as when an employee’s parents are considered dependents—and remove what otherwise would be a barrier for the employee to accept the assignment, Johnson said. An unusual situation one organization faced recently, she recalled, was an employee who required two houses in order to move from Southeast Asia to his new assignment in central Asia because both of his wives would be accompanying him.

Sometimes the makeup of an employee’s family is at odds with a host country’s immigration laws, Johnson pointed out in her report.

In some regions—Africa, the Middle East, Southern Asia and parts of Eastern Europe, for example—a country’s immigration laws do not acknowledge same-sex partners and do not allow them to enter the country as a couple, Johnson noted. To get around this, she said, some companies secured an education visa for the same-sex partner. That raises the question, though, of whether the company then should pay for part of that partner’s education while in the country—and, if so, should it do the same for other unmarried partners? There are other considerations as well, including the physical safety of same-sex partners in countries where a culture may not be welcoming.

HR’s Responsibilities

Organizations should conduct security briefings—regardless of the makeup of a relocating employee’s family—so the employee understands what the new environment will be like in and outside of the office, Johnson said. It is incumbent upon HR practitioners, she stressed, to be informed about immigration regulations in the countries to which employees are moving and have relocation policies that speak to different types of families.

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News. Follow her @SHRMwriter.


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