Stéphane Compain has lived and experienced first-hand what it’s like to move abroad and integrate into a new country. That’s why this relocation consultant dedicates himself to ensure that newcomers to Luxembourg enjoy a smooth arrival.
Stéphane runs LuxRelo, a relocation agency providing arrival support for expats like immigration, house-hunting, and orientation. LuxRelo is a “problem-solver”, helping people to settle here quickly so they can focus on their new job. Oftentimes, he agrees, the impact on both careers of a couple gets forgotten during the initial hype.
Honeymoon period is the best
When I asked Stéphane his views on expatriate assignments and how dual career couples are affected, he noted that “the assignees are typically focused on the new job in a new country. They are in the pre-honeymoon phase and not looking at the context.” They’re looking for housing and concentrating on their job. However, the longer-term impact on their careers gets lost in the excitement.
“I was born in the UK and lived in Asia and Europe” he said, remembering the thrill of each move. He knows this thrill can quickly fade into a harsh reality, so he emphasizes the bigger picture with his clients.
Some companies don’t give enough information prior to the move or are not specific enough. They’re searching for specific talent that’s hard to find here, and maybe don’t give the full picture about living in Luxembourg. “Assignees are not always well informed about the reality of living here. Or they didn’t listen.”
Stéphane advises to provide “a long weekend ‘look-see’ to discover what Luxembourg is really like.” It’s a good up-front investment that saves time and energy, “worth multiple times the salary, especially if the assignment fails.”
An afterthought: the accompanying spouse
What’s a mistake in taking an expat assignment? Stéphane thinks it’s when the decision is only made by the person taking the job. “In one case an American married to a French man didn’t want to come. The issue was that he accepted the job but she didn’t want to come here.”
In the case of a joint decision, it’s often the trailing spouse who shoulders the duty of establishing a new life for the family. Looking for a job comes later. “By that time the honeymoon period is over. They don’t have any more assistance, and they discover the need for languages. Nobody thought about that when they moved.”
This often proves a significant challenge to their personal welfare. “Many couples get stressed and have problems” when one person is primarily at home, or when money is tight. But for the company, the relocation is finished, and everything is great, right?
Actually, no. “Spousal assistance would be beneficial to understand the work culture and how to find a job,” Stéphane stresses. “It’s already hard enough in a country you know, but harder in a country where you don’t know the market rules.” He’s seen many spouses who are completely disoriented and feel frustrated in their new fairytale life.
Apply for company support
I mentioned that one goal of Career Chats is to discover the talent already here in Luxembourg. How can companies help these people, and strive to fill the talent shortage we read about?
Stéphane’s solution is simple. “Companies need to change the way they hire foreigners. The family is losing money if the spouse doesn’t work. And if they’re not happy, they will leave.” As more companies offer local contracts without extra benefits, it’s even more important to help both people integrate.
It seems some employers don’t provide sufficient information about living in Luxembourg, either because they’re not capable to do it, or by omission because they’re not aware. However, “it’s really important that HR manages expectations properly.” He commented that people coming here from other continents are at a disadvantage in terms of language and knowing the labor market. “You can only read so much on-line.”
His recommendation is for companies to provide spousal assistance and “get a coach to help orient to the market, write a new CV and understand how to present yourself.”
It shouldn’t pushed in the initial phase, however. “Let the family settle a bit and see how they can use their expertise.” Companies should realise that on-boarding takes more time than just finding a house. “It should start before the move with good information. Don’t promise them their spouse will find a job. But keep in touch and provide a support package a few months afterward.”
Amy Amann is a consultant, trainer and coach supporting leaders to create strong organisations and teams. A long-term expat herself, she believes in the potential for a truly diverse and open society. She is currently the Vice President of The NETWORK, advancing professional women in Luxembourg.
Career Chats is a new feature at RTL Today focusing on careers and the labour market for expats. In this bi-weekly column, Amy Amann explores and discovers stories of what it is like for the expats here: finding a job, hiring, managing, and integrating into the professional landscape.