The JGM BitBlog – The HCN side of the coin: Counting the full costs of expatriate assignments
Anthony Fee, Associate Editor of Journal of Global Mobility
A lot is known about the hardships, inconveniences and opportunities that international assignments provide expatriates. Yet our understanding how the expatriates' presence influences the working lives of their host-country national counterparts (HCNs) is less well understood. What types of demands are placed on HCNs when their workplace is disrupted by the arrival of an expatriate, and how do HCNs cope with such intrusions into their work environment? To answer these questions, I interviewed a sample of HCNs with vast experience hosting multiple expatriates, applying job demands-resources theory (Bakker & Demerouti 2007) as a conceptual apparatus to make sense of their responses.
The results surprised me. They showed that the HCNs took on quite extensive extra-role demands that added to the breadth of their workload before and after the expatriates' arrival. They also encountered increased episodes of 'intercultural friction' in their interactions with expatriates that made their regular workload more stressful and time-consuming. Thus, their workload was expanded qualitative and quantitatively.
HCNs deployed a variety of productive and counterproductive coping strategies to deal with these increased demands. Problem-focused strategies included adjusting the way they performed regular roles and/or investing time and energy to building trusting relationships with expatriates (and so reduce the 'friction'). Yet the data show that HCNs regularly combined these strategies with emotion-focused responses - notably withdrawing from interactions with expatriates to avoid conflict, stress or additional work – that, while expedient in easing HCNs' cognitive load, were likely counterproductive to organizational objectives and to HCNs' own learning. In this, I found evidence of HCNs manipulating the conditions of their contact with expatriates, a form of job crafting (Bruning & Campion, 2018), so that they had more discretionary contact in situations in which they felt comfortable, such as when their local knowledge was prominent, while avoiding or minimizing contact in interactions that drew more heavily on other expertise (e.g. technical capabilities).
Besides evidence of job crafting, the results give some support for role enrichment theory (Marks, 1977), which posits that extra-role job demands like those imposed on HCNs can be offset by activities that contribute to an individual's resources (Greenhaus & Powell, 2006); in HCNs' case, this was the learning, inspiration and novelty offered by the expatriates' presence. The results also point to previously unrecognized parallels between the experiences of HCNs and those of expatriates, both of whom confront new and challenging tasks, extra-role burdens, and frequent stressful intercultural encounters. I also found evidence that HCNs may undergo a form of intercultural adjustment from their sustained contact with expatriates, despite not setting foot outside their home country.
Collectively these insights into the HCN experience suggest that HCNs' success may be as reliant on astute selection, sufficient preparation and/or particular skill-sets as expatriate assignments are. Similarly, the results reinforce the priority that organizations should place on assembling adequate, and the right type of, support for HCNs, a task currently borne by supervisors, who were sometimes called upon by HCNs to help resolve misunderstandings or to set boundaries for their collaborations with expatriates. Importantly, the findings should make clear that cost-benefit analyses of expatriation should include a previously hidden suite of short-term costs borne (e.g. inefficiencies, stresses) and potential long-term benefits accrued (e.g. HCNs' professional development) by the host organization. Thus, the results are a reminder that a sufficiently broad measure of 'expatriate return on investment' should include impacts (favorable and otherwise) on HCNs.
To read the full article, please see the Journal of Global Mobility publication:
Fee, A. (2020), "How host-country nationals manage the demands of hosting expatriates: An exploratory field study", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 8 No. 1, pp. 25-54. https://doi.org/10.1108/JGM-09-2019-0045
Alternatively, feel free to contact me directly for a copy or to discuss features of this study or other ongoing research with host-country nationals: Anthony.email@example.com
Bakker, A.B. and Demerouti, E. (2007), "The job demands‐resources model: state of the art", Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 22 No. 3, pp. 309-328.
Bruning, P.F. and Campion, M.A. (2018), "The role-resource approach-avoidance model of job crafting: a multimethod integration and extension of job crafting theory", Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 61 No. 2, pp. 499-522.
Greenhaus, J.H. and Powell, G.N. (2006), "When work and family are allies: a theory of work-family environments", Academy of Management Review, Vol. 31 No. 1, pp. 72-92.
Marks, S.R. (1977), "Multiple roles and role strain: some notes on human energy, time and commitment", American Sociological Review, Vol. 42 No. 6, pp. 921-936.