By Robin PascoeAuthorInternational HR managers need to start paying serious attention to the work-life balance challenges facing their global managers as they impact on effectiveness, employee recruitment and retention, and other long-term business goals of companies. Whether on long or short-term assignments, or even extended business travel, Robin Pascoe reports that expatriate managers want more assistance from their employers in balancing home and office.Longer working hours, late night phone calls from headquarters many time zones off, long business trips, and an unhappy spouse at home who has abandoned her/his career to support the manager. These are just a few of the challenges now merging with the already well-known expatriate adjustment factors of culture shock, a new overseas office, and extensive regional travel to wreak havoc with the work-life balance of the modern day global manager working in a 24/7 economy.So it was only a matter of time before something clicked: work-life balance, a hot button issue in the domestic sphere of work, is now finally being acknowledged and researched as a challenge faced by expatriate managers and their families."A lot of expat research focuses on the importance of family adjustment for overall expatriate adjustment, and implicitly talking about what research refers to as ‘personal life interference with work’," reports Dr. Mila Lazarova, a business professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. Dr. Lazarova has co-authored the chapter "Work-Life Balance and the Effective Management of Global Assignees" in a new book entitled Work and Family: An International Research Perspective, edited by Dr. Steve Poelmans of the International Center of Work and Family at IESE Business School in Barcelona."What research is not talking about is the interference of personal life with personal life," says Dr. Lazarova. "The concept may sound a little ridiculous in the domestic context where people exist in a bubble, rarely interacting with others. But it is extremely relevant in the expatriate context where the personal lives of all family members are very much inter-related.""Overseas, family members rely on each other a lot more for support," she says. "An unhappy trailing spouse or child affects much more than the ‘work’ of expatriates. Tension in the family may have a negative impact on all aspects of the life of the expatriate." Given that work-related global relocation permeates every aspect of an employee’s life, it’s important to better understand ways in which organizations can help encourage work-life balance among their global assignees, according to Dr. Lazarova’s research.Why now?Besides the obvious advancements in technology which allow for those late night phone calls and constant barrage of e-mails or text messages which need to be answered immediately day or night or even on holiday, the shift in demographics is also responsible. There are simply more women in the workforce, including more female expatriate managers, pushing the work-life balance issue to the forefront. As well, those longer working hours for expatriates mean more stress not only for the manager but also, for members of their families.Family is directly related to daily living adjustment, family adjustment and burnout according to the "2004 Emerging Trends in Global Mobility: The Assignee Perspective" conducted by Cendant Mobility in conjunction with the Atkinson Graduate School of Management at Willamette University in the U.S. Indeed, burnout was included in the study as one of five top assignment challenges cited by employee respondents. Notably, burnout was viewed as a challenge regardless of whether the assignment was long or short term.So it’s not surprising that a 2002 Global Expatriate Study sponsored by CIGNA International Expatriate Benefits, the National Foreign Trade Council, and WorldatWork reported that expatriates would appreciate more assistance from their employer with work-life balance issues while working abroad. Seventy-five per cent agreed that international assignments were difficult on dual-career families.That thorny issue of ‘spousal reluctance to relocate’ (a leading reason for refusing an assignment) has left recruiters shaking their heads as they try to fill overseas positions."In the past, it was a given that if one’s career demanded it, the family moved," says Dr. Lazarova. "This is no longer the case unless companies balance the scale somehow. They are discovering that unless they address work-life challenges, they’ll have a serious staffing problem on their hands."Given what a variety of recent surveys have reported, employers should consider trying to:Ensure the family goes through a pre-assignment self-assessment process to promote accurate self-knowledge about the capacity to face assignment challenges; Provide pre-assignment preparation focused on building support and communication within the family unit since this is the primary resource employees will turn to when dealing with an assignment’s challenges; and, offer an Employee Assistance Program tailored to meet the needs of international assignments. To coincide with recognition that challenges of work-life balance affect expatriate managers, the International Center of Work and Family, based at the IESE Business School in Barcelona hosted an inaugural conference on the subject this past July. The "International Research on Work and Family: From Policy to Practice" conference gathered together academics, policy makers and leaders in the industry to discuss theories and practices of work-family issues. One of the four themes of the meeting was work-family conflict and resolution among expatriates and their families.According to conference organizer Dr. Steve Poelmans, Assistant Professor of Managing People and Organizations at IESE Business School and editor of the book referenced earlier, expats are a logical choice for study in the work-family sphere."Expats probably experience some of the most elevated levels of work-family conflict," says Dr. Poelmans. "At the same time that they are being exposed to very challenging demands—the stress of change—they are cut off from important resources such as family support, familiarity with childcare and schooling facilities."The conference merged academics with real-world practitioners. Says Dr. Poelmans: "Being a business school, we can’t afford to be theoretical. We need to translate all concepts to concrete decision making criteria and ways of dealing with the issue." --endRobin Pascoe is the author of four books about expatriate adjustment. She was invited to participate in the Barcelona conference. She’s currently researching and writing a new book about work-life challenges for expatriates and can be contacted at www.expatexpert.com
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is an executive search firm (sometimes simplified as executive recruiters, or headhunters) which places bi-lingual middle-senior level executives for multinational companies in Korea & Asia.McKinney Consulting also provides coaching services which are behavioral-based with scientifically developed tools in coaching executives and businesses to excellence and success.