The JGM BitBlog: What does it take for an expatriate to work effectively and live contentedly?

Journal of Global Mobility

globalization, many organizations deploy globally mobile individuals who can establish, manage and coordinate foreign operations, expand business networks, execute projects, transfer know-how and build international capabilities across multiple geographical boundaries to support business objectives and contribute to the organization’s global competitive advantage. The bulk of these globally mobile individuals are expatriates -people who execute work outside their own country that involves a cross-border geographical relocation and legality of their employment by an organization to complete a specific task and to accomplish an organizational goal.

A currently very relevant question for both academic and globally operating organizations is: What are the competencies that expatriates require and develop for intercultural effectiveness and expatriate success?

These competencies form an expatriate’s human capital: “an individual’s unique or complementary combination of identifiable, definable and measurable interrelated knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (KSAOs), that affect the individual’s performance and potential, and can be used productively for achieving economic outcomes, such as economic value creation and achieving global competitive advantage of an organisation”.

An answer to the aforementioned question is pertinent to ensure that the expatriate can live contentedly abroad and can add value to the organisation during expatriation and after repatriation.

To answer the question guiding this inquiry into human capital of expatriates and repatriates, a qualitative study by means of interviewees, was conducted among 78 expatriates and repatriates originating from countries in Europe, North America, the Middle East, Asia, Australasia.

The qualitative research inquiry resulted in the identification of the competencies that form expatriate and repatriate human capital, categorized under five interrelated competence clusters: (i) Cultural Competence; (ii) Interpersonal Competence; (iii) Intrapersonal Competence; (iv) Global Business Competence; (v) Global Leadership Competence and one overarching competence named ‘Global and Cultural Effectiveness’, defined as “The KSAOs needed to a) adequately deal with novel and unfamiliar intercultural situations; b) make accurate attributions of the behaviour of culturally different others; c) build and maintain good working and social relationships with people in the host country; d) adequately adjust cross-culturally and experience adaptation and sociocultural acculturation; (e) effective completion of international assignment goals in a foreign context.

Mastery of these competencies was essential for respondents to have a successful, gratifying expatriate career and life, and to survive and thrive in the global business world.

These competencies, as a coherent entirety, are depicted in the inductively derived ‘Expatriate and Repatriate Human Capital Model: the body of competence’ that aids organisations in identifying, mobilizing and developing expatriates and repatriates.

For -prospective- expatriates and repatriates, the ‘Expatriate and Repatriate Human Capital Model’ is a useful self-assessment and developmental tool to assess their current level of proficiency in each of the five competence clusters and to identify areas for development before, during or after expatriation to safeguard their sustainable employability globally.

To read the full article, please see the Journal of Global Mobility publication:

Valk, R. (2021), "Working effectively and living contentedly in a foreign country: what human capital do expatriates require and develop?", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 9 No. 2, pp. 241-263.