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.