When Men Trail AlongiStockphoto
Sometimes men follow their wives abroad and become the homemaker.
Whereas Amy noticed that a disproportionate number of female assignees were single career women, her husband André (30) had little difficulty in accepting his unusual status as a male “trailing spouse”. He is a literary scholar focusing on comparative studies of European literature, especially from Britain and France, and after completing his Ph.D. with honors, he is currently working as an independent researcher.
He knows that following his wife to Tokyo may reduce his chances of ever getting a tenure-track position in the field, but he enjoys having the freedom to do the things he loves. “There’s not much money to be made with analyzing the 18th-century sentimental novel,” André says with a grin.
Then he adds, “When we joke around, I often call Amy the capitalist in our relationship. She’s bringing home the bacon, and I get to be the intellectual. I could also imagine becoming a stay-at-home dad one day. I’m the oldest of five kids, so I have plenty of experience at baby-sitting, too. Of course, I’d have to switch my copy of Dangerous Liaisons for picture books for a while.”
Employers’ Support for Expat Partners
Male expat partners such as André are the exception to the proverbial rule. However, Amy and he were pleased to receive support from Amy’s employer. The HR department offered André cultural seminars about living in Japan as well as a crash-course in Japanese for beginners. “They’d even have given me career counseling and help with sorting out my work permit if I should ever need it.”
Some of the expat women Amy has met in Tokyo were happy for the couple when she told them about her great employer, but others seemed discontent or jealous. They felt that the small number of male expat spouses received more attention and advice than the “traditional” expat woman who were simply expected to shoulder the burden.
No matter whether the judgment of Amy’s friends was entirely fair, there are indeed a number of ways to support both men and women who accompany an international assignee. However, due to the cost and effort of such measures, not all HR departments may be forthcoming with offering their help.
Some may also “outsource” this task to relocation agencies. Their services may not always be up to standards when the HR department – that pays them – has started penny-pinching.
How Employers Can Help
However, here are some areas in which expat spouses should ask for help from the partner’s employer. As a first step, it is especially important to work together as a team, so the trailing spouse can make these requests with the expat’s full support:
- Direct communication between the HR department and the spouse
- Look-see visits and fact-finding trips before the assignment as such
- Language classes
- Cultural training
- Help upon arrival (e.g. for enrolling the kids in school or sorting out the paperwork)
- Career counseling
- Advice on getting a work permit for the spouse
- Adapting the spouse’s CV for job-hunting abroad
- Further educational opportunities
Many an expat spouse might have been able to avert their marital crisis, if they had received such help from the very beginning. It could be useful to remind employers that an expat with a happy partner will also be happy and thus more productive and enthusiastic about the assignment.