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Analysis of the Job Factors That Impact Expatriates’ Work Adjustments

Nyamweya is a global researcher with many years of experience on practical research on a diversity of topics

A review of literature on the factors that impact expatriates work adjustment

1. Introduction

This chapter covers the literature review, which entails an analysis of literature provided by other scholars. The chapter will look at the job factors that impact expatriates’ work adjustments. It will first provide a definition of expatriates’ work adjustment along with its importance, after which each job factor will be studied. Then, the relationship between the job factors (role clarity, role novelty, role conflict and role discretion) and the work adjustment of expatriates will be discussed in a sequential order. Finally, the chapter will conclude the key findings from the review of different literatures.

2. Expatriates’ Work Adjustment

2.2.1 Definition and Importance of Expatriates’ Work Adjustment

According to Firth et al. (2014), work adjustment pertains to how comfortable expatriates are with their jobs. It is the level of psychological satisfaction that expatriates have with their new working environment. This adjustment includes comfort with such non-work aspects as language, transport, food, and entertainment (Firth et al., 2014). It also entails interaction adjustment, which is determined by the relationship between the expatriates and the members of the host country. This form of adjustment also involves the state of coherence that exists between the expatriates and their present situation (Dang et al., 2017). Work adjustment is an important determinant of the expatriates’ ability to perform. The two factors are positively correlated. According to Abdulmalek et al. (2015), expatriates need to be comfortable in the foreign countries where they work in order to produce results as good as they would in their home countries. Furthermore, if they are able to relate well with the employees in the new countries, they have a better chance of performing well. It is also important for the expatriates to have a cross-cultural adjustment to be comfortable enough to work in the foreign countries (Dang et al., 2017).

2.2.2 Factors Influencing Expatriates’ Work Adjustment

Work factors act as an enabler or hindrance to the adjustment of expatriates. This pertains to both domestic and international adjustment. These job factors can impact the familiarity, certainty, controllability, and predictability of the new job handed to the expatriate, and as a result, impact their adjustment. The four factors that have an influence on the adjustment of expatriates include role novelty, role conflict, role discretion, and role clarity (Kraimer et al., 2016). These four factors affect expatriate adjustment in different ways. Role conflict and role novelty often act as a hindrance to the adjustment of the expatriates. However, role clarity and role discretion enable the expatriates to adjust to their new jobs with little struggle. Role clarity is the accurate understanding of the requirements of the expatriate in their new job (Kraimer et al., 2016). Role discretion is the freedom that the expatriate has for making their own decisions without any influence (Kraimer et al., 2016). Role novelty is brought about by the differences that exist between the job roles in the previous and current workstations (Kawai & Mohr, 2015). Role conflict is caused by the incompatibility of the role expectations. In most cases, international assignments are linked with procedural and policy conflict with the parent firms (Furusawa & Brewster, 2016).

The job factors can affect the ability of the expatriates to adjust. Role clarity, for instance, can help reduce the ambiguity brought about by the new work environment. Role discretion, on the other hand, can help expatriates rely on the previously used behavioural mechanisms for minimizing the ambiguity (Kraimer et al., 2016). The uncertainties that the expatriates face with respect to their job requirements and goals are their main stressors (Furusawa & Brewster, 2016). Job clarity counters this stressor. It includes the knowledge of the expatriate’s job requirement along with a clear understanding of the expected conduct. Role discretion is also a solution to the problem of ambiguity. It is determined by the leeway that the expatriates have to perform their duties, or the level of authority than they have in making decisions that affect the job (Kraimer et al., 2016). Job conflict is also a significant problem that the expatriates face. It causes incompatibility regarding job expectations due to conflicting information about the contradictory signals that can lead to a great deal of uncertainty (Kraimer et al., 2016). This is because the expatriates are required to understand the contradictory signals, maintain the important ones, and then behave accordingly. Job novelty is caused by the perceived discrepancies between the past and present roles regarding their tasks, the required skills for their job, as well as the methods they use in performing their tasks (Kawai & Mohr, 2015).

