1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  10. Appendix

La recherche sur les antécédents et les conséquences de l’ajustement des expatriés a été revue de façon qualitative et avec la méthode quantitative de méta-analyse. Les prédicteurs individuels, environnementaux, reliés au travail et reliés à la famille, de l’ajustement général, interactionnel et au travail ont été analysés. L’efficacité personnelle, la fréquence des interactions dans le pays hôte, et le soutien familial ont prédit les trois types d’ajustement. De plus, des compétences élevées en relations interpersonnelles ont été associées à un meilleur ajustement à l’environnement en général. Les résultats ont également démontré que la variable “conflit de rôle”était corrélée négativement avec l’ajustement au travail alors que l’ambiguïté du rôle et la discrétion ont été associés avec l’ajustement au travail. Un modèle d’équations structurelles a été développé avec les corrélations agrégées pour illustrer les relations causales possibles impliquant un facteur général d’ajustement et les résultats des tensions au travail, la satisfaction au travail, l’engagement organisationnel, l’intention de quitter, ainsi que la performance au travail. L’hypothèse était que l’ajustement influencerait les tensions et la satisfaction au travail et que ces deux dernières variables auraient un effet sur l’engagement organisationnel, la performance et l’intention de quitter. Le modèle a bien correspondu aux données.

Research on the antecedents and consequences of expatriate adjustment was reviewed using meta-analytic methods. The antecedents and outcomes of three facets of adjustment were examined. Self-efficacy, frequency of interaction with host nationals, and family support consistently predicted all three types of adjustment. In addition, better interpersonal skills were associated with greater adjustment to general environment. Greater cultural novelty was associated with less interactional adjustment. Role conflict, ambiguity, and discretion were also strong predictors of work adjustment. A structural equations model that illustrated causal relationships involving expatriate adjustment and outcomes of job strain, job satisfaction, organisational citizenship, intent to turnover, and job performance generated a good fit with the data.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  10. Appendix

Each year a growing number of corporations adopt a multinational strategy to remain successful in highly competitive markets, seeing opportunities for profit in the customers and labor resources of other countries. The increase in globalisation has led to more employees being sent on long-term international assignments than ever before, with every indication that the use of expatriates will continue to expand into the 21st century (Dolins, 1999). For example, it has been estimated that more than 100,000 executives from foreign countries are relocated to the United States annually (Micco, 1998) and there are around 3.3 million US expatriates around the world (International Herald Tribune, 1997).

International assignments can be extremely challenging. Apart from changes in job responsibilities, expatriates typically need to adjust to a different climate, a new culture, and a variety of language barriers. Expatriate assignments also often involve either uprooting families to a new country or causing the expatriates to live away from their families—either of which puts strain on both expatriates and their families.

Understanding the factors that predict expatriate success is particularly important because such assignments are very costly. On average, organisations spend over two and a half times more money to send an employee on expatriate assignment than they would to hire locally (McGoldrick, 1997) and a 3-year assignment is estimated to cost around one million dollars (Allerton, 1997). Research on repatriated managers has found that more than 20 per cent leave the company within a year of returning to their nation of origin, limiting any further return on the organisation's investment. Even worse, some firms lose their repatriates to competitors who know how to use their skills better (Cook, 1997). There are also intangible costs to failed global assignments such as the erosion of the company's ability to recruit and retain top quality candidates. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of failure. Failure can also cause damage to a company's important constituents—local national employees, host government officials, local suppliers, customers, and communities (Black, Gregersen, & Mendenhall, 1992). Apart from costs to the organisation, failure has costs for the individual as well such as a loss of self-esteem, self-confidence, and prestige among peers (Mendenhall & Oddou, 1985).

For the past two decades, research has examined a variety of causes for the performance problems and dissatisfaction that are associated with foreign assignments. Much of the research has focused on expatriate adjustment. Although the term “adjustment” has been used in a general sense to indicate feelings of acceptance and satisfaction (Brislin, 1981), acquisition of culturally acceptable skills and behaviors (Bochner, McLeod, & Lin, 1977), or the lack of mental health problems such as stress or depression (Berry & Kim, 1988), it has also been measured directly as the psychological comfort an individual feels in a new situation (Gregersen & Black, 1990). The research on expatriate adjustment generally focused on three specific facets: general, interaction, and work adjustment. General adjustment refers to the degree of comfort with general living conditions, such as climate, food, housing, cost of living, transportation, health facilities, etc. Interactional adjustment involves comfortably socialising and interacting with host nationals. Finally, work adjustment pertains to specific job responsibilities, performance standards and expectations, and supervisory responsibilities (Black, 1988; Black & Stephens, 1989).

