Social Support and Life‐Domain Interactions among Assigned and Self‐Initiated Expatriates

Author:Felix Ballesteros Leiva, Gwénaëlle Poilpot‐Rocaboy, Sylvie St‐Onge
Publication Date:01 Sep 2018
Social Support and Life-Domain Interactions
among Assigned and Self-Initiated Expatriates
Département de Management, HEC-Montréal, Canada
IGR-IAE de Rennes, Université de Rennes 1, France, CREM-CNRS
Based upon conservation of resources theory,this study is the first to explore (1)the relations between life-domain
support received by internationally mobile employees (IMEs) from their organization, supervisors, coworkers, and
family and friends and their life-domain conflicts and enrichments in two directions: work life personal life
(WL PL) and personal life work life (PL WL) and (2) whether these links are different between assigned
expatriates (AEs) and self-initiated expatriates (SIEs). The questionnaire data were collected from 182 SIEs and
102 AEs. Resultsfrom multivariate analysesshow that (1) the moreIMEs perceive receivinglife-domain support from
their family and friends and their organization, the less they report life-domain conflicts and (2) the more IMEs
perceive receiving life-domain support from their coworkers, the more they report life-domain enrichments. Finally,
it appears that AEsperceived life-domain organizational support is positively related to their perceived WL PL
enrichmentsand that SIEsperceived life-domain coworkersupport is negatively relatedto their life-domain conflicts
in both directions.
Keywords: life-domain interactions; social support; assigned expatriates; self-initiated expatriates;work and family
Many environmental changes have increased
organizationsdemand for internationally mobile
employees (IMEs) to be able to trade competitively and
to transfer know-how and management values abroad
(Andresenand Biemann, 2013; Baruch et al., 2013). From
an employers perspective, the successful management of
IMEs is crucial, given thehigh financial and human costs
of their premature returns (breaches of job contracts),
stress, dissatisfaction, or even low performance that
damages relations with business partners (Selmer and
Lauring, 2014; Kempen et al., 2015). From an individual
perspective, international mobility success is also
important for IMEs since their premature return and
expatriation failure generate various negative impacts
with respect to their compensation, self-confidence, and
family relationships (Fischlmayr and Kollinger, 2010;
Kempen et al., 2015). Going abroad creates pressures on
IMEslife-domain interactions (Richardson, 2006;
Schütter and Boerner, 2013; Rosenbusch et al., 2015),
all the more so as most of them are accompanied by a
partner or a family (Shaffer et al., 2001). Challenges come
from the need to adjust to a new institutional contextwith
a different culture and language, new education, daycare
and healthcare systems, and working conditions
characterized by higher complexity, ambiguity, load,
temporal pressure, excessive traveling, inflexible working
hours and reduced time to spend with family members
(Grant-Vallone and Ensher, 2001; Fischlmayr and
Kollinger, 2010; Lazarova et al., 2010; Richardson
et al., 2015; Rosenbusch et al., 2015). Additional
challenges arise for all IMEsfamily members such as
safety fears, thechildrens anguish and u ncertainty related
to identity formation, the breakup of friendships and the
disruption of schooling, or to the partnersmoodwhen
the partner has lost a job but also forgone a career,
financial independence, and extended family support
(Lazarova et al., 2010).
Studies confirm the necessary adaptations regarding
life-domain levels arising from working abroad to reduce
stress, ill-being, dissatisfaction, and poor relations among
IMEs and their family (Selmer and Lauring, 2014;
Kempen et al., 2015; Ballesteros-Leiva et al., 2017).
Surprisingly, interactions between IMEslife domains
have attracted scant attention from scholars to date
Correspondence: Sylvie St-Onge, Département de Management, HEC-
Montréal,Canada. E-mail
European Management Review, Vol. 15, 293313, (2018)
DOI: 10.1111/emre.12149
©2017 European Academy of Management
(Grant-Vallone and Ensher, 2001; Kempen et al., 2015;
Richardson et al., 2015). Previous studies have focused
rather on IMEsadaptation, adjustment, or integration in
their host country (Shaffer et al., 2001). This study aims
to fill this gap by investigating IMEslife-domain support
and their life-domain interactions (Kraimer and Wayne,
2004; Mäkelä and Suutari, 2011).
