Battle of the Careers

In thousands of dual-career homes worldwide, a battle is brewing. To undertake a corporate relocation offer or waive the white flag and relinquish the relocation opportunity.

Dual career families are more than simply two adults employed at the same time − these are situations in which both heads of the household simultaneously pursue meaningful careers. Rapoport and Rapoport described dual career couples as “two individuals whose jobs require a high degree of commitment and continuous developmental character.”

When one has a strong allegiance to a career path, orders to abandon the high-profile career campaign may cause a spouse or partner to want to retreat, or worse, split the home across two cities during an extended assignment. Expecting a cavalier “I’m open to whatever” attitude from a spouse whose career has been on a targeted course for victory is unrealistic. Consider a nuclear scientist who needs to continue research work in a university laboratory. This might not be easy to find in, say, Deadwood, South Dakota.

In a 2013 year-end survey, Cartus Corporation, a leading provider of domestic and global relocation services, asked several hundred professionals, “If you were being transferred, what would you consider as the most important factor before accepting the new job assignment?” The top answer… My spouse’s/family’s happiness while on assignment. By a significant margin, the key to a successful job transfer is the significant others’ happiness, including career options in the new location.

As dual career dynamics become the family norm − 79% of married or partnered employees are dependent on a second income according to the Families and Work Institute 2011 U.S. Mobility Survey − employers dependant on corporate relocation for long-term talent development and succession planning are combating relocation refusals with spouse/partner career coaching. Spousal job search and career coaching programs identify distress signals from the spouse/partner and address continuing education opportunities, industry transitions and job search strategies with the couple.

Recent studies by the American Psychological Association point out that even when a job search is productive, the move can be stressful for a couple, often manifesting in other areas of the relationship. Before a war rages out of control, the coach can help the couple focus on open communication around the transition. By staying on the same team, the family can declare individual career goals and advancement prospects, evaluate the current offer’s impact on each career path and recognize equal opportunities for professional progress. Ultimately, a compromise may need to be negotiated in order to accept the relocation offer, but while a new career path might not be identical to the one that was left behind, it can be an exciting way to expand one’s network.