There have been earlier attempts to review adjustment literature (e.g. Black, Mendenhall, & Oddou, 1991; Church, 1982; Mendenhall & Oddou, 1985). These reviews, however, have been qualitative in nature. The primary goal of the present study was to summarise, in meta-analytic format, common predictors of expatriate adjustment. Although the literature in this area is still accumulating, a summary of research that does exist would be useful in highlighting current knowledge and pinpointing future areas of research.

In addition to the above-mentioned goal, work-role transition theories suggest that adjustment to a new role and/or situation is fundamental to subsequent outcomes in the role (Dawis & Lofquist, 1984; Nicholson, 1984). Thus, adjustment is viewed as affecting other work-related outcomes such as strain, job satisfaction, organisational commitment, performance, and turnover intent.

Several years ago, there was little research that actually measured and tested the relationship between adjustment and these outcomes among expatriates (Naumann, 1993). Fortunately, the emergence of additional studies and more contemporary quantitative methods now allow a review with an empirical focus. In this light, a secondary goal of this study was to develop and test a model that integrates how adjustment impacts other expatriate outcomes in order to better understand the processes that lead to the eventual success or failure of international assignments. The model conceptualised adjustment as being multifaceted, composed of adjustment to both work and non-work situations. Adjustment was also viewed as a temporal and primary outcome in an expatriate's assignment that would influence the development of secondary or more distal expatriate adjustment (see Figure 1). The model proposes, therefore, that overall adjustment, the focus of this study, can affect both attitudes toward the job (e.g. job satisfaction) and more general psychological reactions such as strain. The term strain is borrowed here from the job stress literature and refers to an individual's aversive health or welfare reactions to environmental stressors (e.g. Beehr, 1995). Examples of strain from the studies reviewed here include feelings of stress due to time constraints, feelings of anxiety, and (poor) mental health. Job satisfaction, in turn, has been proposed elsewhere as leading to less strain (e.g. Cooper & Marshall, 1976; O’Driscoll & Beehr, 1994) as well as to greater organisational commitment (e.g. Ostroff, 1992). Strain was posited to lead to poor performance and to turnover intent. Individuals with more commitment to the parent organisation were expected to perform better and to be less likely to leave the assignment prematurely (Cotton & Tuttle, 1986; DeCotiis & Summers, 1987; Reichers, 1985; Shore & Martin, 1989). Finally, some past research among non-expatriates suggests a negative relationship between performance and turnover (McEvoy & Cascio, 1987; Williams & Livingstone, 1994). The model generalised from this turnover finding to suggest intent to leave the overseas assignment might be similarly affected by performance. These relationships have been suggested in previous literature in regard to workers who are not expatriates. The data in the current study were used to determine the extent to which the model would explain expatriates’ intentions to leave their current overseas assignments.


Figure 1. C onceptual model of expatriate outcomes.

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  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  10. Appendix

A computer-aided literature search was conducted using both management and psychological databases to identify studies examining expatriate adjustment and related outcomes. Both published and unpublished studies were included. A number of characteristics of each study were recorded separately: (a) sample size, (b) type of predictor, (c) reliability of scales used to measure predictors, (d) type of criterion, (e) reliability of scale used to measure criterion, (f) effect size of the predictor–criterion relationship (e.g. a correlation coefficient). Several decision rules were used to decide whether a study should be included. First, only studies that utilised expatriates (defined as employees who were sent by their companies on a cross-cultural assignment) were included. Studies involving irrelevant samples, e.g. students or volunteers, were excluded from this review. Second, in studies that utilised same population (as determined by identical sample characteristics) effect sizes were cited only once. Third, only predictor–criterion relations that were cited in at least two studies were cited in the meta-analytic summary (however, predictors found in single studies were also discussed in the qualitative review).

The final sample consisted of 42 empirical studies, nine of which were unpublished dissertations or theses. Counting only independent studies, the total number of respondents was estimated to be 5,210. The sample size, sample characteristics, and methodology of the studies are summarised in the Appendix. Using formulae obtained from Hunter and Schmidt (1990), average correlation coefficients (r) weighted by sample size were computed for each predictor and outcome along with variance of observed coefficients (Sr2), the variance due to sampling error (Se2), and the variance remaining after subtracting the variance due to sampling error (Sp2). The average correlation coefficient corrected for the reliabilities of the measures (rc) was likewise computed for each predictor–outcome relationship. Since not all studies reported the reliability of their scales, the average reliabilities across reported scales were used. Credibility intervals for average corrected correlations (95%) were computed.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  10. Appendix

The results are presented in two parts to address the goals of this study. The first part describes the predictors of general, interactional, and work adjustment. These were organised into individual, work-related, environmental, and family-related predictors. The second part of the results includes the relationship between adjustment and other outcomes in terms of average correlations and a structural equation model.