This study is innovative in many respects. First, this is
the only study to explore the respective and relative
influences of life-domain support IMEsreceive from their
employer, their supervisor, their coworkers, and their
family members and friends upon their life-domain
interactions. We innovate by using conservation of
resources (COR) theory (Hobfoll, 1989,2002) and recent
theoretical work linking this theory with life-domain
interactions (ten Brummelhuis and Bakker, 2012). In
addition, the study applies the resource scarcity (that is,
life-domain conflicts) and the resource expansion (that
is, life-domain enrichments) perspectives and takes into
account different directions of interaction between life
domains in response to scholarscall (e.g., Schütter and
Boerner, 2013; Mäkelä and Suutari, 2015b). Finally, this
study is the first to examine whether these links are
different between two heterogeneous groups of IMEs
(Andresen et al., 2015): assigned expatriates (AEs), who
are sent by their home employer to international posts,
and self-initiated expatriates (SIEs), who seek
employment abroad on their own initiative and are hired
as local employees in the host country. Considering the
particular characteristics of these two types of IMEs
(Andersen et al., 2012) and the fact that SIEs have less
access to support from theiremployers than AEs (Mäkelä
and Suutari, 2015b),it is worth exploring whether the link
between social support and life-domain interactions
differs between SIEs and AEs. Exploring the differences
between these two groups is also important because the
proportion of SIEs is increasing, since their status is
considered an attractive alternative to that of traditional
corporate expatriates upon whom previous studies have
largely focused (Tharenou, 2013).
This paper is organized as follows. First, we review
COR theory (Hobfoll, 1989, 2002) and we summarize
what we know about the relationship between IMEs
perceived life-domain support and their perceived life-
domain interactions. We then propose research
hypotheses on the relations between four sources of
life-domain support received by IMEs and their life-
domain interactions and the potential differences
between AEs and SIEs with regards to some of these
links. Then, the method, measures and statistical
procedures, and the results of hypothesis testing are
presented. Finally, a discussion of the results indicates
their theoretical and managerial relevance as well as
their limitations; suggestions for future research are
In this paper, we use the term personal liferatherthan
family, in line with other researchers who prefer the
terms private life,personal life,orhome lifein order
to include all issues and activities in the domain such as
dependents, spouse, leisure, studies, or community life
(ten Brummelhuis and Bakker, 2012; Kempen et al.,
2015). Similarly, we use the expression work liferather
than workto include all issues and activities in the
domain such as work responsibilities, relations at work,
traveling, representing the organization in the community,
or receiving coworkers at home.
Literature review
To date, many researchers have investigated the link
between various forms or sources of life-domain support
and life-domain interactions among domestic employees.
In this section, we first present conservation of resources
(COR) theory and recent theoretical work linking this
theory with life-domain interactions. Second, we review
the outcome of these studies among domestic employees,
and then we summarize the few theoretical texts and
studies dealing with the links between the IMEshome-
domain support received from various sources and their
life-domain interactions. Finally, we present our research
hypotheses and other links we intend exploring without
proposing any expected relationships.
Life-domain social support from the perspective of the
conservation of resources (COR) theory
According to COR theory, people strive to acquire,
maintain, protect,and build resources since havinggreater
resources increases their ability to solve problems and
reduces the likelihood of having their well-being
negatively affected by the drain of resources that occurs
during stressful situations (Hobfoll, 1989). Resources
might be defined as things that people value, with an
emphasis on objects, states, conditions, and other things
(Hobfoll, 1989: 519), as anything perceived by the
individual to help attain his or her goals(Halbesleben
et al., 2014: 1338) or as those objects (e.g., a house),
personal characteristics (e.g., optimism), conditions (e.g.,
marriage), or energies (e.g., time, money, or physical
energy) that are valued by the individual or serve as a
means for the attainment of these objects, personal
characteristics, conditions, or energies(ten Brummelhuis
and Bakker, 2012: 547). COR theory posits that those
with greater resources are less vulnerable to resource loss
and more capable of orchestrating resource gain.
Conversely, those with fewer resources are more
vulnerable to resource loss and less capable of resource
gain(Hobfoll, 2001: 349).
This first main postulate of COR theory is in line with
what role theory or the life-domain literature call the
294 F. Ballesteros-Leiva et al.
©2017 European Academy of Management

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