Spousal programmes help trailing partners of expats relocating to Switzerland

Published:  6 Oct at 6 PM
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Switzerland is a favourite for expat finance professionals for its pay scales and career-boosting opportunities, but unhappy spouses and families can lead to assignment failure.

According to a recent survey, Switzerland does a less than successful job of making spouses and families of expat professionals feel at home and welcome. Work in the small, undeniably beautiful and extremely wealthy country is a sought-after assignment for ambitious professionals in the financial sector, but the problems facing trailing spouses and children can wreck even the best thought-out plans.

Language is a serious problem, as Switzerland has no less than four official languages – German, Italian, French and Romansh – and although English is spoken in business circles, it’s not so common in everyday day life. The existence of several dialects doesn’t help, neither does the off-putting Swiss education and childcare system. However tempting a hefty pay check may be, the difficulty of getting and maintaining a family-style social life fall hard on partners and children.

Even the considerable advantages for expat professionals relocating here, including good healthcare, political stability and security for workers from overseas, don’t impact strongly on trailing spouses and families unless a medical emergency occurs. Political stability doesn’t compensate for the loss of wider family members, long-term friends and a familiar environment. The effect that disenchanted spouses can have on their husbands and their careers in Switzerland is serious and very real.

Many larger companies operating in Switzerland as well as in their home countries have realised the importance of ensuring partners and families are adjusting well to their changing circumstances. A number are now working with human resources firms offering spousal programmes in the hope that integration of families as well as the expat professionals themselves will result in a successful relocation.

The importance of helping executive-level workers' partners realise they can make positive rather than negative contributions to the well-being of their husbands and the entire family is now understood, with such programmes making the difference between a successful or failed expat assignment. It’s in no-one’s interest to admit taking an assignment was a bad move and, for the company itself, it’s simply bad economics due to recruiting and relocation costs.
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