Four factors were common predictors of all three facets of adjustment (see Tables 1 to 3). Self-efficacy, or the belief in one's competencies, was correlated to all three facets of adjustment with correlations ranging from rc= .27 to .41. Family and spouse adjustment were also strongly correlated with expatriate general and interaction adjustment (rc= .32 to .64) and weakly related with work adjustment (rc= .18). The importance of family adjustment was also echoed in qualitative studies where expatriates cited family adjustment as important to their success while on assignment (Arthur & Bennett, 1995; Ritchie, 1993). Finally, frequency of interaction with host nationals was moderately correlated with general and work adjustment (rc= .24 to .28) and was strongly correlated with interactional adjustment (rc= .49).

Table 1.  Meta-analysis of Correlates of General Adjustment (ΔAv= .84)
FactorΔAvNo. of coefficientsTotal Sample SizerSr2Se2Sp2% Variance Unexplainedrc95% Credibility Interval
Lower boundaryUpper boundary
  1. Note: Δav is the average internal consistency reliability coefficient, r is the sample-weighted average, Sr2 is the variance of observed coefficients, Se2 is the variance due to sampling error, Sp2 is the variance remaining after subtracting the variance due to sampling error, and rc is the sample-weighted average correcting for unreliability of measurement. Credibility intervals were computed from weighted average corrected for unreliability of measurement. Gender was coded 0 male, 1 female.

Age 5947;−0.010.01460.00530.009364%;−0.01;−0.030.00
Gender 5947;−0.080.01300.00520.007860%;−0.09;−0.10−0.07
Education level 36550.030.01480.00460.010269%
Interpersonal skills 23240.220.00020.00560.0000 0%
Language skills 33700.110.04350.00790.035682%
Self-efficacy0.7222220.210.00490.00820.0000 0%
Job level 3524;−0.080.00600.00560.0000 0%;−0.09;−0.10−0.09
Work experience 33400.040.00940.00880.0006 6%
Previous overseas experience 81,6350.080.01500.00480.010268%
Tenure in organisation 51,297;−0.010.00930.00390.005559%;−0.01;−0.020.00
Months on assignment 81,7920.130.02460.00430.020382%
Outcome expectancy0.8245340.050.01370.00750.006246%
Promotion 25510.110.00640.00350.002945%
Role ambiguity0.804639;−0.130.00270.00600.0000 0%;−0.16;−0.17­−0.16
Role discretion0.8446390.080.00230.00620.0000 0%
Role conflict0.814639;−0.170.00150.00590.0000 0%;−0.20;−0.21−0.20
Training 61,021;−0.120.00180.00570.0000 0%;−0.14;−0.15−0.14
Culture novelty0.7061,119;−0.080.06030.00530.055091%;−0.11;−0.120.00
Frequency interaction—host 58200.220.01260.00550.007156%
Frequency interaction—home 34320.050.04780.00690.040986%
Spouse interaction adjustment0.8623240.360.00250.00470.0000 0%0.420.410.42
Spouse general adjustment0.9133550.550.00540.00410.001324%0.640.630.64
Family adjustment0.7832410.650.00590.00420.001729%0.860.850.87
Table 2.  Meta-analysis Results of Correlates of Interactional Adjustment (ΔAv= .89)
FactorΔAvNo. of coefficientsTotal Sample SizerSr2Se2Sp2% Variance Unexplainedrc95% Credibility Interval
Lower boundaryUpper boundary
  1. Note: Δav is the average internal consistency reliability coefficient, r is the sample-weighted average, Sr2 is the variance of observed coefficients, Se2 is the variance due to sampling error, Sp2 is the variance remaining after subtracting the variance due to sampling error, and rc is the sample-weighted average correcting for unreliability of measurement. Credibility intervals were computed from weighted average corrected for unreliability of measurement. Gender was coded 0 male, 1 female.

