When an employee of a major bank in Chicago was asked to transfer to Los Angeles, her husband was very supportive of the move and decided to leave his own job as a policeman to accompany her cross-country.
But the move west and his search for an appropriate new career turned out to be one of the worst experiences of his life.
His frustration led him finally to attempt suicide.
Fortunately, there was help--in the form of the bank's spousal assistance program for relocated employees. "We worked with him for three months," recalled Pearl M. Tabbert, a career-management consultant whose Chicago firm rode to the husband's rescue. "Within six weeks, he connected with a job. He found a job he really liked, is in control of his life, and it has made a big difference. He ended up with one of the nation's largest security firms."
While employee relocations seldom reach such a crisis point, helping a spouse to find a job in a new city is becoming an increasing concern among major companies that frequently transfer workers. And programs designed to assist transferred spouses--male or female--with resumes, interviews and employment tips are getting more attention as part of relocation benefit packages.
But such spousal assistance programs are varied and usually informal, offered typically on an individual basis. "What we're seeing is that companies will provide it only if it becomes a recruitment issue," Tabbert said.
In the late 1970s, when soaring mortgage rates and real estate inflation made would-be transferees think twice about buying a new home, mortgage assistance benefits became a routine inducement.
Today, corporations are discovering the same sort of need for spousal assistance benefits because many employees are actually resisting relocations when a spouse's job will be affected, according to relocation experts.
"There are more and more dual-income and dual-career families, and we are likely to see that increase dramatically in the future," said Anita Brienza of the Washington-based Employee Relocation Council, a group representing 10,000 corporate and independent relocation firms. "Companies are instituting programs, (but) they are usually informal programs to counteract reluctance to relocate because of a spouse's career."
"There are more and more families where they work out some type of arrangement as to who is going to make the move," said James E. Challenger, president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. of Chicago. "In some cases, the woman is making more money. In other families, they take turns at career changes. The man takes the first turn and the woman the next. It really is becoming a mutual decision (about) whose careers should be governing, depending on who is easier to move."
Moreover, the second paycheck now accounts for a greater percentage--40%, or even 50%-- of the family income than it did in the past. "If you are going to uproot somebody, it is more than just one person being moved and you're taking away 40% of that (family) income," Challenger said.
In an annual study, Runzheimer International, a Rochester, Wis., relocation specialist, surveyed 150 of the Fortune 500 companies and found that 44% offered job-search or career-counseling programs for spouses.
That compares to 20% in 1985, and Ken Groh, editor of Runzheimer Reports on Relocation, said he expects the number to increase an additional 20% next year.
However, only 15% of those firms offering some spousal assistance had a formal program that appeared in their employment policy manuals and was offered to all employees. The remaining 85% had more informal programs.
Not surprising, the survey showed that the more transfer activity there is within a corporation, the more likely the company is to have a formal assistance program. Similarly, smaller companies are less inclined to provide assistance than larger ones.
With formal spousal assistance programs, an employer usually consults a third party, such as Tabbert's Pearl M. Tabbert & Associates or Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
The consultants then sit down with the about-to-be-transferred spouse to find out where his or her career is, where it's going and how it's going to get there. They will provide counseling on whether to stay in the same field, change careers or shift industries, and identify opportunities in a large metropolitan city or smaller town. They also assist in resume preparation and introductions.
Companies typically will not volunteer information about spousal assistance programs. "My opinion is that organizations are not advertising spousal policy," Tabbert said. "An employee who is asked to relocate or a new hire should ask about an employee assistance program."