Why international assignments end in failure? Situational factors impacting expatriate success and failure in focus.

AuthorHaile, Semere

    With the globalization of businesses, opportunities and challenges, the need for expatriates in international locations becomes a requirement. Global human resource managers need to understand and recognize the signs of potential global assignment failures and their impact on the business and long term objectives of the organization. International assignments end in failure (when defined as a premature return) because of many factors that potentially affect the adjustment of expatriates such as selection mechanisms and criteria, previous international experience, cross- cultural training, individual factors, job factors, organizational culture, organizational socialization as well as various non-work factors (Black, et al., 1991). The processes of expatriate staffing and training programs are expensive and complex, particularly when the company has to pay taxes for the parent-company employee in both countries (Deresky, 2011). Effective training programs for expatriates contributed to the growing awareness among business firms that the key to success rests with their ability to mobilize and utilize their human resources in crafting and implementing new global business strategies (Selmer & Leung, 2007). Without proper training and a realistic job preview, the expatriate will have a very hard time adjusting to his/her new surroundings (Andreason, 2008).

    In May 2008, a survey by GMAC Global Relocation identified three significant challenges facing corporations: finding suitable candidates for assignments, helping employees (and their families) complete their assignments, and retraining these employees once their assignments end. Hence, it is necessary for multinational corporations (MNCs) to discuss the career prospects of expatriates according to the needs of the company or product strategy before expatriation. In doing so, the international expatriates will be able to understand and know the direction of their employment training. In other words, international company managers can focus on providing expatriates with parent company information along with all the necessary support and help (Wang, 2008). In the past, many expatriate assignments were highly adored. Expatriates were usually assigned to relatively stable, desirable locations, received generous allowances, and often were viewed as receiving high-visibility training for corporate advancement (www.healthcare.com). Today, this trend seems to be reversed with more dissatisfaction noted with international assignments.


    Expatriate refers to foreign job assignments for a specific period of time (Wang, 2008). Many organizations that have currently succeeded in their national markets have taken their businesses globally. This globalization of businesses is increasing the demand for skilled expatriates to manage the operations of global firms (Olsen & Martins, 2009). For example, 80% of medium-sized and large-sized companies have employees abroad, and 65% expect the number to increase. Also, 54% of the expatriates are getting younger (20-39 years old up from 41%). The trend indicates that the number of women expatriates is also increasing by 21% from historical 15% (Ball et al., 2010). A survey by Mercer (2008-2009) also showed that international assignments are on the rise. This survey encompasses 243 MNCs who operate globally with 94,000 expatriates (compared to 50,000 in 2005-2006). About 47% of employees experienced an increase in the deployment of traditional expatriates. Also, there has been a 38% increase in those employees that are considered nomads who move from country to country on multiple assignments. This increased demand for international expatriate assignments has been driven by MNCs who have the desire to compete globally (Lockley, 2009). A study by the McKinsey Global Institute (2008) predicts that 75,000 business leaders will be needed in China in the...

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