Age 5 9470.000.00240.00530.00000%;−0.03;−0.04;−0.03
Gender 4 8240.240.04800.00430.043791%
Education level 3 6550.040.01990.00460.015377%;−0.05;−0.06;−0.02
Self-efficacy0.722 2220.300.00010.00740.00000%0.370.360.37
Job level 3 5240.060.00080.00570.00000%
Previous overseas experience 71,3480.090.00600.00510.000914%
Tenure in organisation 51,1810.030.00530.00420.001120%
Months on assignment 47680.210.00210.00470.00000%
Outcome expectancy0.8922920.030.00010.00680.00000%
Role ambiguity0.842251−0.100.01480.00780.00000%−0.17−0.18−0.17
Role discretion0.8422510.140.00120.00770.00000%
Role conflict0.812251−0.100.00430.00780.00000%;−0.09;−0.10;−0.09
Cross-cultural training 4604−0.030.00500.00660.00000%;−0.06;−0.07;−0.06
Culture novelty0.725976−0.180.00190.00480.0000 0%;−0.23;−0.24;−0.23
Frequency interaction—host 23240.530.00890.00260.006370%0.49   0.490.51
Frequency interaction—home 23240.070.01310.00610.007053%;−0.01;−0.020.00
Spouse interaction adjustment0.883 4470.360.12410.00500.119196%0.360.350.59
Spouse general adjustment0.884 478    0.330.00980.00660.003233%    0.320.310.33
Table 3.  Meta-analysis Results of Correlations of Work Adjustment (ΔAv= .87)
FactorΔAvNo. of coefficientsTotal Sample SizerSr2Se2Sp2% Variance Unexplainedrc95% Credibility Interval
Lower boundaryUpper boundary
  1. Note: Δav is the average internal consistency reliability coefficients, r is the sample-weighted average, Sr2 is the variance of observed coefficients, Se2 is the variance due to sampling error, Sp2 is the variance remaining after subtracting the variance due to sampling error, and rc is the sample-weighted average correcting for unreliability of measurement. Credibility intervals were computed from weighted average corrected for unreliability of measurement. Gender was coded 0 male, 1 female.

Age 56050.060.00280.00820.0000 0%
Gender 48240.080.00300.00480.00000%
Education level 48240.110.02960.00470.024984%
Self-efficacy0.7222220.320.00090.00720.0000 0%0.410.390.42
Previous overseas experience 71,2400.070.00310.00560.00000%0.08 0.070.09
Tenure in organisation 51,1100.050.00400.00450.0000 0%
Months on assignment 59370.140.00480.00510.0000 0%
Outcome expectancy0.8922920.130.01000.00660.003434%
Job level 3524;−0.130.00010.00550.0000 0%;−0.14;−0.15;−0.13
Role ambiguity0.842287;−0.350.00040.00540.0000 0%;−0.41;−0.42;−0.40
Role discretion0.8222870.370.00250.00520.0000 0%0.430.420.44
Role conflict0.812287;−0.380.01440.00510.009365%;−0.46;−0.47;−0.45
Cross-cultural training 4604;−0.070.00830.00660.001721%;−0.07;−0.08;−0.06
Culture novelty0.744945−0.060.00020.00420.0000 0%;−0.07;−0.08;−0.07
Frequency interaction—host 45720.260.00360.00610.0000 0%
Frequency interaction—home 35050.180.00650.00560.000913%
Spouse interaction adjustment0.8824400.130.00040.00440.0000 0%
Spouse general adjustment0.8849960.110.00090.00390.0000 0%
Family adjustment 32810.170.20530.01020.195295%

Apart from these common predictors, there were other factors that predicted each facet of adjustment. As seen in Table 2, interpersonal skills was moderately correlated with expatriate general adjustment (rc= .24). Expatriates with greater ability to accurately understand feelings of another person, empathise with another person, and work effectively with other people reported greater adjustment to their new environment. Language skills were positively correlated with general adjustment (rc= .12). Hulinger's (1982) qualitative study of American expatriates and their local colleagues in China found that the lack of language skills isolated expatriates and made it difficult for them to communicate and understand the local culture. Interestingly, amount of cross-cultural training received was weakly but negatively correlated with general adjustment (rc=−.14). Other factors found to be correlated with general adjustment in single studies included sociability, self-monitoring, social support (Caligiuri, 1995), extraversion (Parker & McEvoy, 1993), flexibility (Black & Stephens, 1989), participation (Li, 1995), and presence of organisational sponsors (Gregersen & Black, 1992).

Table 3 shows the predictors of interactional adjustment. Expatriates who were in cultures vastly different from their own reported more difficulty in interacting with host nationals (rc=−.23). Women expatriates (rc= .15), as well as those who had been on assignment longer, reported more adjustment to interacting with host nationals (rc= .17). Job-related factors such as role ambiguity (rc=−.17) and role discretion (rc= .19) were also moderately correlated with interactional adjustment. Other factors associated with interactional adjustment (as reported in single studies) included relationship and perceptual skills (Cathcart, 1996), language skills (Rehany, 1994), flexibility, social orientation, conflict resolution skills, willingness to interact (Black, 1990), self-monitoring (Harrison, Chadwick, & Scales, 1996), promotion (Shaffer & Harrison, 1998), extraversion, and frequency of interaction with expatriates (Parker & McEvoy, 1993). Ethnocentricity was also negatively correlated with interactional adjustment.