National culture is another factor that is associated with values that increasingly determine the expatriates’ behaviour (Delle and Mensah, 2013). Referring to the value dimensions of culture as stipulated in the Hofstede cultural theory, national culture is classified into power distance, uncertainty vs. avoidance, individualism vs. collectivism, masculinity vs. femininity, short-term vs. long-term orientation and indulgence (Hofstede Insights, 2019). Specifically, for this research, the expatriates from China work in India which has different cultural setting (see figure 2-1 below), and hence their behaviour can be viewed through national culture lenses.

Figure 2-1; National culture values of China vs. India

Source: Hofstede Insights (2019)

As can be seen in the figure above, China compares favourably with India in most cultural values apart from in the individualism and long term orientation, which shows a significant difference. Regarding individualism dimension, it refers to the extent of interdependence maintained by members of a society (Princess et al., 2015). In terms of individualism, China and India has a score of 20 and 48 respectively showing that China is more of collectivist culture while India is both individualistic and collectivistic. This implies that Chinese expatriates in India are expected to maintain a balance on their work performance both at the group level and individual level in order to minimise organisatioal conflicts (Hofstede Insights, 2019). Regarding long term orientation dimension, it refers to the way society relate with its own past while facing present and past challenges (Delle and Mensah, 2013). In this, China scores higher than India indicating that Chinese expatriates considers current challenges and advantages in their jobs as rewards in the distant future, as such they are able adjust quickly regardless of the challenges they face in India.

2.3 Relationship between Role Clarity and Expatriates’ Work Adjustment

2.3.1 Role Clarity

Role clarity is a significant issue for all employees. It is important for them to understand the requirements of their jobs before they begin to work. This means that their responsibilities should be clear from the very beginning (Lynn & Kalay, 2015). Taghavi (2015) states that the activities, consequences, and expectations of a role are of great significance in the description of the business activities. The activities involved in a certain role express the most important business activity of that role. Furthermore, the consequences and expectations of a role provide contextual information that can be used in the evaluation of the activities of the role (Taghavi, 2015). The role expectations provide insight into the origin of the business activities involved along with the consequences of the activities. These three factors should be well understood by any employee to enable them to do their work as they are required to (Taghavi, 2015). Role clarity enables expatriates to assess the conditions of their jobs to determine whether or not they can work. It is of great significance that the expatriates know what is expected of them in their new jobs in order to help them effectively deal with the challenges they face in their work (Kraimer et al., 2016). If the expatriates have a vivid picture of what their job goals are, they can determine how they can achieve them (Gonzalez-Mulé, et al., 2014). Expatriates need sufficient information to know what they should do to deal with new problems and conduct their tasks. Failure to provide them with information regarding their career goals and required behaviour can lead to ineffectiveness in the performance of their jobs. This can eventually lead to the damage of their job roles (Feistritzer & Jones, 2014). In addition, the role theory shows that a low level of clarity can cause the expatriates to reduce their contribution to the performance of the organisation or come up with defensive techniques to alter job facts (Kraimer et al., 2016). Further, expatriates whose role expectations are not clear do not have the motivation to perform their tasks. The lack of role clarity makes the expatriates believe that they require more support, which makes them feel as though they are not effective enough. Therefore, role clarity enables the expatriates to manage their jobs more effectively, thus motivating them to do their work (Lankshear, et al., 2016).

Roles focus on the expectations of the expatriates as well as their behaviour towards their jobs and are the border between them and the companies for which they work. For this reason, the expatriates prefer to work in environments where they have sufficient information regarding the scope of their responsibilities (Caligiuri & Bonache, 2016). This provides them with the opportunity to perform well and fulfill their duties to the firm (Brault, et al., 2014). Additionally, expatriates with a good understanding of the objectives of their work are aware of how they can achieve them, which makes them feel effective in their jobs (Caligiuri & Bonache, 2016). With a high degree of role clarity, expatriates can come up with strategies for improving their performance and hence make decisions that are more effective. The work adjustment of expatriates can be measured through their performance (Pedersen, et al., 2016). This is because well-adjusted expatriates are able to produce the best possible results According to Wang, et al. (2016), performance can involve the operations that lead to the achievement of objectives such that their talent, capital, and time are efficiently utilized. Therefore, a successful expatriate can make steps to help the company achieve its goals and exploit the resources provided (Kraimer et al., 2016). Role clarity is also enhanced by the level of support that the expatriates receive as they perform their tasks. This may be support from their fellow employees or from the management (Wang, et al., 2016).

