Career Choice And The Accompanying Partner

My decision to stop working shortly before I relocated from Hong Kong to Zurich to accompany my husband on a new international assignment was driven by a number of considerations. My eligibility for a work visa or not didn’t even come into the equation. I had no contacts in Switzerland who could help me find a job in my industry. We had a young baby and no idea where to look for appropriate childcare to give me the freedom to work and in reality I welcomed the break from an all-consuming career which I knew would be difficult to balance with the demands of family life.

Still, the fact that I had voluntarily resigned didn’t mean that the consequences of the decision were easy to live with. I struggled with loss of identity, with financial dependence and with finding ways to overcome the stretches of mind-numbing boredom that is part and parcel of being a stay-at-home parent.My personal experience told me that an accompanying partner’s decisions relating to career choice were not a simple matter of having the legal right to work and that there might be consequences of those choices for an accompanying partner’s fulfilment. When the opportunity arose to team up with Louise Wiles to conduct the Career Choice and the Accompanying Partner survey, I jumped at the chance.

Nearly a year later, we have published the results of the survey. Over 300 accompanying partners shared their experiences with us. Their backgrounds were diverse – female and male participants completed the survey, some were working, some were not. Almost 50 nationalities of accompanying partners were represented in the participant group and they were living in 59 different host nations.

So, what did we find out? Here are some of the highlights.

Accompanying partners want to work – 78% said that they wanted to work or were already doing so. 56% were not working but wanted to work.

Career choices for accompanying partners are complex. Both working and non-working accompanying partners face inhibitions to working. Many of those factors are practical. The absence of the legal right to work in their host nation is, not surprisingly one of the most often cited but other practical considerations, such as language issues and lack of network and contacts are even more frequently a problem.

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Many non-working accompanying partners cited elements of choice in their answers and chose not to work for family and personal reasons. Working accompanying partners ran into practical barriers such as childcare issues and transferability of professional qualifications.

Working and non-working accompanying partners cited lack of support from their partner’s employer as a factor that influenced their career decision.

An accompanying partner’s work status may affect her or his fulfilment on the assignment and with life generally. Many accompanying partners are very fulfilled; over 50% described themselves as very fulfilled or fulfilled. This means though, that almost half of the population described their fulfilment as neutral or below and those accompanying partners who were not working reported lower levels of fulfilment than those who were not working.

Those who choose not to work don’t report higher levels of fulfilment than the general non-working population. This suggests that they struggle with the consequences of not working as much as those who are inhibited by other non-choice related issues.

If you’re an accompanying partner reading this, the results may not be entirely surprising. For organisations who recognise that a fulfilled partner can make the difference between a successful international assignment and a failed one, we believe that the study will give them a roadmap for understanding and supporting accompanying partners.

If you are interested in reading more, we’ve made a free summary of our results available via our new website Accompanying partners, what drove your career decisions when you moved overseas? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Evelyn Simpson is a personal development coach who works with the accompanying partners of expats helping them to transition to expat life and to find happiness and fulfilment in their lives overseas. Evelyn has spent almost all of her adult life living as an expat on 3 continents and in 5 countries. She’s been a working expat, an accompanying partner and has founded her own portable business, The Smart Expat, while overseas. Evelyn and her Australian husband have two children who have yet to live in either of their passport countries.

You can learn more about Evelyn and her work at where she blogs regularly about expat life.

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