The findings show that if people are not willing

The model
of Oberg is
very simple and does not take the personality or previous intercultural experience
of the expatriate into account. Cultural distance is not considered by Oberg,
although it seems obvious that the culture shock for a German expatriate going
to Switzerland might be less intense as if he is going to Saudi Arabia. In
Oberg’s model, it is supposed that expatriates reach the next stage as the time
goes by while the duration of stages and consequences if a stage can’t be
reached are not specified. If adjustment does not set in during the assignment
period, the expatriate is stuck in the rejection stage, embracing his own
culture while rejecting ideas of the host culture, which appears to be fatal
for work relationships and performance. However, the model describes an
important psychological phenomenon that people experience more or less intense when
going abroad for a longer time. Some might feel a slight culture shock even in
a longer holiday vacation, while others experience it only after months, but it
is very unlikely that expatriates are not experiencing any symptoms of culture
shock at all. The only exception could be expatriates with a multi-cultural
background who are well acquainted with the culture in the home country and the
assignment destination.

Mendenhall & Oddou did not
describe cultural adjustment as a process but were eager to find out the
factors that influence an expatriate’s ability to adjust. One strength of the
model is their approach of examining the influence of the expatriate’s
willingness to change perception and to communicate towards his cultural
adjustment. Their findings show that if people are not willing to adjust,
adjustment will not take place and people who are reluctant towards other
cultures will be resistant to any cross-cultural training. It makes clear that
selection is a crucial element to the overall assignment success, as some
employees are simply not able to live and work abroad. However, this model appears
to limit possibilities of IHRM to influence the expatriate’s adjustment mainly
to the selection process.

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Contrary to Mendenhall & Oddou,
Black et al. did neither take into account the willingness of expatriates to
adapt nor did they consider that cultural distance is affecting cultural
adjustment. Therefore their model seems very general and insufficient. However
it can be positively noted in Black et al.’s model of 1991 that they took into consideration
measures before departure such as cross-cultural trainings that prepare the expatriate mentally and
theoretically for the host culture, as well as mentioning skills and factors
that are critical to in-country adjustment during the assignment. The later
model of 1999 is neglecting the anticipatory adjustment, but is very well summing
up the factors in the three dimensions of social, environmental and work
adjustment, which makes cultural adjustment of expatriates simple and achievable.

 

2.3 Measures boosting cultural adjustment

 

The
expatriate management of an organization can have a tremendous impact on the
success of assignments and can influence both, cultural adjustment in the host
country and repatriation. However, many organizations still don’t leverage the
potential of measures outlined in numerous studies and specialist literature
available. The following section summarizes suggestions for IHRM on how to
boost cultural adjustment in assignments from scientific as well as practical sources.

Putting Emphasis on Selection:

According
to the Global Assignment Policies and
Practices Survey (GAPP survey) of 150 organizations by KPMG, selection of expatriates is mostly
done by the business unit issuing the demand (89%). In doing so, an assessment
of the candidate’s suitability for the assignment is not provided (60%) or is done
on an informal level by the line manager or human resources (38%) (KPMG, 2017).
As their results indicate
that in practice organizations rarely involve IHRM in the selection process, one
of the main duties of IHRM managers should be to strengthen their influence on
the selection of expatriates.

Black at al, strongly recommend
selecting expatriates not only by their technical expertise but also by
characteristics and skills that are beneficial for cultural adjustment based on
the three dimensions of social, environment and work adjustment. The selection
criteria should always be related to the specific assignment objectives, but
according to Black
et al, communication and social skills as well as flexibility are
considered to be generally desirable for expatriates. (Black, Gregersen, Mendenhall, & Stroh, 1999, p.59-62)

Kühlmann
suggests using …. (methods) for assessing the candidates needs…

Furthermore,
the selection process should also include a self-assessment of the candidate
and evaluate their motivation for the assignment. A candidate who is very
passionate about a certain culture or region and is self-motivated for the
assignment, is more likely to be a successful expatriate, than those who
consider going abroad because of benefits and allowances. (Quelle?) Kühlmann?

