Outcome of the Mobile Talents seminar: Importance of a foreign employee’s spouse

What to do when a desired foreign talent has a spouse? Why should the employer be concerned over the spouse’s well-being? How can the employer care for the spouse’s satisfaction? Shouldn’t this be a matter for the employee and the spouse to sort out? In this spring’s seminar by Finland Relocation Services these questions were looked into through three lenses: Academic research, employers’ viewpoints, and employee experience.

Everyone knows the saying “happy wife, happy life” and although nowadays the accompanying spouse may just as well be a man, the spirit of the saying still holds true. If the spouse does not enjoy the new location, the employee can’t operate at peak efficiency or be committed either. The importance of the spouse for assignments and international employment has been noted in numerous international studies, but this year marks the first time that there has been data from Finland. Last year at FRS’s behest Minna Vainikka, a post-graduate Master’s student from Aalto University, conducted a comprehensive study about the subject. We discussed the study at the start of the year, but at the seminar Minna had the opportunity to energetically bring the findings and practical advice to the assembled company representatives. How many of you have for example told your foreign employees about the need for vitamin D supplements in Finland?

In the employer panel discussion, headed by Mrs. Marja Tahvanainen, the discussion revolved around the attraction and retention of foreign talent as well as the subject of how foreign talent can be kept productive and healthy. Many of the attractors the companies mentioned were familiar: safety, education, cleanliness, work-life balance, and equality. One interesting thing that arose during the discussion was, that although the employers agreed that the spouse’s wellbeing was important and brought up various ways they have tried to improve this, they felt that it was a challenge to get the spouses involved. Various clubs and networks had been tried and they had provided positive results, but the ongoing upkeep of these had never quite succeeded. We have also had good experiences organizing networking events for spouses and hope to tell you more about these soon.

In the last part of the seminar we heard from a pair of true veterans of international assignments. Joachim and Dagmar Schlichtig have lived in China and Singapore in addition to their native Germany. Joachim has also spent many years in Turkey. After these experiences, they decided to move to Finland in March 2017. The couple had important advice to share with the audience. “When you organize an international move, it is easy to think of the employee as a sort of “check list” that you cross things off as the process progresses, like when the residence permit has been received or an apartment found. This is a bad way however. Treat the moving employee and his family above all else as people. It was of the utmost importance and value to us that we had a contact person from FRS that we could reach out to and who answered all of our questions.” The advice was not limited to the moving part either, and the veteran expat also made recommendations on how to organize a company’s international mobility strategy. As they have moved internationally several times, the Schlichtigs have noticed that these assignments usually fall upon the same people. “Companies should find out already in the recruiting process if a person is open to international moves. They should also try to send more than just a few people in the organization abroad. Otherwise you run the risk of burning these people out and anyways the company is less flexible than if the pool was larger.”

The seminar was well-received and especially the presentation of different viewpoints (academic, employer, employee) was praised. We will continue to host these breakfast seminars in the future about interesting and topical subjects. If you are interested about a specific topic, let us know. We will gladly welcome good ideas and implement them as possible!

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