Not surprisingly, job characteristics such as role ambiguity (rc=−.41), role discretion (rc= .43), and role conflict (rc=−.46) were all moderately correlated with expatriate work adjustment (see Table 3). Months on assignment (rc= .15) and job level (rc=−.14) were associated with work adjustment. Individuals who believed their assignment would benefit their career (outcome expectancy) also reported greater work adjustment (rc= .14). Amount of interaction with co-nationals was positively correlated with work adjustment (rc= .19). Other work adjustment-related factors reported in single studies were willingness to interact, flexibility, social orientation, and conflict resolution (Black, 1990).

Relationships between Primary and Secondary Outcomes

Based on the meta-analytic findings, the model was tested using a two-step approach in analysing structural equation models (Anderson & Gerbing, 1988). The average correlation coefficients corrected for sampling error are summarised in Table 4. A measurement model with eight observed and six latent variables was tested. The variable adjustment had three indicators (general, interactional, and work). The reliability of the variable adjustment was adjusted for by taking the variance that the three subscales (general, interaction, and work adjustment) have in common. The variables strain, job satisfaction, organisational commitment, job performance, and turnover intent had single indicators. These variables were corrected for unreliability by fixing the loading between the observed and latent variable to be equal to the square root of the reliability of the measure. The sample size used to test the model was N= 1,010, representing the average sample size.

Table 4.  Meta-analysis Results of Correlations Between Expatriation Outcomes
OutcomeCorrelateNo. of coefficientsTotal Sample SizerSr2Se2Sp2% Variance Unexplainedrc95% Credibility Interval
Lower boundaryUpper boundary
  1. Note:r is the sample-weighted average, Sr2 is the variance of observed coefficients, Se2 is the variance due to sampling error, Sp2 is the variance remaining after subtracting the variance due to sampling error, and rc is the sample-weighted average correcting for unreliability of measurement. Credibility intervals were computed from weighted average corrected for unreliability of measurement. Δav (average internal consistency reliability coefficients) for the outcomes are: .85 for general adjustment, .89 for interaction adjustment, .87 for work adjustment, .80 for strain, .84 for job satisfaction, .83 for organisational commitment, .81 for performance, and .73 for turnover intent.

General adjustmentInteraction adjustment102,0890.450.03590.00300.032991.57%0.520.520.59
Work adjustment112,1560.330.04010.00410.036089.82%0.400.390.47
Strain 2227−0.260.01270.00770.005039.27%−0.31−0.33–0.31
Job satisfaction 36790.190.01100.00410.006962.67%
OC 38960.070.04140.00330.038191.99%
Performance 22920.130.06000.00660.053488.95%
Turnover intent 4899−0.15−0.03500.00430.0000 0.00%−0.20−0.21−0.20
Interaction adjustmentWork adjustment 81,5080.340.00360.00410.0000 0.00%0.390.380.39
Strain 2227−0.250.00340.00770.0000 0.00%−0.28−0.29−0.29
Job satisfaction 36790.180.00110.00410.0000 0.00%
OC 38960.060.00180.00330.0000 0.00%
Performance 22920.170.01100.00650.004641.40%
Turnover intent 3679−0.160.00790.00420.003746.94%−0.27−0.28−0.26
Work adjustmentJob satisfaction 36790.360.00380.00340.000410.51%0.410.400.42
OC 24440.220.00180.00410.0000 0.00%
Performance 22920.400.04000.00490.035187.80%0.460.450.47
Turnover intent 2720−0.140.02270.00270.020088.16%−0.18−0.18−0.17
StrainJob satisfaction 3518−0.390.010.00420.001323.70%−0.48−0.47−0.48
OC 11230.180.04000.00000.030092.00%
Performance 2241−−0.16−0.14−0.17
Turnover intent 35180.240.000.00520.0000 0.00%0.380.390.36
Job satisfactionOC 49570.400.22270.00300.219798.66%0.470.460.90
Performance 22410.230.25000.00750.242597.00%
Turnover intent 4799−0.450.00370.00320.000512.34%−0.57−0.58−0.57
Org commitmentPerformance 11230.430.04000.00000.020088.00%0.310.550.77
Turnover intent 4744−0.33430.03350.00430.029287.26%−0.45−0.46−0.44
Outcome: PerformanceTurnover intent 2227−0.380.08410.00650.077692.32%−0.51−0.52−0.49

