International assignments are often highly complex, and few are without their challenges. Of these, as numerous studies have shown, family issues are often the most significant, and the primary reason for an assignment failure — or refusal to accept it in the first place.
This hasn’t always been the case, at least not to the degree that it is now. In the past, single employees without dependents were more likely to be deployed than those with spouses/partners and families, as this was usually cheaper and easier. Today, however, that has changed, due in part to a shortage of skilled talent. Companies struggling to attract the most qualified candidates typically have a smaller pool to choose from now and can no longer afford to exclude those with families.
Family matters have also gained in significance because the concept of family itself has changed in recent years. In the United States and other countries, this definition (legal and otherwise) has expanded, and now includes the following:
- Traditional nuclear families
- Single parents who are separated or widowed
- Multi-generational families, including dependent parents or grandparents
- Same-sex couples, with or without children
- Common-law or unmarried partners
- Child dependents who still live at home, who are not minors
- Adopted children of married or unmarried couples
- Dependent relatives
- Interracial or multicultural couples and children
Many countries, however, don’t recognize all of the above categories which can create challenges when “non-traditional” family members wish to or must accompany the assignee. In these instances, all parties involved should clearly identify and understand the challenges that exist in a given location, as noted below, and adjust processes, provisions, and/or expectations accordingly.