The JGM BitBlog: Does personality influence expatriation willingness to dangerous locations? It depends!

Journal of Global Mobility

Ebru Ipek, San Francisco State University, California, USA

Philipp Paulus, Trier University, Trier, Germany

Does personality influence an individuals’ expatriation willingness when it comes to the decision to move to a dangerous country (e.g., terrorism, natural disasters) or a safe country (e.g., dangers do not disrupt daily life)? This is currently a very relevant question. Multinational enterprises (MNEs) have increasingly expanded their operations to countries that offer promising business opportunities but are also characterized by various dangers. Expatriates are sent to these dangerous places. This brings a host of challenges with it because the associated exposure to dangers induces stress, strain, and fear. Further,  dangerous locations are challenging and strenuous to live and work in. So, can an understanding of personality help organizations to select more efficiently the best-suited expatriates to send to dangerous locations?

To answer this question, we applied an experimental vignette methodology using a 2 x 1 between subjects-design with two destinations characterized by different security levels (dangerous vs. safe) among 278 participants (students and employees). Each participant was presented with carefully constructed and realistic scenarios (dangerous vs. safe) and was randomly assigned to a group and instructed to read a scenario that described a specific expatriate assignment offered by their (hypothetical) employer.

Our findings indicate that different personality variables appear to impact individuals’ expatriation willingness depending on the security level of a destination: emotionality (which describes individuals’ strong inclination to avoid physical harm, sensitivity and a need for emotional support from others) and conscientiousness (which describes individuals’ preferences for organization and diligence, goal-oriented and carefully balance the risks associated with their decisions) predicted expatriation willingness to dangerous environments, whereas openness to experience predicted expatriation willingness to safe environments. The personality traits of honesty–humility, extraversion, and agreeableness were not found to influence expatriation willingness in either scenario.  

Thus, by examining two types of scenarios, this study suggests that the mechanisms by which personality traits influence expatriation willingness are complex and context-specific. The findings indicate that different personality variables impact individuals’ expatriation willingness in different ways depending on the security level of a destination. Poor candidate selection is still the primary reason for negative expatriation experiences. Sending employees to dangerous environments elevates the importance of carefully reviewing potential expatriates. Therefore, one of our recommendations for MNCs is to understand that not only personality matters but also to select expatriates based on specific personality traits depending on the position and the country/region of the expatriation.

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

Ipek, E. and Paulus, P. (2021), "The influence of personality on individuals' expatriation willingness in the context of safe and dangerous environments", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 9 No. 2, pp. 264-288.