The measurement model had a χ2 (5, N = 1,010) = 81.72, p < .05. Although this was significant, it must be noted that the chi-square statistic is sensitive to sample size such that with a large enough sample, even a model that reproduces that observed correlations quite well will yield a significant χ2.Other fit indices such as root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA= .12), goodness-of-fit index (GFI= .98), and comparative fit index (CFI= .95) indicated the measurement model has reasonably good fit. The whole model (measurement and structural model combined) likewise displayed good fit. However, the path between strain and intent to leave (β= .01) was neither statistically nor practically significant. This path was removed and the more parsimonious model tested (Figure 2). The fit indices of the revised model indicated good fit with χ2 (13, N= 1,010) = 90.69, p < .05, and RMSEA= .07; GFI= .98, CFI= .96.


Figure 2. Revised model of expatriate outcomes.

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The revised model showed moderate relationships of adjustment with strain and job satisfaction. This was consistent with conceptual models of adjustment (Black, Mendenhall, & Oddou, 1991; Aycan, 1997). However, the model went beyond existing models in establishing the relationship between primary (adjustment) and secondary outcomes (strain, job satisfaction, organisational commitment, performance, and turnover intent). Among the various outcomes, the weakest relationships were between strain and organisational commitment and between organisational commitment and intent to leave the assignment (β= .09). The strongest relationships were between job satisfaction and organisational commitment (β= .66) and between organisational commitment and performance (β= .46).

Although the fit of the model was fairly robust, the variance of the outcomes explained by the model was somewhat modest. Squared multiple correlations were R2 = .29 for strain, R2= .14 for job satisfaction, R2= .38 for organisational commitment, R2= .35 for performance, and R2= .33 for turnover intent. This was not unexpected, however, because there are many other factors that would influence outcomes such as job satisfaction, performance, and turnover intent. Despite this limitation, the model is important because it highlights the importance of adjustment and its impact on other work outcomes among expatriates.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  10. Appendix

An obvious limitation of this review stems from the relatively low number of studies that focus on expatriates. Given the increasing interest in globalisation and the cost and value of expatriation, it is surprising that there have not been more solid empirical studies conducted on expatriates. This may reflect, in part, the difficulty of collecting data for international research.

A second limitation of this study is related to the interdependence of samples. Of the 37 studies, eight were by the same group of authors (Black, Gregersen, and colleagues.). To the extent that studies had any overlapping samples, correlation coefficients from a more limited number of studies were cited. However, there is the danger of interdependence that results in the over-weighting of some studies in the estimation of the relationship between the predictors and the outcomes.

This study developed and tested a model of the relationship between expatriate outcomes using meta-analytic findings. Also related to the small number of studies, two correlations (between organisational commitment with both strain and performance) were based on a single study (Rehany, 1994). The inclusion of these correlation coefficients was necessary to generate and test a model describing the relationship among expatriation outcomes. More studies measuring these variables are necessary to establish the relationships between these variables.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  10. Appendix

This review has several implications for both research and practice.

Research Implications

The increasing number of studies that seek to establish the empirical relationship between predictors and criterion outcomes indicate the extent to which expatriation research has developed in the past 20 years. The increased use of reliable instruments in measuring the outcomes also increases the confidence in the quality of the results.

There remain, however, many gaps in the studies that may be addressed in future research. The first is the dearth of studies that utilise reference data or control groups to which expatriates may be compared. One sort of comparison group would be people who experienced job changes but not changes that included expatriate assignments. There are many unanswered questions that may be addressed by the use of control or comparison groups. How different is the adjustment process of domestic job-changers vs. expatriates? Are there differences in the factors that predict success of domestic job-changers versus that of expatriates? What are the differences in work outcomes of domestic relocators vs. expatriates when measured during the same time frame on the new assignment?

Another weakness of the studies on expatriates is the over-reliance on cross-sectional rather than longitudinal designs. Only three of the 37 studies reviewed utilized longitudinal designs (Caligiuri, Hyland, Joshi, & Bross, 1998; Fisher & Shaw, 1994; Ruben & Kealey, 1979). This is unfortunate because cross-culture adjustment is a dynamic process with many authors describing the pattern in terms of a U-curve (Adler, 1975; Black & Mendenhall, 1991). Longitudinal designs are also important because the salience of certain predictors may vary in time and some factors may be more important at the onset of an assignment than later in the adjustment process.

