With 220 million people living abroad, we can’t get around the fact that we’re living and working in a globalized world. Not only multinationals are sending their employees abroad on expat assignments, more and more organisations internationalise because they find the skills and competences they need in foreign employees. With Intersango Global Mobility Consulting I would like to assist companies in this challenging and dynamic area, to help you support your international employees as well as possible so that they are enjoying life in the new country and are able to do their jobs well. I offer both consulting with regard to global mobility issues and coaching of individual expats who would like to be better prepared for working and living abroad. Intersango also offers a 10-week course where you develop your intercultural competence.
Intersango Global Mobility Consulting
One of the ways in which a local host can contribute to successful expatriate assignments is through offering social support. Does a local host offer social support? And what types of support do they offer? This is the final blog post about the academic articles that have been published about my PhD research In Touch with the Dutch.
A local host offers social support
Thirty-three expats were put in touch with a local host for a period of nine months, and they were compared to 32 expats without host (read more about In Touch with the Dutch). They undertook all kinds of activities together, from going for drinks or dinner to a Spanish cooking workshop. We investigated the amount and types of social support they received through questionnaires as well as interviews and diaries. The study showed that expatriates with a host received significantly more social support from host nationals than did those without a host.
Types of support
A local host can offer social support in several ways. First of all, it was for many expats a way to meet Dutch people:
It has helped us because we have found it difficult to meet Dutch people socially outside my husband’s work. We are on friendly terms with our neighbours, but that is really just saying hello in the street. [P4Q3]
At the start of the contact, a local host can offer informational support for settling in the new country and understanding the new culture. Also, the host can accompany the expatriate to all kinds of activities, thereby offering social companionship.
It gave me an opportunity to socialise and share some plans to see people at the weekends. It has taken a long time to settle in and we haven’t made a lot of friends yet. [E43Q2]
After a while, when the contact is established and has deepened, a host can also offer emotional support.
Although the fourth type of social support, instrumental support, might be more often offered when the contact is well established (e.g. loaning something or offering to help out in a stressful situation), small scale offers such as translating a letter written in the foreign language could also occur early on.
We met so that I could become a typical Dutch woman, that is, buying a bike – here that’s a real sign of integration. [E40DW4]
A local host as a way to support expatriates
Many authors have pointed out the need for organisations to promote contact of their expatriate employees with host nationals. Expatriates received a significant amount of social support through the contact with their local host – whether emotional, informational, or instrumental support, or simply social companionship. Organisations can use a local host or buddy-system as a tool to support expatriates in dealing with the challenges posed by living and working in a foreign country, to enable them to perform well at their jobs.
Van Bakel, M.S., Van Oudenhoven, J.P. & Gerritsen, M. (in press) Impact of a local host on social support received by expatriates. Human Resource Development International
Photo by Ondřej Lipár via Flickr.
This spring one of my students in Change Management, Ioannis Zisopoulos, wrote a very interesting Master thesis about global leader selection and development in five Danish MNCs (1). Here are some of his findings.
What is a global leader?
One of the interesting findings is that the Danish MNCs do not label global leaders as ‘global leaders’, defining them simply as ‘leaders’. Although these leaders function in a more international context than others, no specific leadership programs are created for them. The question is whether this goes for MNCs in other countries as well, or whether this is something specifically Danish. Ioannis suggests in his thesis that it might be related to Danish culture with its emphasis on equality. It is certainly possible that Danish MNCs are hesitant to label leaders as ‘global’, thereby setting them apart from the other leaders. Whether this is true or not, it could be a good thing anyway to develop ‘normal’ leadership programs to encompass global aspects as well, since more and more leaders are nowadays working internationally, and will need to be able to deal with this added complexity.
When do organisations ‘buy’ or ‘make’ global leaders?
The thesis’ main focus lay with the decision of the organisation to ‘buy or make’ global leaders. In other words, when does an organisation decide to develop someone from inside the organisation, and when to recruit someone from the outside? When reading his thesis, the key aspect seems to be the availability of human capital: Does the company have the right person in-house to fulfil this global leadership position at this moment in time? If that is not the case, then the company will look elsewhere.
What influences the ‘buy vs. make’ decision?
In general, the companies preferred to develop an internal candidate – because they are already part of the organisation and are more likely to fit the company’s vision and culture – but there is simply not always time for that. Other factors that influence the choice between recruitment and development are whether the company is doing well – which influences how much money is available for employee development – and organisational culture. For example, one of the interviewed companies has a people-oriented culture which emphasizes the development of employees. Such companies are more likely to develop their own global leaders than to recruit from outside the organisation.
