Expatriate Adjustment: A study of Taiwanese MNC employees in the UK

Jean Wang

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Global staffing orientations have been shown to influence expatriate adjustment outcomes. Previous studies have examined various factors influencing expatriate adjustment, but have not yielded consistent results. In order to examine the dynamic relations between the nature of expatriate roles in a host country and adjustment experiences in a host country context, this study examines the influence of MNC staffing orientations on expatriation, including international assignment conditions and work roles. In order to explore the specific adjustment issues experienced by expatriates faced with a great cultural distance between their home and host countries, it takes the case of Taiwanese expatriates in the UK as an example of MNCs from an emerging economy operating in an advanced one. To achieve this goal, this study draws on the literature on MNC international staffing policies, role theory, Nicholson’s work role transition theory and Hofstede’s culture difference and local ethnocentrism in expatriate adjustment. The empirical evidence is based on a survey and indepth individual interviews with 42 Taiwanese expatriates working in the UK and 18 of their locally hired colleagues. The study finds that the staffing orientations of Taiwanese MNCs in the UK are either based upon an ethnocentric approach – mainly found in the transport and service industry – or an inclination toward polycentric one – in the IT and electrical industry. These, in turn, differently influence the MNCs’ patterns of international assignment conditions (i.e. types of international assignment duration, expatriation ratios in foreign subsidiaries and statuses of family accompaniment). Based on these different patterns of international assignment conditions and work roles, the analysis identifies two categories of Taiwanese expatriates, henceforth labelled visitors and explorers. The data shows that visitor expatriates are typically subject to fixed international assignment durations, work in sectors (e.g. banking and transport) with relatively high expatriation ratios in local subsidiaries and are normally unaccompanied by their families. By contrast, explorer expatriates usually face open-ended international assignment durations, commonly work in sectors (e.g. IT and electrical) with low expatriation ratios in local subsidiaries and are usually encouraged to relocate their families with them to the UK. Drawing on Nicholson’s work role transition theory, which highlights different modes of adjustment in work contexts based on personal and role development, and taking inspiration from the three facets of adjustment in the acculturation and Black’s framework, in this study, the patterns of cross-cultural adjustment of visitor and explorer expatriates are explored in the three dimensions of adjustment – psychological, interaction and work – the analysis compares the work and adjustment experiences of the two categories. The study finds that visitors display an ‘inflexible’ psychological adaptation, have a ‘restricted’ interaction with their local colleagues and locals and adopt a ‘replication’ mode of work adjustment – involving low personal but high role development. Conversely, ‘explorers’ exhibit a more ‘flexible’ psychological adaptation, experience an open interaction with their local colleagues and locals and adopt an ‘exploration’ mode of work adjustment – featuring high personal and role development. This study argues that the patterns of expatriate adjustment are strongly influenced by the different expatriate roles in the host country which draw upon their different expatriation, including the specific international assignment conditions and work roles implemented. Moreover, it shows that locally hired employees play a crucial role in influencing the adjustment experiences of expatriates through their work relationships. This is especially evident in those instances which see ‘newcomers’ operating in a novel cultural environment. This study represents the first attempt to explore the unique adjustment experiences of expatriates from emerging economy MNCs operating in an advanced one. It provides important insights into the experiences of (first-generation) expatriates with open-ended assignment durations, which had not been previously examined in the literature. The study also contributes to the theories which are relevant to expatriate adjustment by demonstrating the relationships between MNC staffing policies and expatriation (i.e. international assignment conditions and work roles) and patterns of expatriate adjustment.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Lam, Alice, Supervisor
Award date1 Apr 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015

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