This report examines two recent journal articles in relation to the turnover intentions of expatriates and repatriates in the repatriation process. It compares and contrasts two different theories of turnover intentions among international assignees and attempts to draw inferences to help International human resource managers understand and overcome this emerging problem.
The first of the articles reviewed focuses on international workers satisfaction with the repatriation process as a main contributor to the high turnover intentions. The second article however, takes a rather different approach. It focuses on differentiating between the two types of international assignments - developmental and functional - to understand expatriates turnover intentions. Although the articles differed somewhat in their methods used and in the context of the research, many similarities emerged from their respective results in order to provide an understanding and explanation for such high turnover rates upon, or shortly after re entry.
This review concludes by suggesting socially responsible initiatives in order to meet the needs of staff involved in long term international assignments, and the importance of such measures for a multinational enterprise in the context of International human resource management.
One of the newest areas of research in the field of international human resource management, concerns the repatriation of international assignees at the end of their time abroad. Although recently there has been a significant increase in research and commentators on this subject, there seems to be little coherence in these research findings to date. However, what is a consistent issue throughout these findings is a rather alarming phenomenon, one of which comprises of organisations losing a lot of talented and experienced international staff at, or shortly after repatriation. Research has suggested that 23% of repatriates left within the first year, with some firms admitting a rate as high as 44%, half of whom left within the first year of re entry (Dowling, Festing & Engle 2008, p187). In light of this emerging problem, many researchers and commentators are now focusing their research on attempting to understand why so many repatriates leave the company soon after re entry, as well as the motives underlying these moves. As a result, the articles addressed in this report are recent attempts to do just this.
The two articles examined in this report have a number of key differences and to a lesser extent, similarities used to explain this issue. The Sanchez article draws solely on the satisfaction with the repatriation process as the only consideration underlying this problem, suggesting that the more satisfied the repatriate is with the organisations’ repatriation process, the less likely he or she is to leave the company. The Stahl article however takes a rather different approach. This article suggests that turnover intentions were rather more likely to be based upon the type of international assignment, whether being functional or developmental, accompanied by certain predictors of turnover intentions.
Although the two articles differed somewhat in their theories of explaining the issue of high turnover, the research methods used in both, were somewhat similar. Both articles articulated their arguments into a number of easily tested hypotheses, based on a question and answer format of their respective sample respondents. The Sanchez study was focused solely on the answers of 124 Spanish repatriates. By conducting research based solely on one country, the author’s potential limited the accuracy and scope of their findings. However on the contrary, this also has the potential to provide an interesting insight into the repatriate process in a less studied context
The Stahl article however used a much bigger sample. To test their hypotheses they surveyed German, French, American, Singaporean and Japanese international assignees in 93 countries, comprising of a sample of 1779 international assignees from 141 MNCs (Stahl, Chua, Caligiuri, Cerdin and Taniguchi 2009, p96). Another significant difference in relation to the context of the two studies was the fact that the Stahl article focused its study mainly on expatriate turnover intentions, opposed to repatriate intentions addressed by other article, only drawing on other secondary research that examined repatriate turnover in order to build their hypothesis. This method however could have influenced the results of the findings. Suggesting that turnover intentions are largely subjective there is room for argument that an expatriate could in fact have a different opinion or changed intention once fully completed the repatriation process. Therefore, a consideration of this variable when analysing and comparing the results of the two studies may be necessary to draw a accurate inference.
The Sanchez article tested a hypothesis that the higher the satisfaction of the repatriates with the repatriation process, the lower the turnover rate. To do this they identified 6 determinants of the employee’s satisfaction with the repatriation process. These factors included 1) professional career management; 2) the compensation package; 3) changes in the social status; 4)training received by the expatriates upon return; 5) general clarity regarding the repatriation process and organisational politics and 6) having accurate working expectations regarding the job they once they have returned. The main hypothesis proposed rested on the examination of the repatriation overall satisfaction of the repatriation process based on the above determinants as indicators of the repatriation success. The results of these findings saw that a significant and positive relationship was found between repatriates’ satisfaction with the repatriate process and three of the six variables analysed – determinant 1, 5 and 6 above.
The Stahl article, on the other hand, divided their research into two parts, the first focusing on the differences between functional and developmental assignees in terms of repatriation concerns, satisfaction with company support, perceived career advancement and turnover intentions, with the second focusing primarily on predictors of turnover intentions upon repatriation. The results of these findings tended to agree mostly with the initial hypothesis. While it was found that turnover intentions did vary depending on whether assignments are developmental or functional, the three sets of predictors of turnover intentions – lower satisfaction with company support, higher repatriation concerns, and lower career advancement opportunities within the company - were similar. This meant that each of these predictors impacted on the respondent’s intention as to whether or not to leave the company upon, or shortly after re entry.
Although the two articles conducted quite different surveys in relation to their hypotheses and context of their sample, the results yielded a number of distinct consistencies. Both articles results drew on the fact that where the company managed the professional careers of the repatriates effectively, satisfaction would be higher. In addition, the ‘clarity’ in the company’s repatriates policies and practices identified as a contributor in the Sanchez article seems somewhat similar to the ‘repatriation concerns’ indicator in the Stahl article, both creating a general satisfaction with the repatriation process along with a decrease in repatriation concerns as almost synonymous contributors to turnover intentions. There also seemed to be some similarities in relation to work expectations and career advancement opportunities between the two studies. Both articles identified these contributors as another main contributor to the high turnover rate of international assignees upon return.
Overall, the results found in both of the studies revealed the importance of effective international human resource management. Both studies revealed that, depending upon certain variables, satisfaction with the repatriation process is directly influenced by the organisational and human resource practices being implemented within the company, and thus highlighted the strategic role international human resource management plays in the success of the repatriation process.
The fact that most international assignments are very costly for an organisation and that the skills learnt whilst abroad are often exclusive and in high demand, it is hard to envisage why an organisation would not implement measures to ensure that these skilled professionals remain under the roof of their organisation. It may be that these high turnover rates may in turn discourage other employees for accepting an international assignment in fear that it may result in a negative career move. As a result, these articles, along with many future studies in this area, will become very useful tools for informing international human resource management practices in the real world in order to surmount this emerging problem.
Along with the issues proposed in the above discussion of the articles, meeting the needs of staff involved in a long term international assignment for a multinational enterprise is a also a concern in the context of IHRM. Therefore socially responsible initiatives need to be implemented in order to meet these requirements.
In an emerging global economy international businesses have to face cultural differences as a powerful force. This affects attitudes and behaviours towards social legitimacy and ethics (Hung and Ching 2006, p755). A corporation may therefore need to question whether it is best to adapt local country business ethics or to impose a company’s ethical standards abroad. This issue is particularly relevant in relation to international assignments and what method the expatriate will adopt. This will therefore affect not only the staff of the international employment relationship, but also the needs of the social groups with whom the international employees will be working. In addressing these questions, companies and international human resource managers need to find solutions by getting involved in defining their role as citizens of the world by adopting socially responsible initiatives.
Due to the certain issues expatriates face on overseas assignments, for example culture shock, as well as social and family adjustment, an initiative that provides a collaborative approach between working with other employees, their families, the local community, and society at large, would be an effective tool in order to improve their quality of life, in ways that are both good for business and good for development of international staff. In addition, socially responsible related training initiatives could also be effective in order to consider the needs of social groups with whom international employees will be working. This would focus primarily on contributing in a sustainable manner to society and international employee development, and thus prove to be another successful socially responsible initiative.
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