DIPLOMAT MAYJUNE 2021 WEB READY - Magazine - Page 34
34 DIPLOMATIC SPOUSE
Founder of www.theexpater.com Nina Hobson considers how
organisations, expatriates, and spouses themselves can support an
accompanying spouse’s life abroad
SPOUSES ARE ‘IMPEDIMENTS
TO GREAT ENTERPRISES,’
FRANCIS BACON. WHILE
PENNED IN THE SEVENTEENTH
CENTURY, THIS PERCEPTION
PREVAILS IN MANY OFFICES
WORLDWIDE. FOR TOO
ARE AT BEST A NUISANCE, AT
WORST A THREAT.
Family and spouse-related issues remain a top concern for global
mobility managers – and assignees themselves. Too often, when the
going gets tough, expats go home early, or to another organisation.
With total costs running up to hundreds of thousands of dollars
per expat, it is a heavy burden for recruiters to bear.
I am an accompanying spouse and I feel the burden acutely. I am
the reason why my husband left his job in Nigeria, and the reason
he will be leaving Ecuador soon, too. Throughout his career abroad,
desperate executives have tried to woo me with lavish parties, false
promises and token job offers, but they were missing the mark. The
way to keep me quiet is to give me a voice.
My biggest challenge as a spouse abroad has been self-purpose. Like
any human, I need to feel needed. And it is impossible to manufacture
an authentic sense of need from thin air. Self-fulfilment is just that –
feeling fulfilled in oneself. It cannot be imposed from upon high.
Author of Just a Diplomatic Spouse Alexandra Paucescu agrees.
There is no solution to the problems that accompanying partners
face, only ways to mitigate them, she explains. The harsh truth is that
spouses need to take charge themselves. However, the assignee and
institution share equal responsibility, she underlines.
Diplomatic life is not all Hollywood glamour. My first job took me
to the EU institutions in Brussels where I spent more time dodging
dull conferences than foreign spies. Life abroad has its excitement,
but life is still life. Relationship issues, personal worries and routine
hassles do not stop at the boarding gate. The first thing we can do to
help anyone considering a relocation is to manage false expectations.
Expat life can be lonely, stressful, and boring. The immense
privilege of diplomatic life is not a cure-all. I am privileged, but I
am also human. We need to stop camouflaging spouses’ concerns
with irrelevant luxuries. A live-in maid does not replace a fulfilling
career, a cocktail event does not compensate for a pay cheque with
your name on it.
This reality can be overlooked, especially in the context of life
in a developing country. As a spouse based in Angola, a country in
which four in 10 people survive on around 21 dollars per month,
I felt ashamed to admit to anything other than gratitude. Yet, if
spouses want real support, they need to be honest to themselves.
And if organisations want to tackle the root causes of spousal
discontent, they need to remove the blinkers, too.
But do they even want to help? I put this to Professor Sebastian
Reiche, Professor of Managing People in Organisations at IESE
Business School. He points out that current research continues to
be largely based on anecdotes; there is little proof that improving
an assignment’s personal life has a positive impact on work
performance. Organisations cannot be expected to fork out for
spousal support when there is no concrete data to prove it is in the
organisation’s best interest. Perhaps the first step is for institutions
to invest in evidence-based research.
MAY/JUNE 2021 } DIPLOMATMAGAZINE.COM