2.3.2 Relationship between Role Clarity and Expatriates’ Work Adjustment

Many multinational firms focus on creating a global position and providing the expatriates with a clear definition of their job requirements as they acknowledge it as a means to help them adjust to their new jobs (Taghavi, 2015). Role clarity entails the knowledge of the requirements of their job positions, which include providing the expatriate with a vividly defined set of required behaviour. Role clarity is positively linked to the expatriates’ adjustment. It is the most significant determinant of the expatriates’ work adjustment (Kauppila, 2014). Furthermore, role clarity has a positive correlation with general and interaction adjustment. As a result, it is important for companies to make sure their expatriates understand the requirements of their new jobs along with the goals (Taghavi, 2015). The expectations for the first year should not be too high for the expatriates to achieve since it may be frustrating for them. However, once they are well adjusted, the bar can be raised for them (Jenkins, 2015).

If the role clarity is low, the expatriates are likely to have a difficult time predicting the consequences of different behavior, hence reducing their capability to rely on previous behaviour to determine the appropriate conduct. In the same way, expatriates who believe that they have a high degree of job clarity are likely to experience a high level of work adjustment (Bolumole, et al., 2016). Furthermore, if the clarity is high, the expatriates are in a better position to predict the required conduct. A high level of role clarity and the high level of work adjustment also increase the effectiveness of the expatriates. This implies that the work outcomes of the expatriates are positively impacted by role clarity (Saxe, et al., 2017). Additionally, according to Li (2016), if the expatriates receive a lot of support from their managers and colleagues, they have a better understanding of what they are expected to do. This increases their performance as well as their satisfaction with their work. Job satisfaction increases the level of work adjustment (Li, 2016). In spite of the relationship established between role clarity and expatriate work adjustment, Lynn and Kalay (2015) opine that role clarity may not have a direct effect on the work performance of expatriates. This implies that its impact on their work adjustment may not be significant (Lynn & Kalay, 2015).

2.4 The Impact of Role Novelty on Expatriates’ Work Adjustment

2.4.1 Role Novelty

Yueh and Alfiyatul (2015) state that role novelty is brought about by the differences existing between the previous and past job roles. When an expatriate feels as though their job is uncertain and unpredictable, it may be hard for them to comprehend the behaviour required in the different situations they face, which can also affect their relationships with other members of the organisation (Yueh & Alfiyatul, 2015). Furthermore, when expatriates experience a high level of role novelty, they face ambiguity at work and often get involved in conflicts. In addition, role novelty causes the expatriate to get overwhelmed with work and develop a negative attitude towards the host (Ben et al., 2016). Expatriates facing a high level of role novelty are likely to have a difficult time adapting to the host culture as a result of the high unpredictability and uncertainty of the job. Role novelty, therefore, can be stressful for the expatriates (Kawai & Mohr, 2015). Furthermore, the more the job roles, the lower the levels of satisfaction and effectiveness. This makes it difficult for expatriates to adopt the host culture. The unpredictability and uncertainty brought about by role novelty can make it hard for the expatriates to get accustomed to the job situation, which can lower their self-confidence (Li-Yueh & Alfiyatul, 2015).

2.4.2 The Effect of Role Novelty on Expatriates’ Work Adjustment

Role novelty, as defined by Li (2016), is the degree to which the current job is unrelated to the previous one. Expatriates face different conflicts in their new jobs. The expatriates are required to adapt to a new culture, utilize a new set of skills and get accustomed to new behaviour since the job in the foreign country may have different requirements from that which the expatriate worked under (McNulty & Selmer, 2017). These discrepancies may be brought about by economic, social, technical, and legal factors. Expatriates have to ensure that they are in compliance with the new job regulations and policies to be effective in the new environment. Job novelty directly impacts the performance and adjustment of expatriates (Li, 2015).

