Olivier Wurz, ESCP Business School, Paris, France.
While expatriation is a significant disruption in individuals’ lives and stress increases during these experiences have been medically measured, little research has been dedicated to examining coping in this context. We try to cast new light on the roles of gender, age and expatriation type through a coping approach. Indeed, different expatriate categories have different profiles, internal and external resources and demands that lead to different coping reactions – to put it differently: individuals react differently abroad.
First, our study shows that age has an important influence on expatriates’ behaviors and thoughts. Although almost absent from the expatriate literature (except as a control variable), we show that age shapes the coping mechanisms displayed in expatriation: older expatriates apply more problem-focused coping (active coping, planning and restraint) and consume fewer substances to cope. The ability of older professionals to be less affected by negative emotions is an asset abroad, where situations can become emotional for some. The abilities to cool down faster and be less emotionally affected by difficulties are helpful when actively trying to solve problems faced abroad. We also suggest that the positive effect of age on expatriation has distorted the results of some analyses of the role of international experience.
Second, this work informs the discussion on how females and males experience expatriation and adjust to their host countries by providing theoretical and empirical insights showing that females and males cope differently with expatriation hardships (to a certain extent). Women display more expressive support-seeking and emotion-focused engagement-coping reactions (they express more their emotions, use more social support, accept more easily their situation…).Although this study does not specifically examine the impact of coping on adjustment, it nonetheless outlines differences in reactions that are likely to play a role in the adjustment process. Notably, this work suggests that female expatriates use support more than male expatriates. Whereas loss of social networks and isolation are difficulties or risks of expatriation, the ability to easily use social support is an asset abroad. This finding contributes to the explanation for why female expatriates are better at handling isolation abroad.
Third, while research has shown that SIEs and AEs diverge in various dimensions, we established that they also vary in the way they cope. SIEs and AEs have access to different resources (in terms of motivation, networks, language skills, and company support) and have different perspectives on expatriation, which can generate different appraisals of challenges and, hence, abilities to cope. SIEs use emotional social support more than do AEs. This difference in the SIE and AE coping schemes is likely to be consequential. SIEs’ motivation, ability, and related networks provide them with access to more emotional support and thus reduce their emotional isolation relative to that of AEs. Interestingly, the substantial instrumental support often provided by organizations to AEs does not seem to make AEs better able than SIEs to cope with the hardships of expatriation. However, these resources appear to be needed to offset the previously mentioned SIE resources.
Recognizing that individual repertoires of responses to expatriate challenges are bounded not only by the external context but also by expatriates’ personal characteristics, such as age, gender, and type of expatriation, helps us better understand the coping processes of expatriates and should lead to further efforts to help expatriates expand and improve their repertoire of coping strategies.
To read the full article, please see the Journal of Global Mobility publication:
Wurtz, O. (2022), "A transactional stress and coping perspective on expatriation: new insights on the roles of age, gender and expatriate type", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 10 No. 3, pp. 351-372. https://doi.org/10.1108/JGM-10-2021-0086