Employing Expatriates

Employing Expatriates


            An expatriate is an individual permanently or temporarily residing, as an immigrant, in a foreign country. The terminology is often used in the context of skilled or professional workers sent to other countries other than that of their citizenship by their companies (Kraimer, Shaffer, Harrison, & and Ren 2012). The recent years have seen an increase in the number of expatriate workers across the globe. This is attributed to increased globalization and international trade. Organizations operating in the global market often hire expats to handle different assignments. This is common when these firms are unable to find the right talent in their market of operation. Fundamentally, they are forced to hire expatriates to enhance their performances and ability to realize their goals and objectives. Employing expatriates is not an easy task as there are numerous challenges linked with the process (Ozbilgin, Ozbilgin, Groutsis, & Harvey 2014).

This paper examines challenges associated with employing expatriates and provides some of the solutions to the problems.

Literature Review, Analysis, and Discussion

According to Hasleberger and Brewster (2009), there are some challenges associated with employing expatriates. For one, finding the right talent willing to undertake on a foreign assignment is a challenge. Many individuals are reluctant to take on international tasks considering the issues linked with adjusting and coping in another. It takes much convincing for a company attract the best person for a foreign. In essence, recruiting talent from another country involves a slew of technical logistics (McFarlin & Sweeney 2014). There is always the risk that one will not accept an international assignment citing the challenges common with such assignments. Most companies prefer hiring expatriates from their home country as opposed to being open and expanding their pool of potential employees. This renders the process of hiring such employees even more challenging (Collings, Wood, & Caligiuri 2014).

Employing expatriates is very challenging to multinational firms. It is imperative for managers in such companies to handle the challenges if they are to achieve goals and objectives that necessitate the need to hire expat workers. Some of the challenges arise as a result of the strategies employed by a firm when hiring expats. For example, companies that only recruits from their market struggle to get the right talent as their labor pool is limited. They spend much time trying to find individuals with the right skills. As such, the chances of hiring the wrong people are high (Takeuchi, 2010). Some companies are forced to settle for what is available. In the process, they employ people who struggle not only to adapt to the new country but also handle their roles and task. This, in turn, increases the risk that the person will return home even before their assignment has been completed. International firms cannot afford such a luxury as it can escalate their costs as well as reduce their capability to compete effectively in the global market (Delios, 2012).

Collings, Wood, and Caligiuri (2014) argue that expat employees are expensive and problematic. Making travel arrangements, visa issues, and relocation allowances can be very expensive. A company is also likely to pay expatriates two to five times, more than local employees. Equally, expats struggle to adapt to the new working environment. As such, hiring companies have to make arrangements to ensure they adjust with ease (McFarlin & Sweeney, 2014). In line with Oberg’s phases of adaptation model, individuals who accept international assignment undergo a culture shock before they settle. Some fail to deal with cultural differences and choose to return home as a result of their inability to adjust or adapt. Human resource professionals in the company interested in hiring expats need to give significant consideration to potential culture shock (Tungli & Peiperl, 2009).

Training expatriates is also a challenge. Habitually, such workers must be trained to equip them with the right skills integral to handle the roles and duties associated with their jobs. Their training needs are higher than the case with local employees. As such, a company has to devote much time improving their knowledge. This is an issue that can be demotivating to local employees. The attention given to expats can lead to local employees feeling unappreciated (Delios, 2012). As a result, their morale will be reduced hence, reduced performances and productivity. The company in question suffers a great deal. Hasleberger and Brewster (2009) add that the remuneration given to such employees can also demotivate others. Fundamentally, local employees can develop the feeling that they expats are being favored over them. Moreover, the presence of expatriates can lead to locally hired individuals developing the desire to leave for fear of lacking access to promotion opportunities. This explains why many companies only hire expats when necessary. Frequently, they employ local workers to maintain high morale and motivation hence, improved productivity (McFarlin & Sweeney, 2014).

Expats are susceptible to high burnout rates. This is also a major challenge associated with employing foreign workers. There have been cases where individuals have been called home before the completion of the assignment because of high levels of stress. Typically, the problem is linked to several factors including language barriers, having to deal with new cultures, being away from family and friends for an extended period, and the feeling of isolation (Ozbilgin, Ozbilgin, Groutsis, & Harvey, 2014). Some people manage to deal with these factors hence, their ability to complete their tasks before returning home. Nevertheless, there are those that encounter challenges adapting. As a consequence, returning home becomes inevitable. For example, expat workers that cannot learn a new language in the host country encounter many challenges executing their roles and duties. This leads to frustration and increased stress. In the end, they choose to go home to relieve their strain (Kraimer, Shaffer, Harrison, & and Ren, 2012).

The transition period is mired with challenges. Firms operating in the global market have to make the necessary arrangements for their expats to move from their home country to the target country. There are times when the companies must make provisions for the family of an expat to move with them. This is common when the expat demands to go with the family before they can accept the new position. Preparing the necessary documents required before one can take foreign assignment is also a problem. A company must also prepare to deal with culture shock an individual suffers after they take on their tasks and duties. This is important to avoid the issue of burnout (Ozbilgin, Ozbilgin, Groutsis, & Harvey, 2014).

