Imagine this: your family is uprooted, and you find yourself in a brand-new city, with your partner’s job being the driving force behind this massive change. While the entire family grapples with the challenges of relocation, it’s often the non-working partner (or ‘trailing spouse’) who bears the weight of some of the most significant difficulties during this transition.
Relocating for a job can be a rollercoaster ride for the entire family, but the non-working partner’s journey is unique and often overlooked. In this article, we’ll delve into the unspoken challenges that non-working partners face when relocating and explore how companies can offer the support needed to make this transition smoother.
Loss of Identity and Purpose
When a job change forces a family to move, the non-working partner often leaves behind their established social ties, activities, or even a career. This upheaval can result in a profound sense of loss and a feeling of being adrift as the familiarity and purpose associated with their past home and community disappear. Non-working partners may have played vital roles, such as volunteering, nurturing hobbies, or managing domestic duties and childcare. A relocation can abruptly disrupt these sources of meaning and fulfilment.
In the new location, the non-working partner must essentially rebuild their identity from scratch without the anchor of an occupation, unlike their relocated partner. It’s crucial for companies facilitating relocations to recognise this challenge and provide extra sensitivity and support. Assisting non-working partners in connecting with new community groups, hobby clubs, faith organisations, and other networks based on their personal interests and talents can help them regain their sense of purpose and self-esteem.
Isolation and Loneliness
Relocating to a place where the non-working partner has no existing friends or family nearby often leads to isolation and loneliness, particularly in the initial phases before new social connections are established. Stay-at-home parents may feel particularly isolated if their partner works long hours and their children are in school for most of the day. After enjoying an active social life in their previous community, the non-working partner may experience culture shock while adapting to a new environment where meaningful social bonds must be built from scratch.
Companies involved in relocations have a responsibility to facilitate the non-working partner’s integration into the community to mitigate the detrimental effects of isolation. Tactics like connecting new hires and their families with local colleagues who can serve as ‘buddies,’ organising group outings to local attractions, and offering access to coworking spaces or membership clubs can help non-working partners start forming connections immediately.
When one partner’s new job necessitates a cross-country move, the other partner may be compelled to leave behind a fulfilling and meticulously built career. Even if they worked remotely, changing time zones or adapting to a new regional market can disrupt career continuity. Non-working partners might have to relinquish promising careers and sacrifice professional growth and seniority.
Employers should be aware of the career upheaval that non-working partners face and be willing to be flexible and creative in finding ways for them to restart their careers with training and networking support. Offering job placement assistance within the relocating company is an excellent solution. However, providing funding for career coaching, skills training, access to coworking spaces, and necessary computer equipment can also help non-working partners rebuild their career momentum with minimal disruption.
Relocating for a partner’s job often leaves non-working partners financially dependent, especially if they previously contributed earnings or took care of childcare responsibilities. Those who paused their careers to support the relocation process may have lost income, retirement fund contributions, and opportunities for career advancement. Relying on a partner’s uncertain relocation reimbursements or having no independent source of income can limit financial autonomy.
Employers should ensure adequate compensation for the non-working partner’s contributions to household management during the relocation period. Job placement support, grants for portable career training, and compensation based on the mileage travelled for house-hunting and moving tasks can help non-working partners regain their financial footing after a relocation.
Moving between regions, especially internationally, forces non-working partners to adapt to a new culture, customs, climate, and lifestyle, often without the familiar support system of a workplace. From mastering public transportation to exploring new cuisines and deciphering unfamiliar social norms, relocation can induce culture shock for non-working partners who lack the routine of an occupation in their new location.
Companies facilitating relocations should consider providing cultural training, language lessons, and sponsored social and cultural events to help non-working partners adjust to their unfamiliar surroundings. Offering immersive local experiences can accelerate acclimatisation and prevent feelings of alienation.
Relocating for a partner’s job can be a monumental upheaval for the entire family, especially non-working partners. With the right support, such as portable career resources, community networking, and financial compensation, non-working partners can rebuild stability, identity, and purpose in their new homes. Organisations, by approaching relocations with sensitivity and care, can make these transitions seamless for their valued talent and their families.