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Managing Family Resistance To Moving – Overcoming Key Mobility Challenges in China

by Echo Lei

China Mobility Family

Source: ERC Talent Mobility in China Survey 2016

As any mobility manager will know, all the pre-assignment training and preparation in the world is of minimal value to organizations if the assignment itself isn’t a good fit for the employee and their family, so it’s vital that companies carefully assess candidates and have robust policies in place that support the entire family unit. Despite a lot of discussion around this topic, according to SIRVA’s 2015 study of Best Practices Among 100 Global Companies, many organizations continue to almost exclusively focus on the employee’s professional and technical abilities risking issues further down the line. Considering family issues are one of the main reasons assignments fail, this is a mistake. While it’s unusual for a company to get involved with an employee’s domestic life at home, an assignment requires corporate involvement in virtually every aspect of an employee’s life.  And, with the right policies and approach, it’s possible to navigate this without crossing legal or professional boundaries.

Partners accompanying employees to China have often chosen to put on hold or give up their own careers, since it is usually not possible to obtain work permits in China.  Even when done willingly, this choice can lead to a loss of identity and self-value and financial independence.   Leaving behind aging parents or close friends and family can also create a sense of isolation and more vulnerability, especially in China, where even just staying in touch via social networks can be frustrating and often impossible due to poor internet connectivity and government restrictions on social media.

Destination service providers (DSPs) can help prepare employees and families for many of the day-to-day challenges that notoriously affect family acclimatization and assignment success.  Some daily living challenges common to most locations include frustrating bureaucracy, government control over virtually everything (utilities, media Internet, and so on), slow internet speeds, limited access to social media, crowded public areas with little regard for personal space and many other inconveniences.  DSPs can help by highlighting everything a location has to offer, such as the cultural and recreational options in cities like Shanghai, proximity to scenic getaways, child-friendly environment, and reliable public transportation, including a continuously-expanding national high-speed railway.  

So how can HR and mobility managers help spouses and families thrive?  In the past, many companies assumed financial incentives alone would solve the problem and overlooked the emotional side of the experience.   More than anything, partners need to feel engaged and included in the entire assignment process.  

Some suggestions:
  • Including partners in the pre-assignment assessment process and policy, tax briefings, and encourage open discussion about their own goals and expectations.
  • Offering language and cultural training to accompanying partners.
  • Providing settling-in assistance and helping them to adjust and feel valued.
  • Connecting the spouse/partner to local resources and others whose circumstances (e.g., family profile, career situation) are similar.
  • Providing “Spouse/Partner Employment Assistance.” Although spouses/partners will not likely be able to work, providing an allowance or reimbursement to maintain professional credentials, update a CV prior to repatriation, join professional associations, etc. demonstrates interest in the spouse/partner’s career plans and objectives.

Facilitating the highest-quality relocation experience to China requires employees and their families understanding what makes a move there particularly challenging.  Providing a comprehensive support program that includes destination and settling-in services through outsourced professionals to ensure quality and consistency, is the most definitive way to both set expectations and mitigate challenges

The 2015 Expat Insider Survey by InterNations, which surveys expatriates globally, reflects the dichotomy of China for expatriate families.  While it ranked third in the “Job and Career” subcategory of the Working Abroad Index, China placed 56th out of 64 in the “Ease of Settling In Index,” which asked about “feeling welcome,” “friendliness,” “finding friends,” and “language”1. Given China’s pace of change, it is not surprising that it is one of the most professionally rewarding yet potentially challenging locations for companies and assignees and their families alike. 

China’s explosive economic growth may be tempering to steadier, sustainable levels, but most China experts agree that businesses will continue to heavily invest and expand from both abroad and within China.  Economists are optimistic about private sector growth and the booming middle-class consumerism that goes with it, as well as the government’s commitment to anti-corruption measures, deregulation, worker migration reform, infrastructure expansion and improvement both within and between cities and pollution control.  To capitalize on the opportunities both foreign-owned and domestic, Chinese companies will need to apply best practices to their international and domestic mobility strategies, some universal, some China-specific, that are essential for attracting, developing and retaining the high-caliber workforce in China that is critical to business success.

For more insights on mobility trends and insights on relocating employees into and within China, please contact a SIRVA representative.

1.     Forbes, “Expats in China Like the Pay, But Fail to Fit in with Locals” (2015)