Partners or
families of candidates should already get involved during the selection
process, as they are an essential part of the expatriate’s adjustment in the
host country later on. Look-and-see trips (a pre-assignment visits) can help
the candidate and the accompanying family to assess their aptitude for the assignment. While those visits seem expensive
during the selection process, they can reduce the risk of even higher costs for
the company that could arise if an expatriate is canceling the assignment later
on.  However, most companies use
pre-assignment trips only after the expatriate was selected as part of
pre-departure training or preparation (see next section). (Perkins & Shortland, 2006, pp.110-111)

 

Granting pre-assignment visits:

With a
pre-assignment visit, the expatriate and his accompanying family can get a
better understanding of the culture and the environment of the host country,
and a business meeting can help the expatriate to get to know the
organizational culture and meet future colleagues. Therefore, the trip has a
pre-departure training function, contributing to the assignment success, without
providing any guarantee regarding the training outcome. The trip is also
important for an adequate assignment preparation and companies should provide
the expatriate with a consultant, who is supporting the housing and schooling
selection process. (Perkins & Shortland, 2006, pp.110-111)

Learning
about shopping, leisure and transportation possibilities before the assignment
helps the expatriate to settle in more easily afterwards. In case the
expatriate was not pleased with his experiences during the visit, it is still
better for the company to cancel the assignment at this time than to cope with
a failed assignment later on. The usual duration of pre-assignment visits are
5-7 days (KPMG, 2017, p.38).

 

Providing cross-cultural trainings:

Black et al.
1991 include cross-cultural trainings in anticipatory adjustment (before
departure)…
Stroh et al. suggest in a newer publication that a cross-cultural
training should not only be provided before the assignment, as the assignee is
engaged in other preparations and the effect of a crash course is limited. The expatriate
will benefit more from cultural trainings during the assignment, because the acquired
knowledge can be directly leveraged in practice and the training can be
customized according to the expatriate’s experiences. If adjustment issues
exist, the expatriate is more likely to find solutions in a present cultural
training than by trying to remember information from the pre-departure course.
After the assignment, repatriation training can help the employee to cope with
a re-entry shock. (Stroh, Black, Mendenhall, & Gregersen, 2005,
p.198)

In fact,
85% of organizations provide cross-cultural trainings for their expatriates (KPMG, 2017, p.39). However, the KPMG survey did
not reveal to which intensity and in which assignment stage the trainings take
place.

Communicaid,
a service provider for cross-cultural trainings, suggests to prepare assignees
for the differences in business etiquette before departure, noting the
considerably impact of communication and leadership styles when working abroad (Mulkeen, 2012). Although
scientific sources such as Black et al. 1991 or Stroh… confirm the need of
cross-cultural trainings, there are different views on the content of the
trainings. Instead of coaching expatriates in how to shake hands and how to
behave when receiving business cards Beispiel Quelle?, the approach of considering
communication and management styles aims at generating in-depth training rather
than scratching on the cultural surface.

 

Offering language training:

Language
training for the host country’s main language in business can be useful before
but especially during the assignment. By learning basics and helpful phrases in
the host language, the expatriate might find it easier to socialize with locals
and adjusts more quickly to daily life in the new culture if short phrases or
product instructions can be understood. Some knowledge of the host language is
also beneficial in terms of business relationships, because it is showing
respect and the willingness to learn the other’s native language, which is very
important in some cultures.  Quellen?

Language
trainings are a very common benefit for expatriates as very few companies do
not offer a language courses to their assignees (11%) (KPMG, 2017).
However, it is important to choose the right language that should be learned
for the assignment. Depending on the demographics and workforce, the official
language of a country is not necessarily the dominant language used in daily
life and business. And many countries have a variety of dialects that are so
different to the standard language, that the expatriate might not be able to
communicate after he took the standard language course.

 

Giving country-specific
support:

A contact
person who is specialized for the region can be a helpful source of information
for the expatriate and help anticipate difficulties in cultural adjustment.
Ideally, this is the same contact person who already supports the expatriate
regarding his assignment and the assignment contract, managing his allowances,
home leave and trainings. Therefore it is very important for companies to have
a separate expat management department with specialists for the particular
regions, instead of assigning this responsibility to HR administrators.

Another way
of providing the expatriate with country-specific information is online
content, using a blog or the company’s intranet, and expatriate networks, that
are either company-wide or from service providers and stimulate the exchange of
expatriates in the same location. Quellen?

 

Supporting
expatriates’ cultural adjustment through personal assistance or helpful online information
about the host country is not widespread in organizations yet. Only 14% offer
an internal contact person or a self-help resource such as an online blog or
forum, 12% use a third-party service provider or an external expatriate
network. (KPMG, 2017)(p.47)

The expat blog
by Dana Nelson also highlights the importance of organizational support when
culture shock sets in and suggests expatriates not to be afraid of asking the
company for help (Dana Nelson, Cultural
Adjustment Part 5). However, as noted by Stroh et al., maintaining a form of regular communication
between the home company and the expatriate helps them to reach out for support
more easily. (Stroh, Black, Mendenhall, & Gregersen, 2005, p.197).