Still another issue related to research design is common method variance. Common method variance problems can result when individuals generate responses that are systematically correlated because the sample people provide information on both the independent and dependent variables. Although this issue is pervasive in field research in the social sciences, it is particularly salient when measuring variables that are more susceptible to perceptual bias, such as self-rated family adjustment and job performance. For example, although the relationship between expatriate and family adjustment was fairly robust, the high correlation must be interpreted with caution. Although spousal adjustment was measured by obtaining ratings from spouses, two studies that measured family adjustment relied on the expatriates themselves to report their family's level of adjustment (Cathcart, 1996; Black, 1988). Thus, some of the average correlations may have be over-estimated and influenced by response set bias.

The studies focused on a variety of outcomes; however, there are still outcomes salient to expatriates that have not been thoroughly researched such as commitment to the local organisation. Commitment in these studies was measured as commitment to the parent organisation rather than to the expatriate's local unit. This may account for its weak relationship with the intention to leave the local unit. Although commitment to the parent organisation is an important outcome, Boxberger (1997) notes that expatriates often feel as though they are just passing through their country of assignment rather than viewing themselves as part of the local operation's long-term development. Given that the level of commitment to the local organisation may influence the success of the expatriate, it is important that more research focus on commitment to the local organisation. In addition, although the findings on turnover intent are useful, an important piece of the puzzle is missing—actual turnover. This is important, given findings that turnover intent is only a moderate predictor of turnover behavior (Kirschenbaum & Weisberg, 1990). Unfortunately, only one of the studies reviewed sought to obtain data on actual turnover (Guzzo, Noonan, & Elron, 1994). However, only three of the 131 initial sample were unambiguous cases of retention, and therefore, turnover data were excluded from their analysis. Black and Gregersen (1990) had earlier reported difficulty in obtaining hard data because most American multinational firms’ reports of expatriate turnover are very inadequate.

There are also many questions that remain unanswered with regard to expatriation and its outcomes. How do the individual, family, organisational, and environmental factors identified fit into the model of expatriate outcomes that was developed and tested? Are the relationships between the predictors and expatriate outcomes moderated by variables such as nationality of the expatriate or nature of assignment? Are there significant differences in predictors of expatriate vs. domestic job-changer success? Clearly, finding the answers to these questions will require more studies with sound research designs.

Implications for Practice

An often-cited application of expatriate research has been in the area of expatriate selection. Ironically, one-half of multinational companies don’t have structured procedures for selecting expatriates, 92 per cent rely on manager recommendations, and fewer than 10 per cent of companies use any type of testing or screening (Human Resource Institute, 1998). Perhaps one reason for the lack of structure in the selection process is the lack of empirical evidence of what predictors should be used. There appears to be a heavy reliance on technical skills as the basis for choosing expatriates (Schell & Solomon, 1996). Although technical skills may be important when the goal of the assignment is to transfer skills, this review also underscores the importance of factors other than technical abilities such as individual and family factors.

Given the importance of the family adjustment on the different outcomes, it is important to provide adequate assistance and support to expatriates and their families. A recent Berlitz/PHH International Relocation study found that three-quarters of respondents rated spouse counseling and spouse career support as important resources. However, 79 per cent of the firms surveyed did not provide these services. As a result, many expatriates said they felt their spouses and children were generally forgotten (Martinez, 1997). It is important for organisations to treat the expatriate's spouse as part of a team and provide families with adequate support in relocation issues such as relocation, spouse's job search, housing, and health care. Expatriate spouses also often have extensive contact with host nationals. Companies can assist them by providing them with language training and arranging company-sponsored socials to facilitate their interaction with host nationals. Just as it is important for expatriates to maintain communications with their home office, it is also important for the expatriate's family to keep in touch with family and friends back home. This can be facilitated if organisations provide family members with e-mail, long distance access, or home visits.

Job design, particularly characteristics such as role conflict, ambiguity, and discretion all emerged as important predictors of work adjustment. Expatriate assignments are often marred by policy and procedural conflicts that occur between the parent company and its foreign operations (Black & Gregersen, 1990). Allowing expatriates to harness their discretionary powers and providing them the opportunity to clarify expectations to reduce conflicting job demands are some ways that organisations can facilitate expatriates’ adjustment to their work assignment.

The results also highlight the importance of frequent interactions with host nationals in facilitating adjustment. Many expatriates have the propensity to interact only with other expatriates rather than with host nationals. Although the social support received from other expatriates will certainly be helpful, host nationals are best equipped to provide information that will reduce uncertainty and facilitate adjustment to the host culture. Organisations can facilitate such interaction by encouraging expatriates to live outside expatriate communities or through job designs that require regular interaction with host nationals. There are other ways that organisations can foster such interaction. Companies may, for example, provide expatriates with a sponsor who is a host national. Not unlike the mentoring described earlier, local sponsors can help the expatriate network with host country nationals.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  10. Appendix

This review and meta-analysis sought to determine the individual, job, environmental, and family-related variables that predict expatriate adjustment. Although the number of high quality empirical studies using expatriate samples makes it difficult to make robust conclusions, this study makes several significant contributions to current knowledge. First, it provides strong empirical support for the importance of factors such as interpersonal skills, self-efficacy, role discretion, role ambiguity, role conflict, frequency of interaction with host nationals, culture novelty, and family adjustment for the development of expatriate adjustment. The use of meta-analytic results in structural modeling of relationships among the expatriate outcomes also captures the expatriation processes that are not shown in the individual studies.


