Study: Working Abroad May Hamper Your Partner’s Career

According to a study for a doctoral dissertation, organisations should pay much more attention to the situation of the partners of their international employees.

The research was presented by Kaisu Kanstren at the University of Vaasa in Finland. Kaisu Kanstren’s doctoral dissertation examined the career identities, career capital development and subjective well-being of expatriate partners. For her dissertation, Kanstren interviewed thirty Finnish career-oriented expatriate partners.

“Although the comfort of partners is very important for the success of international assignments and recruitments in general, companies and organisations still do not pay sufficient attention to the situation of relocating partners,” said Kanstren.

The results of the study showed that global mobility had a significant impact on the career identity of expatriate partners. In the worst-case scenario, moving abroad for the sake of a partner’s work could lead to the loss of the career identity of the accompanying partner; at best, it could be the start of a new career and the reconstruction of a career identity.

Living abroad also seemed to offer diverse learning experiences that developed skills and increased the career capital of the partners. The partners felt that their self-awareness, self-confidence, coping skills in a foreign environment, intercultural interaction skills, language skills and understanding of international business developed.

In addition, living abroad brings about significant changes in the resources that affected the subjective well-being of the partners, such as their own career and financial independence, as well as social support networks. Achieving resources, on the other hand, seemed to have a stronger impact on well-being than losing them. The partners actively sought to find new resources that produced well-being to replace lost ones, for example, by replacing the loss of paid work with voluntary work or hobbies or studies related to their own profession.

Expatriate partners felt excluded from the support offered by companies and organisations, unlike their working partners. The results of the doctoral dissertation also emphasised the importance of the partners’ own career management skills, active participation and self-directedness behind the achievement of a positive experience abroad.

“I encourage companies and organisations that either post their employees abroad or recruit international experts to Finland to develop support programmes for partners and to involve the accompanying partners from the very beginning in planning to move and live abroad,” she said.

Kanstren also thought that partners should more often be seen as potential experts whose skills could be more widely utilised. This would benefit all parties, and moving abroad would not mean that the partners had to give up their own careers.

The results of Kanstren’s doctoral dissertation are based on three substudies that examined career transitions of expatriate partners and the effects of transitions on the partners’ career identities, the development of career capital and the partners’ subjective well-being in the context of working abroad.

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