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Relocating Partner Survey Report

The war for talent means that employers need to do more for the partners and spouses of relocating employees. In this survey report, EY and NetExpat joined up to examine trends in partner and spouse relocation and what it means as part of a broader talent development agenda.

Close to 33% of employers have increased the job performance of their assignees through offering partner support.

The challenge of the relocating partner has been a growing topic in international mobility over the last few years as the role of spouses and partners’ in the decision-making process has gained increasing importance.

Relocating partner support has evolved from assistance offered occasionally 20 years ago as “lip service”, to the current sophisticated programs supporting talent strategies. Today, 90% of international employers offer some form of partner support to their internationally mobile population.


EY - How employers can support relocating partners

"All age groups of mobile employees see the happiness of their partner as crucial."

Why is partner relocation a challenge?

EY - Relocating Partner Survey Report

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 either between male and female expats regarding the importance of having their partner happy abroad (9.25 vs. 9.20). However, married expats are slightly more sensitive to their partners than unmarried expats.

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

EY - Relocating Partner Survey Report

Why are partners so central?

The percentage of working partners is sharply increasing with generations. While 67% of baby boomer partners are professionally active, this grows to 86% with Gen X partners, and to 90% of Gen Y partners who will soon become the majority of mobile employees.

EY - Relocating Partner Survey Report

The income from the partner – dual income

While 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 add an income to their family.

EY - Relocating Partner Survey Report

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 qualifying their contribution to the family income as “not relevant.” The younger the employee is, the more important this income generated by the partner becomes.

EY - Relocating Partner Survey Report

The importance of having the choice to work or not

One of the major changes affecting today’s partners compared to those from 10 years ago is the way they approach their own future and the importance of “having choices”. Today, the same partner might decide to temporarily stop working in one location and work again in another one.

The old strict categories dividing partners once and for all in their life into two groups, the “working” one and the “non-working” one, do not represent the realities of partners. Also, the range of options available today for professionally active partners is much broader: working from home is offering a portable career option.

Employers should therefore ensure that their partner policies support these choices equally for working and non-working partners in order to avoid any form of discrimination.

Current solutions and support offered – Why do corporations offer support to partners?

  1. As expected, 71% of employers offer partner support to increase the overall satisfaction during the assignment. Interestingly, close to 33% of employers have increased the job performance of their assignees through offering partner support.
  2. A new objective is that nearly 62% of employers wish to encourage employee acceptance of an assignment by offering support to their partners.
  3. The third objective for corporations is to provide partner assistance 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 “employer of choice.”

EY - Relocating Partner Survey Report

"Close to 33% of employers have increased the job performance of their assignees through offering partner support."

The future of partner support

The future looks bright for partner support, with most employers well aware of the crucial role played by accompanying partners. A strong 28% of employers plan to increase their current relocating partner benefits, while no employer surveyed plans to decrease the benefit, which is encouraging given constant cost containment mandates.

The main target for the coming years will clearly involve communication. The top two changes planned by employers regarding their current partner support will aim at improving the communication with the partners and improving the visibility of the partner support within their mobile workforce.

EY - Relocating Partner Survey Report

Communication is indeed the main issue for a majority of employers, as highlighted by “utilization” rates reflecting the percentage of partners taking advantage of the partner support benefit offered by the employer. The survey reflects 31% of employers reporting a utilization rate above 50%, while 34% are under 50%, and 35% not measuring it. Employers scoring a utilization rate of under 50% mention first the lack of awareness of their partners, followed by the lack of awareness from their employees as reasons for the low rate.

EY - Relocating Partner Survey Report

"The resounding message expressed by mobile employees and their partners to their international employers is that addressing the well-being of the partner is a key driver to successfully managing international mobility."

The Relocating Partner Survey, brought together by EY and NetExpat, has become the largest survey conducted about relocating partners. The report offers a global perspective: 3,412 respondents from 121 host locations, 81 nationalities, 320 senior HR representatives from both corporations and international governmental organizations, 2,086 mobile employees, and 1,006 expat partners were part of this historical survey.

For more information on the survey’s findings, what your organization can do to offer support to your employees and their partners, and to delve into the future of partner relocation, download the full report.

Download the full report


Jason T Ward
People Advisory Services
Ernst & Young LLP

Daniel Mittelhamm
Senior Manager
People Advisory Services
Ernst & Young LLP