According to Kawai and Mohr (2014), the transfer of employees to international branches can lead to a disruption in the employees’ routines and patterns. These disruptions affect not only their jobs but also their private lives. The disruptions lead to a burden of change and novelty. A high level of role novelty implies that the skills, methods, and tasks needed for the expatriates’ performance may be difficult for them to understand (Erogul & Rahman, 2017). The difficulty faced by the expatriates as a result of role novelty can lead to stress, which, in turn, can lead to the decline in their performance. Role novelty, however, is associated with a mixed impact on the work adjustment of employees. It is, nonetheless, mostly associated with a negative effect on the expatriates’ work adjustment (Erogul & Rahman, 2017). Li (2016) suggests that role novelty does not, in any way, affect the work adjustment of expatriates. Nevertheless, considering that role novelty can lead to a high level of uncertainty which can stress the expatriate, it is logical to presume a negative association between role novelty and expatriate work adjustment (Kawai & Mohr, 2015).

2.5 Relationship between Role Conflict and Expatriates’ Work Adjustment

2.5.1 Role Conflict

The existence of contradictory signals regarding the expectations that the expatriate should meet can lead to a rise in the uncertainty level and act as a hindrance to their work adjustment (Cleveland & Ellis, 2015). It is important for people to understand the contradictory signals well and then make a decision regarding those that they should follow and those which they need to ignore. The association between role conflict and work adjustment is negative; expatriates facing high role conflict levels are likely to have a hard time adjusting to their new jobs (Conant, 2017). Additionally, Beliasa, et al. (2015) argue that role conflicts make it difficult for expatriates to produce good results, hence reducing their effectiveness, regardless of their high level of expertise in that job. Role conflict also causes an increase in the time that expatriates take to be proficient in their work (Beliasa, et al., 2015). Work adjustment entails the satisfaction that employees have with the job as well as their capacity to perform. Therefore, exposing them to work conflicts inhibits their performance and reduces their satisfaction (Conant, 2017). Expatriates need to be satisfied with the work environment in which they operate and have the necessary support to perform well. High job conflict can affect the expatriates’ ability to be effective and to be satisfied with their work. Therefore, the impact of role conflict on the work adjustment of expatriates can be measured through their work outcome and the satisfaction they get from their jobs (Beliasa, et al., 2015).

2.5.2 The Influence of Role Conflict on Expatriates’ Work Adjustment

According to Cleveland and Ellis (2015), role conflict is one among the common problems that an expatriate faces during the initial days of their international assignment. It is important that before an expatriate begins a new job, he or she understands the tasks in the job as well as the manner in which they are conducted (Anicich & Hirsh, 2017). When they are exposed to new working environments, expatriates may be faced with conflicts that could be difficult to resolve without sufficient knowledge of the job requirements. The conflict comes with uncertainties that could affect the expatriates’ comfort with the job and ability to work effectively (Cleveland & Ellis, 2015). They should understand the conflicting signals and choose the important ones and implement the suitable behaviour. Companies have the responsibility to ensure that the expatriates are conversant with the conflicts they should expect in their jobs. High degrees of role conflict cause low work adjustment, decreasing the level of satisfaction with their work (Conant, 2017).

Conant (2017) suggests that role conflict causes vague expectations, which increase the role ambiguity that expatriates face. Thus, the role conflict leads to problems with expatriate adjustment to the new job, which reduces their satisfaction and comfort. It is important to note that role conflict entails the incompatibility of both the expectations and requirements of the job. The incompatibility of expectations and requirements can be assessed based on the performance of the expatriate (Cooper & Cooper, 2015). Role conflict is also the degree to which an employee experiences pressures in the job, which fail to match those pressures that come from the rest of their work. Role conflict is inversely correlated with the satisfaction of employees, which is a major determinant of their adjustment. The accuracy of the job requirements and the expatriate’s compliance with them increases the job satisfaction, thereby increasing the level of work adjustment (Beliasa, et al., 2015). Role conflict has a negative impact on the emotions of the expatriate. It leads to emotional exhaustion, which can deter their ability to adjust. Role conflict further causes negative emotions towards the job and in the expatriates’ interaction with colleagues. It causes such feelings as fear, anger, and anxiety (Cooper & Cooper, 2015).

Beliasa, et al. (2015) argues that role conflict is also associated with some positive effects. Expatriates who experience conflict are likely to develop a sense of openness, increase their flexibility, and find more sources of data to rely on. Expatriates may also develop effective and practical skills as a means to adjust to the challenges they face at work due to role conflict. In addition, role conflict can encourage employees to work together to resolve it, thereby unifying them and enhancing the work adjustment of expatriates (Beliasa, et al., 2015).

