Relocate Awards Winners Announced

Winner of the 2019 Relocate Award for Best Research Contribution – Academic Research

Above: Anne Diana Lessle

Award Winner: Anne Diana Lessle

Anne Lessle’s research into expatriate spouse adjustment won the Relocate Academic Research Award. The judges praised this “robust research contribution” for its rigour, depth and detail, commenting, “These new research findings provide information on adjustment issues over time, with important practical applicability for firms trying to reduce expatriate failure through spousal difficulties that span the entire relocation period abroad.”

Expatriate spousal adjustment has long been identified as critical for expatriation success, yet there are few systematic studies that focus on spousal adjustment over time. This academic research study set out to understand how spousal adjustment unfolds over long-term assignments of two to five years. It examined three adjustment dimensions: cognitive, affective and behavioural. Using a qualitative research design based on multiple case studies, the researcher analysed the blog posts offe male expatriate spouses who relocated from Western cultures. The data from online narratives was enriched with information collected via questionnaires and through unstructured interviews.

The Five Stages of Adjustment 

The results suggested that cognitive, affective and behavioural adjustment develops in five stages: arrival, orientation, feeling at home, in limbo and departure. In each stage, a number of themes emerged for each adjustment dimension.

The Cognitive, Affective and Behavioural Adjustment of Expatriate Spouses 

By analysing cognitive, affective and behavioural adjustment separately, the results showed that at each stage a certain dimension is more important to be addressed than the others. For example, cognitive adjustment has to take place before behavioural adjustment, whereas affective adjustment is situational. The judges recognised the importance of these five stages and three dimensions, commenting, “The study adds value through reporting on the lived experiences of expatriate spouses in a longitudinal study set within the 3D model of adjustment.” The judges stressed the added value of the research coming from this study being carried out longitudinally, as its findings enable organisations to
target actions at specific times over which
expatriation takes place. Longitudinal studies are
rare given the time constraints under which research is usually conducted.

The research suggests that training interventions and psychological support can be tailored towards the various adjustment stages that the spouse experiences when on assignment. In turn, these can aid employee retention and make expatriation a more effective instrument to support globalisation and employee development. Appropriate design of spousal support can also help to attract and support talent, as well as the building a global talent pool. By making expatriation a positive experience, employees may be more likely to accept additional foreign assignments. The results also suggest that activities such as language and cultural training, home visits and psychological support might be tailored and delivered in alignment with the adjustment trajectories and, therefore, be more effective.

Putting the Findings Into Practice 

The research leads to a number of recommendations for practice. First, it suggests that expatriate spouses should be included in communications pre-relocation to enable HR professionals to gain a better understanding of their likely adjustment challenges. Second, that expatriate spouses should be provided with networking opportunities in the new location. For example, organisations could establish a monthly newcomers’ roundtable or arrange buddy systems where a new arrival can connect with an experienced spouse. Third, it is recommended that organisational support be extended to include psychological support in the form ofcounselling, especially at the orientation stage where spouses report loneliness and lack of purpose. Assistance at this point is critical, as negative views towards expatriation can build up and lead to termination of the assignment.

Summing up, the judges said, “The insights of this study can be used to tailor spouse support packages and help employee retention, and the longitudinal timeline provides a new insight into spousal adjustment.”