What do you think – is the fact that the Danes don’t label global leaders as such something typically Danish? Or have you seen this in other countries as well?
(1) Zisopoulos, I. (2016). Organizational perspectives on Global Leadership recruitment and development. A study of Danish MNCs. Master thesis in Change Management, University of Southern Denmark.
Image of the Danish flag by Jacob Bøtter, via Flickr.
There are many resources for learning a language, but I think everyone needs to figure out what works for them. There was someone in my language class who swore by this app which helped him learn words by repeating them every day. That worked well for him, but it wouldn’t for me. I think everyone has to find their own way in which to learn the language – and here is what worked for me…
I have been learning Danish both at language school and in the ‘real world’. One of the great things here in Denmark is that language school is actually free. Imagine what a difference that makes for people who would like to learn the language – especially a language that is only spoken in a small country of 5.5 million people. Although language school has helped a lot, I still prefer to learn the language in real life situations, because that’s where it’s relevant and so much more fun to learn. So instead of writing a fictional e-mail to a friend about some topic suggested by the language school, I wrote e-mails to actual Danish friends, and then sent them off. To fluer med et smæk! (two birds with one stone)
‘Expression of the week’
A Dutch friend of mine gave me this idea; she did this with a foreign colleague of her. Every week, she would teach her a typical Dutch expression – it could be a saying, but also just a way of saying things. So I put a paper on my office door, inviting my colleagues to contribute an ‘expression of the week’. That was a lot of fun, because they came up with fun and interesting expressions that are actually used in everyday life. I think sayings are the fun part of learning a language!
The magic of Harry Potter
And then there is Harry Potter… Having read the books in English several times, I am very familiar with the story. This means that I could read the book in Danish without having to look up every single word – I could often guess what something meant. This was a great help, because starting to read in a new language can be very difficult and a bit tedious. I didn’t find the books that are specifically written for new language learners that interesting, and the books that I would like to read take ages because I would have to look up every single word. It might be a bit of an unorthodox way of learning a language, but it works for me!
I am curious to hear about your ways of learning a language. What has worked for you?
Early June I attended the European Academy of Management in Paris. While Paris was covered by an unmovable grey sky and the Seine was slowly rising to new heights, we were up to our ears in a very interesting Expatriate Management Track – one of the standing tracks of this conference, organized by prof. Jan Selmer. As usual, I’d like to share some of my highlights with you here.
The people around the expat
I was happy to see that quite a few of the papers touched upon social network aspects of expatriation. It is important to take the role of the people surrounding the expat into account when figuring out how to help expatriates adjust and perform better. One of the papers focused on the limitations of building an informal social network for expats in Korea (1). Similar to the Chinese who have guanxi, the Koreans have Yongo which are immutable ties that are mainly based on education, family ties, and regional origin. The advice to expats is to invest in ties with host nationals who have Yongo, because it is (nearly) impossible for expats to build Yongo themselves. Two other papers focused on ethnic identity confirmation in China (2) and the emotional support network of repatriates (3). And then, of course, there was my own paper, an overview of the empirical literature focusing on the interactions between expats and locals (4).
How to measure expatriate adjustment?
Those who do research on expatriate adjustment are undoubtedly familiar with Black’s model of general, interaction, and work adjustment (5). This 14-item instrument has been extensively used in International HRM but it has also been criticized on a conceptual level, for example in terms of the choice of the items (6). The presentation by Kubovcikova now highlighted some measurement issues with the scale itself (7). It goes too far to explain her findings in this post (and I’m also not completely sure I understand the statistical details…) but it looks like there could be better ways to measure expatriate adjustment. An example is the 35-item instrument recently developed by Hippler and colleagues (8), which could turn out to be a good alternative.
High sensitivity in expatriation
I was also interested to see the topic of Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) pop up in expatriation (9). There has been quite a lot of attention for ‘high sensitivity’ from a psychological viewpoint (10), so an interesting question is how this trait relates to the expatriate experience. There could be positive effects because high SPS-expats might be better able to adapt to the new environment, also through connecting with host nationals, but there might also be negative effects where the high-SPS expats get more easily overwhelmed by all the new stimuli while living abroad. The study (9) showed that the ‘dark side’ might have more influence than the positive aspects of being an SPS.
I don’t think this means that you should not move abroad when you are highly sensitive, but that you should be aware that you might be impacted more by the stress that usually accompanies a move abroad. Organisations can also support their high SPS-expatriates, for example through providing ways to withdraw from all these new stimuli (e.g. a single office or the possibility to work from home). This would be an interesting topic for future research.