Ozbilgin, Ozbilgin, Groutsis and Harvey (2014) debate that expatriate employees struggle to understand the organization’s values and standard practices. A company operating in more than one country develops common practices applicable to all its branches. Nonetheless, they also create methods unique to the subsidiaries to attend to the needs of local consumers in the most efficient way. The development of a localization strategy is of the essence. Expat workers struggle to adapt to shared values and those unique to their foreign firm (Delios, 2012). In most cases, many choose to stick to universal values ignoring other practices essential to the success of their firm. Such a culture makes it problematic for them to handle their assignment as expected. The challenge is worsened when a company hires individuals who lack the right skills and knowledge to deal with foreign assignments. In essence, people with great adaptive skills do not face the problem as they adapt accordingly (Ozbilgin, Ozbilgin, Groutsis, & Harvey, 2014).           

There are challenges associated with local employees hired in the host country. Their perception of expats and how their treated can be a primary cause of difficulties experienced by companies when employing expatriates (Kraimer, Shaffer, Harrison, & and Ren, 2012). Individuals who have a negative attitude or wrong perception of expats resist them either by failing to perform or choosing to leave the company. Foreign organizations give expatriates good pay and benefits package to motivate them to take overseas assignments. This is also done to ensure they can adapt with ease. Local employees may not understand the reasons behind special treatment, yet it is essential if a company is to attract and retain expatriates. In most cases, they feel threatened by the presence of foreign employees hence, their unwillingness to cooperate with them (Tungli & Peiperl, 2009).

HR professionals have the ability to deal with the challenges of employing expatriates. They only need to apply the right strategies to achieve this goal. Equally, it is imperative for them to avoid some of the mistakes commonly made by international firms that make it hard for them to manage foreign workers in the right manner (McFarlin & Sweeney, 2014). The application of proven strategies can also help in dealing with the issues. Most problems associated with the management of expatriates are universal. As such, some of the policies applied by foreign firms to effectively manage expatriates can be implemented in different companies. Nevertheless, HR managers should be keen enough not to rely on tactics that are not applicable to their situations (Takeuchi, 2010).

Conclusions and Recommendations

Employing expatriate employees is challenging. Some of the challenges experienced by HR professionals when dealing with expats are linked to their strategies while others relate to expatriates themselves. It is paramount for HR professionals in companies interested in expatriates to expand their labor market. Whenever possible, should hire expats from their home country (McFarlin & Sweeney, 2014). However, they should embrace flexibility when they cannot find the right talent back at home. It makes more sense to hire from another country to get the best there is. This increases the probability that the firm in question will access individuals with the right skills and knowledge to handle international assignments. Additionally, the business will mitigate the risk of hiring people who will demand to go back home after they fail to adapt or adjust. As argued by Tungli and Peiperl (2009), companies employing expatriates must also prepare for the culture shock experienced by foreign workers. Many people suffer frustration and stress because they lack support to adapt to new work environments. They are forced to learn on their own which increases the risk that they will not adapt. Individuals with exemplary skills survive on alone. On the contrary, those that lack survival skills choose to return home. This challenge can be handled through HR professional providing the required support to their people. For example, they prepare their foreign workers on what to expect in the target country in terms differences and similarities in business etiquette (Collings, Wood, & Caligiuri, 2014).

The management of a company dealing with expatriates must also ensure that local employees understand the need for expats. Most HR professionals ignore this challenge. What they fail to realize that domestic workers are threatened by the presence of expats. Making them understand the importance of such workers removes the worries and ensures that local and expat employees embrace one another hence, their willingness to work as a team to achieve organizational goals and objectives (McFarlin & Sweeney, 2014). In the same regard, creating a friendly working environment can also provide an environment where local employees are willing to help expatriates to adapt to their country, specifically to, living and working conditions. In the process, the level of stress and frustration experienced by such employees is reduced (Kraimer, Shaffer, Harrison, & and Ren, 2012). Training is also essential for expatriates to arm them with survival tactics. Companies that fail to train their foreign workers to experience the most challenges. Expats must be prepared on what to expect in the host country. Notably, HR professionals to advise them on do and don’ts while operating in the host state. Training is also essential to enable individuals to deal with culture shock. Nonetheless, HR managers should avoid overemphasizing the training needs of foreign workers as this can demotivate local workers. A balanced training process is of the essence (Takeuchi, 2010).



Collings, D Wood, G T & Caligiuri, P M 2014, The Routledge Companion to International Human Resource Management, Routledge, New York, NY.

Delios, A 2012, International Business: An Asia Pacific Perspective, FT Press, Boca Raton, FL.

Hasleberger, A & Brewster, C 2009, “Capital Gains: Expatriate adjustment and the Psychological Contract in International Careers,” Human Resource Management, vol. 48, no. 3, pp. 379-397.

Kraimer, M L, Shaffer, M A, Harrison, D A & and Ren, H 2012, “No Place Like Home? An Identity Strain Perspective on Repatriate Turnover,” Academy of Management Journal, vol. 55, no. 2, pp. 399-420.

McFarlin, D & Sweeney, P D 2014, International Management: Strategic Opportunities & Cultural Challenges, Routledge, London.

Ozbilgin, M, Ozbilgin, M F, Groutsis, D, & Harvey, W S 2014, International Human Resource Management, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Takeuchi, R 2010, “A Critical Review of Expatriate Adjustment Research Through a Multiple Stakeholder View, Progress, Emerging Trends, and Prospects,” Journal of Management.

Tungli, Z & Peiperl, Y 2009, “Expatriate Practices in German, Japanese, U.K., and U.S. Multinational Companies: a Comparative Survey of Changes,” Human Resource Management, vol. 48, no. 1, pp. 153-178.





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