 

Establishing a mentoring program:

Assigning a
mentor in the host company who is willing to support the expatriate, especially
in the beginning, can help the expatriate to overcome cultural obstacles in the
host country. By providing information about the host country and introducing the
expatriate to the local culture, a mentor plays an important role in facilitating
cultural adjustment  (Stroh, Black, Mendenhall, & Gregersen, 2005,
pp.197-198) As all
previously mentioned models of cultural adjustment include social encounters
and interaction with locals to be a key factor for overcoming a culture shock (Oberg, 1960; Mendenhall & Oddou, 1985; Black, Mendenhall, &
Oddou, 1991; Black, Mendenhall, & Oddou, 1991), a local
mentor seems to be the best possible way to get expatriates in touch with host
country nationals rather than only fellow expats.

However, probably
because the mentoring task is very time-consuming, only few companies (12%) provide
a mentoring program with host company employees for their expatriates according
to a recent survey (KPMG, 2017, p.47). Mentoring programs can only work
with ambitious volunteers who are motivated to help as well as with expatriates
who are open to accept support from their assigned mentee.

 

Assigning responsibility to the expatriate

In her
expat blog, Caithin
Kuhfeldt Busscher advises other expatriates to get connected with other
expats at the destination before the assignment and also be prepared to stay
connected with friends and family members at home to cope with culture shock.
From her experience, she felt that intensive research about the destination in
advance gives expatriates control as they are mentally and emotionally prepared
for certain situations. By experiencing new things in the host country but at
the same time having reminders of the home country to overcome moments of
homesickness, she sees a balance that helps expatriates to culturally adjust.(Caithin Kuhfeldt
Busscher, How to adjust to culture shock).

Especially the host company can help expatriates to socialize and engage in
activities, however this should be coordinated by IHRM in the headquarters to
make sure, that every host organization is providing the same quality of
assistance. Contrary to all previous mentioned scientific sources, Kuhfeldt Busscher sees
a strong responsibility for the expatriate himself in preparing and overcoming
cultural challenges. Assigning responsibility to the expatriate for his
adjustment in the host country takes away the assumption that IHRM alone is accountable
whether cultural adjustment is achieved or not. Indeed, IHRM can only assist
and support the expatriate, but cannot provide the expatriate with a magic
potion to overcome culture shock abroad.

 

Managing Repatriation:

The KPMG
survey shows that companies focus on administrative issues when it comes to
repatriation, with priorities being the shipment of goods, organizing the
travel, and the use of consultation regarding tax returns. The majority of
firms does not provide any repatriation counseling to its expats and it is
common, that returnees are not granted a settling-in time which could reduce
the stress when getting back to work right after returning home. (KPMG, 2017, p.71)

As learned
in previous sections, repatriation is an important part of the assignment and
should not be neglected. The assignment cannot be called successful, if the
assignee leaves the company right after his return and the way repatriation is
handled can influence this turnover. Therefore, Black et al. suggest to establish a
‘repatriation team’ prior to the end of the assignment, which consists of IHRM
associates, the expatriate’s mentor, and ideally the supervisor in the home
company. Those will jointly prepare the expatriate’s return and support him, if
necessary. There should be at least one person who is responsible for giving
information about the company’s plans and possibilities for the expatriate’s
future workplace and position. It is also important to provide any kind of
forum for the expatriate and his family once they arrived, to share their
experience from the assignment with other returnees, for instance a social
platform like Yammer. (Black, Gregersen, Mendenhall, & Stroh, 1999) p.223-232

An article by HRZone takes on a completely
different perspective when giving advice for overcoming repatriation problems.
There the expatriate is mainly in focus for repatriation success as the author
considers the hardest challenge for the returning expatriate to be accepting
others’ lack of interests in detailed reports about the gained international
experience. Among other things, the article suggests that the returnees should be
prepared for other topics to talk about with colleagues and family members (Slonecki, 2016). Scientific sources like Black et al. 1999 pointed out the necessity of
giving returnees a platform to share experiences as well, but without relating
it to a general disinterest of the expatriate’s surrounding but rather to have
other expatriates benefit from it. Repatriation should not be considered as
inconvenience by companies but should rather be seen as development stage of
the expatriate in which he can reflect his experiences and maximize his gained
skills.

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