5 minute read 1 Mar 2018
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How support for relocating partners can deliver successful mobility

By EY Global

Ernst & Young Global Ltd.

5 minute read 1 Mar 2018
Related topics Consulting Workforce

When it comes to assignments abroad, partners and spouses play a crucial role in the decision-making and well-being of mobile employees. 

To succeed in the war for talent, employers need to do more for the partners and spouses of relocating employees. EY and NetExpat joined up to examine trends in partner and spouse relocation and what they mean for the broader talent development agenda.

Over the last few years, the challenge of relocating partners has been a growing topic in international mobility. This is because spouses and partners are being seen to play an increasingly important role in the decision-making processes of employees.

Relocating-partner support has greatly evolved from what it was 20 years ago, when such assistance was only occasionally offered and, even when it was, often represented little more than a token effort.

Many organizations now have sophisticated partner programs supporting their talent strategies. And today, 90% of international employers offer some form of partner support to their internationally mobile employees.

Why is partner relocation a challenge?

relocating partner survey report 1

The most common reason for a failed assignment, mentioned by 71% of corporations, is an unhappy and unintegrated partner in the host location.

Partners are central in the decision process to accept an assignment

There is almost no difference between how male and female expats regard the importance of their partner being happy during the assignment (9.25 vs. 9.20 out of 10, respectively). However, married expats are slightly more concerned about their partners than unmarried expats.

Today, 97% of mobile employees say they actively involve their partners in the discussions prior to accepting an assignment, and partners also say they are involved in the decision.

Why are partners so central?

The percentage of partners who work is sharply increasing from generation to generation. While 67% of Baby Boomer partners are professionally active, this grows to 86% with Gen X partners, and to 90% of Millennial partners, who will soon make up the majority of mobile employees.

The income from the partner — dual income

The main driver for working abroad for male partners is income, followed by the motivation to enrich their career and stay busy. Female partners want first to enrich their career and then to add an extra income.

If we focus specifically on the income of the partner, 69% of partners report their income as “significant” (56%) or “critical” (13%), with only 31% of partners describing their contribution to the couple or family income as “not relevant.” Our survey also found that the younger the employee is, the more important they find the income generated by the partner.

The importance of having the choice to work or not

Compared with 10 years ago, partners today tend to have a very different approach to their own future, and they place far more importance on “having choices.”

Today, a partner might decide to temporarily stop working after moving to a new location and might start working again after moving to another. The strict, once-and-for-all assigning to each member of a couple one of two roles, the working one and the nonworking one, is increasingly becoming a thing of the past. And the range of options available today for professionally active partners is much broader, and working from home offers a “portable” career option.

Why do corporations offer support to partners?

  1. Seventy-one percent of employers offer partner support to increase the overall satisfaction during the assignment. Interestingly, 33% of employers have increased the job performance of their assignees through offering partner support.
  2. Sixty-two percent of employers use partner support as a way of encouraging employees to accept international assignments.
  3. The third most common objective for corporations providing partner assistance is to support their diversity and equality programs. Survey data confirms that female assignees recognize their partner’s integration and career abroad as paramount before considering an assignment for themselves.
  4. Finally, 20% of employers offer partner support to add to their image of being an “employer of choice.”

What support do corporations currently offer to partners?

relocating partner survey report 2

Although the services benefit relocating partners, none of the above assistance is really considered as primary “partner support.” This is because they do not directly answer the biggest expectations of partners. Partners expect to be supported to integrate in the host location and to rebuild their network. And they want to be helped to work or study while abroad or to contribute to a voluntary organization.

Over the last 25 years, service providers have emerged to fulfill these specific needs of the partners: they use coaching support, offered over the phone or face to face, to inform and guide partners. In these instances, targeted business-specific intercultural training and use of local language is important.

The future of partner support

Twenty-eight percent of employers plan to increase their current relocating partner benefits, and no employer surveyed plans to decrease the benefit, which is encouraging given ever-present cost-containment mandates.

The top two changes planned by employers regarding partner support will be to improve communication with partners and to increase the visibility of partner-support programs among their mobile workforce.

Communication is indeed the main issue for a majority of employers, as highlighted by the low utilization rates for the partner support offered by employers. The survey found that only 31% of employers reported a utilization rate above 50%, compared with 34% who reported a utilization rate below 50% (35% did not measure utilization).

Employers whose utilization rate was under 50% mention, as reasons for the low rate, first the lack of awareness among the partners, followed by the lack of awareness among their employees.

  • Methodology

    The Relocating Partner Survey, jointly produced by EY and NetExpat, surveyed 3,412 respondents, representing 81 nationalities from 121 host locations.

    Respondents included:

    • 320 senior HR representatives from corporations and international governmental organizations
    • 2,086 mobile employees
    • 1,006 expat partners

    All percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole number. 


In an increasingly globalized world, international mobility is going to become the reality for a growing number of employees. If corporations are to get their people with the right skills to the right places, then they need to make the relocation experience enjoyable and worthwhile for all concerned.

About this article

By EY Global

Ernst & Young Global Ltd.

Related topics Consulting Workforce