Human Resource Management Essay

Human Resource Management Essay

Given the ever-increasing internationalization of business, the question of managing highly mobile workforce has come to the fore. The aim of this paper is to explore various challenges encountered by human resource managers responsible for accommodating expatriate professionals. Harvey and Buckley (1998) provide an insightful summary of the extant research on major problems in the area of human resource management associated with expatriate workers, i.e. their unwillingness to relocate, tendency to return home early, lower effectiveness on foreign assignments, higher turnover rate, and expensiveness in comparison to domestic counterparts.

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As concerns actual difficulties encountered by managers during the period of expatriation, Seak and Enderwick (2008) list several most important ones, namely communication (reported as the most problematic by the participant of their study of New Zealand expatriates in China), spousal and family adjustment, training staff, cultural ambiguity, integrating cross-functional skills, and personal adjustment (reported as the least problematic out of all the aforementioned difficulties). Such problems are exacerbated if a high degree of cultural difference between expatriate’s home and host country is present. For example, in case of China, “cultural complexities and distinct living conditions create challenges for cross-cultural adaptation and the management of expatriates and their families” (Seak & Enderwick 2008, p. 1298). As a consequence, China has one of the highest expatriate failure rates in the world, up to 80 per cent (Stuttard 2000; cited in Seak & Enderwick 2008). It is not only the overall cultural environment that matters but also the degree of similarity/dissimilarity between corporate cultures of sending and receiving organizations: “[t]he greater the ‘fit’ between the two organizations’ cultures the less uncertainty and anxiety the expatriate manager will normally face” (Milliman et al. 1991; cited in Harvey & Buckley 1998, p. 104).

There are many areas of expatriate management that can be improved. Seak and Enderwick (2008) make an interesting suggestion that the first step towards successful management of expatriates is more careful selection. Nowadays, there is a variety of factors at play in choosing employees to be sent to overseas assignments, like relevant experience, language skills, academic background, and previous success. However, more attention should be paid to such personal characteristics of expatriates as cross-cultural skills and perhaps people and relationships skills, since countries that receive most expatriates (e.g. those in Asia, Latin America, or former Soviet Union) are usually characterized by a high degree of importance of interpersonal relationships in business.

One more issue that is often overlooked is pre-departure training. Seak and Enderwick (2008) argue it should not focus solely on language training and business briefing but also on intercultural skills. Moreover, pre-departure programmes should be available to accompanying family members. Yet another area that needs significant improvement is communication with employees on foreign assignments. Expatriates often feel neglected by their organization and out of touch with their colleagues and supervisors in the home country. Thus, more regular parent company contact and support is needed; care can take a variety of forms, from financial provision to functional support aimed at enhancing expatriate effectiveness (Seak and Enderwick 2008).

Upon return, expatriates are facing two major challenges: the task of integrating acquired experience into the organization’s knowledge base and of successful repatriation and reestablishment of social and professional ties. In order to help returning expatriates cope with the first challenge, de-briefing procedures on their learning experience should be in place. More than a half of respondents in Seak and Enderwick’s (2008) study reported not being given an opportunity to offer feedback or share their experiences with their parent organization. Seak and Enderwick (2008) strongly advocate that organizations should recognize the potential of expatriate experience-sharing as a powerful knowledge transfer mechanism. However, capitalizing on expatriate experience implies changing learning attitudes on the part of parent organizations: short- rather than long-term focus results in a perception of expatriates as necessary to merely support daily operations abroad rather than agents of knowledge transfer. Experience-sharing can also be the first step toward tackling the second challenge of reestablishing social connections and re-integrating into home country’s culture (by means of reflecting on commonalities and differences between the two countries).

Adding to the complexity is the issue of dual-career couples. In the past, due to the patterns of access to high-profile positions in a patriarchic society, it was usually male partner being offered a position abroad and his female spouse accompanying him (in the literature, such spouses are referred to as “trailing spouses”). When the aforesaid was the case, the main task of human resource managers was to assist accompanying spouses with accommodation and establishing social networks in the new locality. This task was not an easy one, given its high importance for success of expatriate managers. Coming back to Seak and Enderwick’s (2008) study, spousal and family adjustment has been reported as the second most problematic area for expatriates after communication, while personal adjustment has been cited as the least problematic.

Nowadays, however, the mission of human resource is far more complicated. Dual-career couples are likely to be more resistant to relocation and have problems adjusting to new environments. The trailing spouse might be unable to find a meaningful job in the destination country, which translates into the negative consequences of discontinuation of the trailing spouse’s career and loss of income. Repatriation for such spouses is compounded with the need to restart careers and reestablish professional connections.

The importance of developing social support system for dual-career couples, as explained by Harvey and Buckley (1998), is associated with the fact that the “spillover” of tension from professional realm to family unit in turn has a negative effect on the professional’s performance. Alleviating stress associated with international relocation and creating conditions for both spouses to thrive in the new environment is the primary goal of a human resource manager in a global company.

The first step towards creating such conditions is to provide a full account of variables influencing dual-career couples’ willingness to take on international assignments and their success following relocation. These variables are gender of trailing spouse, continuation or discontinuation of trailing spouse’s employments, stage of career life-cycle, and stage of family life-cycle. Effective programmes should be in place to address unique needs of expatriating dual career couples (Harvey & Buckley, 1998). Nowadays, support for accompanying spouses is mostly provided on ad hoc basis, while there is a clear and consistent need to design corporate guidelines and offer continuous support to both expatriate managers and their families.

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