(1) Horak, S. & Yang, I. (2016). Affective Networks, Informal Ties and the Limits of Expatriate Effectiveness. Paper presented at European Academy of Management, Paris, France.
(2) Fan, S., Cregan, C., Harzing, A-W. & Köhler, T. (2016). The Benefits of Being Understood: The Role of Ethnic Identity Confirmation in Expatriate-Local Employee Interactions. Paper presented at the European Academy of Management, Paris, France. This paper was the winner of the JGM Best Paper Award of the Expatriation Track.
(3) Van Gorp, L., Boros, S., Bracke, P. & Stevens, P. (2016). An Exploratory Study of Corporate Repatriates’ Emotional Support Network and Their Acculturation Orientation Upon Return to Their Home Country. Paper presented at the European Academy of Management, Paris, France.
(4) Van Bakel, M.S. (2016). It takes two to tango: It takes two to tango: A review of the empirical research on expatriate-local interactions. Paper presented at the European Academy of Management, Paris, France. This paper was second runner up in the JGM Best Paper Award of the Expatriation Track.
(5) Black, J. S. (1988). Work role transitions: A study of American expatriate managers in Japan. Journal of International Business Studies, 19, 277- 294, and Black, J. S., & Stephens, G. K. (1989). The influence of the spouse on American expatriate adjustment and intent to stay in Pacific Rim overseas assignments. Journal of Management, 15(4), 529-544.
(6) Hippler, T. (2006). Another scandal in Bohemia? A look back on how we measure expatriate adjustment. In M. J. Morley, N. Heraty, & D. G. Collings (Eds.), New Directions in Expatriate Research (pp. 64-93). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
(7) Kubovcikova, A. & Hippler, T. (2016). Measurement Equivalence of the Three-Dimensional Adjustment Scale Across Cultures and Expatriate Types. Paper presented at the European Academy of Management, Paris, France.
(8) Hippler, T., Caligiuri, P. M., Johnson, J. E., & Baytalskaya, N. (2014). The development and validation of a theory-based expatriate adjustment scale. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 25(14 ), 1938-1959.
(9) Andresen, M., Goldmann, P. & Bergdolt, F. (2016) Antecedents of expatriates’ turnover intention: The role of sensory processing sensitivity, and well- being. Paper presented at the European Academy of Management, Paris, France.
(10) E.g. Aron, E. (1996) The highly sensitive person: How to thrive when the world overwhelms you. New York: Broadway Books. and Aron, E. and Aron, A. 1997. “Sensory-processing sensitivity and its relation to introversion and emotionality.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73: 345-368.
The past 2.5 years I have been learning Danish. Once I knew I was moving to Denmark, I downloaded one of those apps that help you learn some words. I remember how I was replaying the sound of skildpadde (‘turtle’) again and again to determine what kind of sound it was the Danes finished that word with. I decided it was an ‘L’. It turns out it was still a ‘d’, but more on that in another post. That was when I first got an idea of some of the bumps in the road to Danish fluency.
And then I have it relatively easy, coming from a country with a language that is very similar to Danish. Like with German, there are quite a few words that are similar, and many more words that are recognizable if you know the patterns. There are also similarities with regard to grammar. That helps a lot. But imagine how tough it is for my Chinese friend!
Why can I still not understand you?!
I’ve heard many foreigners sigh that they have such trouble understanding Danish. I have already talked a bit about the difficulty of understanding spoken Danish in earlier blog posts. This has been the main bump in my road towards learning Danish. The head start I get by being Dutch did not help me at all when trying to understand Danish. It was just so frustrating to hear this blur of words and not being able to even distinguish the words, let alone decipher their meaning.
The world upside-down
So I actually speak (much) better Danish than I understand, which was also quite frustrating because I get into these situations where I am actually able to speak quite a bit of Danish, but then be completely at a loss when they answer me in their normal (incredibly fast and slightly swallowed) way. I might have brought it on myself by not having a television – and hence not watching Danish TV – but I also blame it on the ‘muddy’ way in which Danes pronounce their language… (according to Danish linguist Ruben Schachtenhaufen!)
Keep on going…
So I sometimes did feel like I would never understand spoken Danish, but now I’m starting to feel better about it. I’m now in the fifth module at language school, so I’m not there yet. But my listening skills are starting to catch up, and I can have long conversations in Danish (though not about too complex topics such as politics, and only with one person at a time!). It is funny how you can have the feeling that you are not progressing at all, yet then all of a sudden make a jump and realise you just had a four hour conversation with a friend about many different topics!
Photo by Doug Haslam via Flickr.