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2.6 Relationship between Role Discretion and Work Adjustment

2.6.1 Role Discretion

Role discretion is the freedom provided to employees to make uninfluenced decisions with regard to their work (Harzing & Pinnington, 2014). Job discretion allows employees to modify their work to themselves instead of adjusting themselves to the job. This enables them to adjust well to their work. Expatriates are likely to adjust faster if they are provided with a level of discretion to decide how their work should be done (Sia & Appu, 2015). They rely on the behavioural mechanisms they applied in their past job to reduce the uncertainties that come with their new jobs. Job discretion has a positive correlation with the satisfaction of expatriates, which is necessary for their work adjustment. Beliasa, et al. (2015) state that role discretion is the extent to which the job gives employees substantial independence, freedom, and the capacity to make plans for the way their work will be conducted. This discretion is a real structural work feature in that it strengthens the expatriate or reflects his or her desire to be supervised less and be in more control of their work (Harzing & Pinnington, 2014).

2.6.2 The Impact of Role Discretion on Expatriates’ Work Adjustment

Role discretion allows expatriates to first familiarize with the new job role and adjust it to themselves instead of adapting to the role (Sia & Appu, 2015). This implies that role discretion is the level of flexibility of the expatriate as they perform their tasks or the freedom, they have to make decisions regarding their work. According to Harzing and Pinnington (2014), role discretion gives expatriates the authority to change some factors of their jobs such that it matches their needs. This authority increases the level of satisfaction that the expatriates have with their new jobs. Role discretion also enables expatriates to produce positive outcomes in their jobs. This freedom, therefore, is an important contributor to the work adjustment of expatriates (Beliasa, et al., 2015).

Sia and Appu (2015) state that role discretion is commonly perceived as one among the most significant work design dimension. It is also seen as entrepreneurship since it allows employees to come up with creative means to complete their tasks and make risky moves by executing their plans or ideas. Role discretion is also the sole working feature with a positive correlation to the employee’s perceived duty (Harzing & Pinnington, 2014). It is a motivator for employees. They need to have the freedom to feel personally responsible for their work. Role discretion reduces the expatriates’ interaction at work, which grants them greater control of their work (Sia & Appu, 2015). Role discretion determines the work outcome of expatriates and stress levels. It also determines the level of job satisfaction of the expatriates (Harzing & Pinnington, 2014). Role discretion and job satisfaction have a positive correlation since it makes expatriates more comfortable with their job roles (Harzing & Pinnington, 2014). However, Wangrow, et al. (2014) argue that role discretion interferes with the expatriates’ work. This is because it may be a constraint to their colleagues, making them difficult to work together (Wangrow, et al., 2014). The impact of role discretion on the adjustment of expatriates has not been extensively studied. Therefore, the relationship between these two variables requires further research.

2.7 Conclusion

It can be seen that the review of literatures has adequately informed the research aims. Regarding the impact of role clarity on Chinese expatriates’ work adjustment in Huawei India, past research shows that support given to expatriates by their managers and colleagues offer them a better understanding of what they are expected to do. This increases their performance as well as satisfaction with their work, which in turn increases the level of work adjustment. Furthermore, the difficulty faced by expatriates as a result of role novelty can lead to stress, which in turn can lead to the decline in their performance, and hence can jeopardize their work adjustment. This justify the need to evaluate the impact of role novelty on Chinese expatriates’ work adjustment in Huawei India. Past literature also established that role conflict causes vague expectations and ambiguity among expatriates. Thus, the role conflict leads to problems with expatriate adjustment to the new job, which reduces their satisfaction and comfort. These findings guide the current study to determine the impact of role conflict on Chinese expatriates’ work adjustment in Huawei India. Additionally, past research has shown that role discretion provides expatriates with the authority to change some factors of their jobs such that it matches their needs. This authority increases the level of satisfaction that the expatriates have with their new jobs, and therefore, it is an important contributor to their work adjustment. These findings inform the research objective to explore the impact of role discretion on Chinese expatriates’ work adjustment in Huawei India. However, most of researches involved western expatriates working in Asian countries and vice versa. Notably, western countries and Asian countries sharply differ in term of culture, but for the current research it involves two Asian countries with almost similar cultural values. Therefore, this research will offer new knowledge on how expatriates’ work adjustment can be achieved through job factors in countries sharing cultural values.


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