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The purpose of this study is to define an expatriate failure, improved understanding of the
reasons for expatriate failure, and the importance of spouse in international assignment is
highlight. Expatriate failure not only means the premature return of an expatriate but also
the underachievement in that assignment. Eventually it represents the organisational
failure to manage human resources internationally. Expatriate failure is a growing
concern for many multinationals and has been an area of research by academics and HR
practitioners. This is because of high failure rates by expatriates who are being sent for
overseas assignments. Employees might lose their confidence in assignments and can
have decreased motivation and morale. There might be several reasons why many
expatriates fail to deliver the objectives assigned by the headquarters. Cultural
adjustments, language differences, Foreign Service hardship, length of assignment, etc
are some of the failure factors that was discussed by, Dowling and Welch (2004).
In its broadest sense, an expatriate is any person living in a different country from where
he is a citizen. In common usage, the term is often used in the context of professionals
sent abroad by their companies, as opposed to locally hired staff (who can also be
foreigners). The differentiation found in common usage usually comes down to socio-
economic factors, so skilled professionals working in another country are described as
expatriates, whereas a manual labourer who has moved to another country to earn more
money might be labelled an 'immigrant'.
Research has found that the majority of postings abroad result in the workers fulfilling
their contracts but in many cases their personal life and members of their families are
unduly affected. To understand the exact level of difficulties experienced by expatriates
the concept of failure needs to be more clearly defined. This study can be seen as an
introduction to more detailed studies on the effectiveness of CCT and decrease of
expatriate failure. People skills, adaptability, flexibility, and emotional maturity are the
most desirable attributes for expatriate managers. The results suggest that comprehensive
cross-cultural training may be an effective way to reduce expatriate failure and enhance


The title of the research paper is “An Exploration of the Definition of Expatriate Failure
and the Predominant Reasons for It”. And this research was conducted by, Julie Alberta
The purpose of this research is threefold. Firstly it argues that there is a major inadequacy
in the current definition of expatriate failure. Secondly, attempts are made to gaining an
improved understanding of the reasons for expatriate failure and lastly, the importance of
the spouse in international assignments is highlighted. As the world continued becomes
global village, firms are required to manage an increasing diversified workforce. As a
result, expatriation has been popularly used as a means by which information sharing and
knowledge transfers can be undertaken.
International work assignments are becoming more common as major corporations
announce new offices in rapidly developing countries such as China, Dubai or India. But
the 2007 Expatriate Work-Life Balance Survey from ORC Worldwide(R) has found that
international assignees are finding it difficult to maintain equilibrium between their
personal and professional lives. This research will focus mainly on expatriate failure and
the importance of the spouse and family to the success of international postings by
expatriates. Other aspects of expatriate management, such as remuneration packages and
lifestyle arrangements, will not be discussed.
The major areas of inquiry in this paper relate to, the definition of expatriate failure, the
predominant reasons for expatriate failure, and spouse and family adjustment. This study
provide a detailed understanding of the prominent reason of expatriate failure, the major
inadequacy in the previous definition of expatriate failure, and lastly the importance of
the spouse in international assignments. A two year study of 36 UK businesses, which
was completed in 1996, found that about 8% of expatriate workers returned to the UK
before completing their contracts. The three main conclusions of this study is that
expatriates need to be motivated, willing and able to adjust and flexible to better
acclimate themselves to new situations and environments; the family should be
incorporated in the training to improve the chances of success; finally, CCT is perceived
by the respondents as a good tool for expatriates going on assignment.

The researcher use inductive qualitative approach for his study. The qualitative approach
was ideal for this research project for two main reasons: (1) theories and results are
derived that are understandable and experientially credible to the sample group and others
and (2) conducting formative evaluations will help to improve existing literature rather
than simply assessing the value of it. Data was collected in two ways: personal interviews
and emailed responses. Firstly, personal interviews were conducted in the form of semi-
structured interviews. This format allowed the researcher to encourage conversations
from participants, and gave participants the flexibility to contribute additional
information that they thought were relevant to the research topic (Mann and Stewart
2000). Interviews took place at a mutually agreed place and time, and all personal
interviews were recorded on audiotape and subsequently transcribed. The tape recording
helped maximize accuracy and enabled the researcher to concentrate on the quality of the
responses rather than on writing down the responses. The second means of data collection
was via emailed responses to identical interview questions. All documentation was
emailed to potential participants in advance so that they were aware of what types of
questions would be asked. Twenty-eight people were contacted by email and seventeen
choose to participate. Interview questions were formulated after a review of the existing
literature on expatriate management to ensure sharper and more insightful interview
questions about the topic (Yin 1994). As the current literature on expatriate management
lacks standardized questions, questions needed to be developed. The interview questions
were designed to be able to test the nine propositions. For example, the first proposition
is ‘expatriate failure is predominantly defined on the basis of premature return’.
Therefore, an appropriate interview questions was ‘what does expatriate success or
failure mean to you?’The questions were deliberately designed to be open-ended and to
avoid leading questions.

This research examined the predominant reason of expatriate failure, send on
international assignment and provide accurate and applicable information on expatriate
management. In relation to the predominant reason for expatriate failure, the support of
the parent company was also identified as an important factor in minimizing expatriate
failure and the spouse’s inability to adjust to the new environment was believed to be an
important factor of expatriate failure. The study also highlights all the detailed
information about the obstacle that spouse face in the new environment. There are
problems with assessing expatriate failure by the single measure of premature return. An
inability on the part of the expatriate family to adjust to the foreign environment was the
main determinant of expatriate failure. It is argued from the results that recognition on the
part of those in charge that there are more appropriate measures of expatriate failure-than
simply premature return. The costs of failure of an expatriate assignment continue to be
significant challenges for multinational enterprises in today’s fast changing global
business environment. While previous research supported the view that the result of an
expatriate assignment was related to the expatriate’s ability to adjust to the unfamiliar
environment, and the adjustment process was influenced by the relationships between the
expatriate and the various other participants in the expatriate assignment, while this
research also add the spouse’s inability to adjust as an important factor. The study
emphasize on the measures such as the inability to adapt, undervaluing of the repatriates
skills, not achieving assignment objectives and the lack of family assimilation to be more
accurate indicators of expatriate failure. This is a significant finding as it raises the need
for new literature to take these additional aspects into consideration when defining
expatriate failure. This research has shown that defining expatriate failure by the single
measure of premature return is misleading, inaccurate and insufficient. Recognizing that
there are more appropriate measures of expatriate failure may also change the way the
reasons for expatriate failure are perceived. Organisations need to be aware of this, as
well as the continued importance of the spouse and family in the management of
expatriate assignments.