Academic journal article IBAR

Expatriates and Their Spouses: A Pilot Study in the Limerick Region, and Directions for Future Research

Academic journal article IBAR

Expatriates and Their Spouses: A Pilot Study in the Limerick Region, and Directions for Future Research

Article excerpt

Increased internationalisation of business has resulted in more employees spending time in foreign locations as expatriate workers (Gregersen and Black, 1992). Nowhere is this more true than in the European Community. Linkages between E.C. member countries has resulted in increased intra-regional trade and investment (Dekker, 1989; Nicoll and Salmon, 1990) as well as increased business interest in the region on the part of non-EC organisations (External Affairs and International Trade Canada, 1992). Developments in Eastern Europe are also contributing to firms' interest in Europe as a whole.

While the future direction of the EC is not certain, whatever the prospects, cultural differences will remain. Even if Europeans increasingly see themselves as 'European' rather than 'German', 'Italian', 'Irish' and so on, these countries continue to retain their unique cultural characteristics, and moving from one European country to another will as a result continue to require adjustment. Indeed, much of the literature would suggest that even with the ever increasing globalisation of industrial activity, there is very little evidence to suggest that cultural diversity is decreasing in any significant way. According to Hofstede, 'Value differences between nations described by authors centuries ago are still present today, in spite of continued close contact. For the next few hundred years, countries will remain culturally very diverse' (1991: 238). For non-Europeans, the European expatriate experience can be especially challenging, because not only does it mean moving to a foreign country, but it is also likely to involve doing business in a host of others. For those considering Eastern Europe, the cultural challenges are even greater. Understanding the experience of expatriates in the EC will help firms to manage and facilitate these employees more effectively.

The performance of expatriates while in a foreign location can have major implications for the parent firm, the foreign affiliate and the expatriate. The cost of expatriate failure and poor performance is difficult to estimate because it includes much more than the actual costs associated with the transfer, but most executives would agree that it is substantial. Copeland and Griggs (1988) estimated that American companies lose $2 billion a year in direct costs due to expatriate failure. While there is no figure for the costs associated with lost business and damaged company reputation caused by expatriate failure, they assume the numbers to be 'frightening'.

Demographic changes in the workforce have also added to the challenges facing companies who send their employees on foreign assignments. For example, Lewis, Izraeli and Hootsmans (1992) underscore the increasing importance of recognising dual earner families on a world-wide basis. Firms need to be conscious of this development in the workforce and to adapt to it. The large number of dual-earner families world-wide today implies that both partners will be more likely to be accustomed to working outside the home. The spouse who is unable to obtain such work may find it difficult to cope with this, making the spouse even more critical to the expatriate's adjustment.

Understanding the expatriate experience has received substantial attention in the international research literature (Black, Mendenhall and Oddou 1991; Hendry 1992; Mendenhall and Oddou 1985; Tung 1988a). This research has consistently concluded that the spouse plays a major role in effective adjustment to a new location (Black and Stephens, 1989). Black and Gregerson (1990) have also found that seeking opinions from spouses before departure to a foreign location can itself have a beneficial impact on overall adjustment to the new working context. It has also been suggested that unless the pressures faced by spouses are recognised as being at least in some ways different from those of the expatriate assignee (and sometimes more difficult), the benefits of the expatriate experience cannot be maximised. …

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