When putting expats in touch with a local host, does the quality of the contact matter? Does this need to surpass a certain threshold for the contact to contribute to an expat assignment? Can contact with a local host also have a negative impact? This is the topic of this blog post, based on my most recent academic publication about my Ph.D. research In Touch with the Dutch.
Contact with a local host
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. The participants assessed the quality of the contact on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest). This divided the group into two subgroups: two thirds who were very happy with the contact (7 or higher) and one third for whom the contact did not really work out; they only met once or twice.
The importance of relationship quality
After examining the effect of contact with a local host on adjustment, performance, intercultural competence, and social support, we turned to the role that the quality of the contact played. It will come as no surprise that the quality of the contact between an expatriate and a local host is indeed important. The results suggest a linear relationship: the higher the quality of the contact, the more benefit the expat got out of it. This means that also those who only met their host once or twice benefited to some extent from the contact. In any case, they were not negatively affected. The expats with high quality contact, however, benefited most.
Implications for practice
Our study shows contact with a local host is a low-risk HR intervention with many benefits for expats. With little effort, organisations can use this intervention to support their expats. Implementing a system in which expats are put in touch with a local host mostly demands time and effort. Because of its voluntary basis and the fact that it takes place outside of work, the program is not costly; although this depends, of course, on how the system is designed. A crucial aspect is to promote the quality of the contact between the expat and their local host. Would you like to know more about that could be done? Then read more about how to develop a high quality relationship between expats and their local host.
Van Bakel, M.S., Gerritsen, M. & Van Oudenhoven, J.P. (2016). The importance of relationship quality: Maximizing the impact of expatriate contact with a local host. Thunderbird International Business Review, 58 (1), pp. 3-97 (see also Publications).
Photo of the thermometer by Acid Pix via Flickr.