Extreme expatriation: the challenge of newly emerging economies

Organisations expanding their operations into newly industrialising and emerging economies face several challenges, as there is typically a lack of expatriate infrastructure in place. Dr Sue Shortland highlights some of the key issues to be aware of.

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International mobility into newly industrialising and emerging economies presents several difficulties for relocated employees and their families. Worksites can be geographically remote with limited road/rail infrastructures and such destinations may also lack good housing, healthcare and security. Given these issues, the pattern of international mobility may require fly-in, fly-out arrangements, such as unaccompanied rotational working where assignees spend a certain amount of time on-shift, followed by time off with their families who remain at home.Working in remote and isolated geographical locations usually commands expatriate premiums or other additional monetary incentives – particularly if the environment requires assignees to relocate on single-status assignments. Relocating employees may feel that monetary incentives outweigh the disadvantages of extreme social, location and environmental issues, although it is important to factor in potential stress resulting from family separation.Financial compensation is also no substitute for good security arrangements and access to necessary healthcare. Organisations must consider the security, health and wellbeing of their employees and ensure that emergency evacuation procedures are in place to deal with medical emergencies and any political unrest.

Camps and compounds

Where family members do accompany the assignee on long-term assignments into remote or potentially insecure environments, this may require them to live in expatriate compounds. These are constructed to provide an enclosed community, offering security and a relatively comfortable family life. Organisations planning to offer accompanied mobility into newly industrialising but remote locations will need to consider the provision of housing and appropriate services tailored to family needs on-site.Spring Issue 2020 out nowIf children are accompanying the employee/partner on assignment, local schooling will necessary. In addition, appropriate medical care will need to be made available within the compound environment or access to external providers needs to be facilitated.Camp and compound living results in a restrictive environment where work and social lives overlap. Research has indicated that being part of culturally similar groups with shared norms and values can help provide a familiar environment in which to build friendships. Being part of  ‘in-groups’ is also a feature of camp and compound living important to managing work and social relationships. Behavioural norms apply to the lifestyle of the camp or compound and newcomers are expected to follow these; exclusion from such networks can be extremely socially isolating. Employees and family members should be encouraged to join social groups, with networking facilitated.Camps differ in their social ethos from established expatriate compounds. Camps infer more temporary living arrangements and they are not usually inhabited by expatriates on accompanied long-term assignments. Regular shift changeovers result in personnel servicing operations changing frequently and so it can be more difficult for individuals to build stable social relationships within a changing mix of employees. Shift patterns can involve long hours of work, which can also limit opportunities for building friendships.
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Challenges for women assignees

It is also notable that in remote environments, camps and compounds can present highly gendered settings – the workforce is predominantly male. Where families accompany assignees, spouses/partners are usually non-working females. Couples may experience social difficulties when the lead working career is held by the woman and a male partner accompanies her, but does not work. For example, accompanying male partners of women expatriates may feel overwhelmed within female-dominated in-compound women’s support groups.Single women can also find it difficult socially when taking on solo assignments in such masculine workplace environments. For example, research within expatriate compounds has shown that women expatriates have been found to lead separate lives from female spouses/partners, lacking access to the female support groups that cater specifically for wives and children. Solo women assignees often face loneliness if they are unable to build friendships within the predominantly male workforce.Academic research has shown that men are more likely to accept assignments in developing countries with a limited expatriate infrastructure than women, due to men’s greater levels of‘sensation-seeking’. Women can face more challenges than men, with greater local cultural restrictions placed on their working and social lives. For example, in some destinations with masculine cultures, female expatriates may have to modify their behaviour and appearance to a greater extent than men.Developing friendships with male host country employees may result in women assignees experiencing social stigma. Female assignees working in some developing locations may have fewer options than their male colleagues to build friendships with local people, as this is not considered to be culturally appropriate.These issues by no means suggest that women should not be encouraged to undertake assignments in such locations. Rather, organisations should consider additional social support for female assignees. Despite the challenges of undertaking assignments in developing locations, these can bring significant rewards in terms of personal and professional development for women. This leads not only to positive career outcomes for women, but also enhanced expatriate diversity for their employing organisations with all the benefits that this brings.

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The importance of organisational support

Organisational support is crucial for expatriation into newly developing countries and remote regions. Publicising this is also likely to be of increased significance to individuals’ decisions to accept an assignment. Employers should make efforts to provide and communicate fair financial rewards, appropriate support and the career benefits that flow from a meaningful and interesting job.In an expatriate context, academic literature notes that organisational support comprises aid, affect and affirmation. Aid refers to assistance and/or information that address the reduction of expatriate stress. Affect relates to feelings and, in this context, refers to supportive relationships. Affirmation concerns the expatriates’ ability to cope with stress; with reaffirming relationships being particularly helpful to this.Supportive relationships can be limited by security restrictions curtailing freedom of movement from the worksite or accommodation provided. Nonetheless, social support is of particular importance to expatriates and consideration must be given as to how this may be provided by the organisation, managers, co-workers and/or family members.Social support can be addressed in-post via relationships such as mentoring, coaching and networking. Mentoring helps to provide career enhancement; coaching gives a highly personalised form of training; and networking helps to reduce social isolation, as well as offering a career development intervention.Organisational support for expatriation can also be given in the form of remuneration, allowances, benefits and preparation and training, with these factors typically being articulated within international assignment policies. However, developing country locations can have an impact on employer-provided support offered. This is because the nature of the assignment geography restricts the type of benefits that employers can provide. For instance, in remote locations, the provision of company accommodation is more likely than housing allowances.

Practical considerations

Company-provided housing is often homogenous. Furnishings and fittings all belong to the company, which can lead to a de-personalised living space. Employees and their families can be encouraged to personalise their living space by bringing with them familiar objects and small mementoes from home. This will help settling-in by creating a sense of familiarity and security. Where company-provided dining arrangements apply and employees are expected to eat in company restaurants or canteens, the provision of kitchens and social spaces to enable self-catering and the entertaining of workplace friends can help to support social relationship development.Practical support should also cover healthcare, including access to local doctors and dentists, clinics and hospitals. Medical insurance needs to be provided and communicated, with particular attention paid to emergency assistance and evacuation. Practical support might also be necessary in the form of security arrangements – these could include guards and drivers. Tax, pensions, social security and visa issues also need to be addressed, and help given to ensure compliance across a range of assignment types.While policy governing the provision of allowances and benefits to expatriates is typically determined at headquarters by human resources staff, delivery is managed locally. It is important to ensure that policy is communicated to local personnel and implemented as required by policy, tailored to the local environment.As organisations increasingly expand into new locations that lack expatriate infrastructures, consideration must be given to the practical and social support necessary for international assignees and any accompanying family members. However, as more organisations enter such environments and infrastructure begins to build, this makes the entry of new ventures easier. Nonetheless, thorough research is needed to ensure that setting up operations in a newly- industrialising or developing region is undertaken effectively and the venture is successful.

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