At last week’s City Mothers event Freshfields partner Kathleen Healy shared what she learned from her 9 month posting to Hong Kong with 2 toddlers. Daunting, that’s for sure. But Kathleen proves it can be done and enjoyed too. She shared the stage with Catherine Weir from Citibank, who has been travelling the world with her husband and 2 children for over 15 years, and is currently based in Geneva.
I went along to the breakfast and have summarised for you what Kathleen learned during her posting, with additional tips and advice from Catherine:
1. Focus on ‘How could it be done’
In your head you may have a voice telling you ‘It can’t be done’, quiet that voice and focus on ‘How could it be done’ instead. Most employers have supported families through the process of re-location before and can be an invaluable source of information. They often know what has helped other families. There are a huge amount of on-line resources. Remember to also check out resources from other employers, large corporations with many years of expat experience, such as Shell, often have freely available resources.
2. Think about what it will add professionally
This could for instance include: new contacts in your network, access to different levels or different parts of your organisation, greater exposure to decision makers, building up of unique experience or making you into the ‘go to’ person.
3. Ask the same 2 questions for your other half
Encourage your other half to think lateral and be positive. In Kathleen’s case, her partner was keen to join, and as an IT analyst he was able to find work as a contractor in Hong Kong. Even if he is keen to go, it’s still good to make sure he thinks about the benefits for himself, particularly career progression for him and how it might be enhanced/otherwise affected as they can help both of you through those really tough moments that invariably come up once you have arrived at your new location.
Following your partner abroad can often feel like a career sacrifice. However it doesn’t have to be. Catherine’s partner learned Chinese during his stay abroad which – albeit many years later – turned out to be a great asset for a trader.
4. Ask the same 2 questions for your children
What will your children get out of it, and how could it benefit them? What would you like them to learn? Most children are surprisingly adaptable. Make sure you find information on childcare in the country you are moving to before you leave. Your employer, Mumsnet and on-line research can give you a lot of insights. In countries like the Philippines and Hong Kong, most people have live-in nannies that are very affordable, as a result families do not have childcare issues. Imagine if you could adapt to what is the custom in the country you are moving to, or whether you would be a lot happier sticking to a different arrangement.
5. Understand the culture of flexible working in your new location
If you currently work flexibly you may need to consider adapting your ways of working or working hours to the working culture in your new location. If working flexibly is something your new working office embraces, you may need to adapt or at least be sensitive to the new environment. Perhaps you might need to adapt for the first couple of months, and use that time to understand what it will look like for your colleagues, managers and staff, before you introduce a new working schedule.
6. Remember to review your contractual terms
Before you decide to go, consider:
- What does your current contract state, perhaps you signed up to being mobile long time ago in which case it might be harder to refuse
- If you are asked to take up a secondment but you don’t wish to go, is that ‘not now’ or ‘not ever? If at some point you may like to travel again or be considered for secondment in the future, when would you be prepared to do so?
If you do decide to go, consider:
- What benefits will be part of the contract, what benefits will NOT be included. In case some benefits are not included, that you would like to have, perhaps there is some flexibility and space for negotiation
- What are they asking you to sign: a new contract, a local contract or an extension of your current contract?
- How will you be paid? Home or local currency? Will you need a local bank account?
- What will happen to your work in your home office? Client relationships? How will they be looked after?
- What happens when you return? Will you indeed receive the same Terms&Conditions, salary and bonus opportunities?
- What does it say in your current contract about the smaller but sometimes equally important matters? eg. Will you return to the same office space and same desk?
Also remember to stay in touch with your home office while you are away. Perhaps you can dial into calls or find video conference facilities to help you keep in touch. It is key your colleagues still remember you when you return and you are in touch with developments in your ‘home’ office. Make sure you also update them on what you are doing and what skills and expertise you are gaining. Get credit for what you are doing and don’t be afraid of a little self-promotion.
Overall both Kathleen and Catherine agreed that planning is critical. The more you research and prepare, the more likely it is you will get what you need in your new location.
Author: Inge Woudstra, Director Mum & Career. Based on a talk by: Kathleen Healy, partner in the Employment, Pensions and Benefits Group of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP. She heads the Asia Employment, Pensions and Benefits practice. Catherine Weir, Managing Director, Head of Citi Global Family Office Group and Vice Chairman of CITI Institutional Client Group in EMEA. The talk with organised by CityMothers on 12 September 2013.