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  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  10. Appendix
Table Appendix:.  Study Characteristics
AuthornNationalityLocationJob level% MaleAve. AgeMethodologyTiming
1. Black & Gregersen (1990) 77AmericanJapanmanagers10046surveyon assignment
2. Black & Gregersen (1991)220AmericanAsiamanagers 9444surveyon assignment
3. Black & Stephens (1989)220AmericanAsiamanagers 9442surveyon assignment
4. Black (1990) 67JapaneseUSAmanagers10043surveyon assignment
5. Stening & Hammer (1992)a 123JapaneseThailandmanagers10041surveyon assignment
6. Stening & Hammer (1992)b 62AmericanJapanmanagers10046surveyon assignment
7. Stening & Hammer (1992)c  36AmericanThailandmanagers10046surveyon assignment
8. Stening & Hammer (1992)d  70JapaneseUSAmanagers10042surveyon assignment
9. Li (1995)104MixedAsiamanagers 83 surveyon assignment
10. Black (1988) 67JapaneseUSAmanagers10046surveyon assignment
11. Dunbar (1992)149  managers  surveyon assignment
12. Cathcart (1996) 31AmericanMexicomanagers 95 interviewon assignment
13. Caligiuri, Hyland, Joshi, & Bross (1998)110MixedMixedmanagers 9538interviewpre-departure & 6–9 mos on assignment
14. Rehany (1994)123CanadianJapanmanagers 9241surveyon assignment
15. Shaffer & Harrison (1998)452MixedMixedmanagers 8943surveyon assignment
16. Parker & McEvoy (1993)169MixedMixed  5736surveyon assignment
17. Hawes & Kealey (1981)160CanadianMixed   surveyon assignment
18. Naumann (1993)152AmericanAsiamanagers 8838surveyon assignment
19. Armes & Ward (1988) 61MixedSingapore  4139surveyon assignment
20. Gregersen & Black (1996)173JapaneseMixedmanagers 9938survey1 yr. after assignment
21. Ruben & Kealey (1979) 14CanadianKenyatechnical  survey1–3 and 8–10 months on assignment
22. Bhuian & Al-Jabri (1996)504MixedSaudi Arabiamixed  surveyon assignment
23. Birdseye & Hill (1995)115MixedMixedmanagers 87 surveyon assignment
24. Feldman & Thomas (1992)110MixedMixedmanagers 9845surveyon assignment
25. Schneider (1997) 90MixedChinamixed 85 interviewon assignment
26. Fisher & Shaw (1994) 99AmericanMixedmixed   Pre-departure & after 3mos on assignment
27. Gregersen & Black (1992)321AmericanAsiamanagers 9545surveyon assignment
28. Gregersen & Black (1990)220AmericanAsiamanagers 9545surveyon assignment
29. Guzzo, Nooman, & Elron (1994)148MixedMixed  9343surveyon assignment
30. Harrison, Chadwick, & Scales (1996) 99 Europe83% managers 6245surveyon assignment
31. Kealey (1989)277CanadianMixed   interview & surveyon assignment
32. Naumann (1991)157AmericanAsia92% managers 92 surveyon assignment
33. Turcotte (1996)104CanadianMixedmixed 8843surveyon assignment
34. Downes (1997)230AmericanMixed75% managers 92 surveyon assignment
35. Lovingood (1995)205MixedUSAmanagers 84 surveyon assignment
36. Nieves (1997)181AmericanCA, Chile & Mexicomixed 6444surveyon assignment
37. Caligiuri (1995)143MixedMixed  8340surveyon assignment
38. Sinangil & Ones (1997)220MixedTurkeymixed 4133surveyon assignment
39. Deller (1997) 36German & AustrianKoreamanagers10043surveyon assignment
40. Caligiuri (1997)115MixedMixedmanagers 8240surveyon assignment
41. Caligiuri (2000)143AmericanMixed  8340surveyon assignment
42. Garonzik, Brockner, & Siegel (2000)128MixedMixedmanagers 9537surveyon assignment