The JGM BitBlog: Why Expatriates and Spouses Really Want to Leave an International Assignment – Or Not!

Journal of Global Mobility

Julia Goede, Member of the JGM Editorial Review Board


Research on the premature return intention from international assignments (IAs) has to date largely focused on the expatriate utilizing the stressor-stress-strain model. In the predominant operationalisation of the model, the adjustment concept is utilised as the opposite of being in distress and a direct negative predictor of the expatriate’s premature return intention. The general satisfaction with the IA is conceptualised as a mediating factor between adjustment and the premature return intention.

Yet, more recent works have shed doubt on the influence of particularly interaction adjustment on the premature return intention. At the same time, scholars have called out for the advancement of expatriate research by employing a stakeholder perspective. To date, there is no evidence whether the premature return intentions of spouses are formed in the same way as those of expatriates. This is surprising given that research and practice agree that family-related issues are the most commonly named reason for prematurely terminated IAs.

Building upon the stressor-stress-strain model and its’ operationalization in the literature, the study analyses the premature return intention from a stakeholder perspective by investigating not only the expatriate, but also the spouse. To evaluate the hypotheses, a sample of 104 expatriates and a sample of 64 spouses were collected and analysed utilising structural equation modeling. The results show that adjustment is not a direct negative driver of the expatriate’s nor the spouse’s premature return intention, which contradicts early research on the topic. Instead, the relationship between general adjustment and premature return intention is mediated by the general satisfaction with the IA. While the general satisfaction also mediated the relationship between interaction adjustment and premature return intention for expatriates, for spouses, interaction adjustment does not appear to be relevant.

Overall, the results indicate that adjustment, in particular interaction adjustment, might not be a timely measurement of distress anymore. In today’s globalized and digitalized world, interaction adjustment might simply not be necessary any more for expatriates or spouses to feel psychologically comfortable in the host country given that there are many networking possibilities available for instance with other internationals or through social media. And finally: The results of this study show that no – expatriates and spouses do not want to leave the IA! The spouses were even less inclined to prematurely leaving the IA than the expatriates. In addition, employed spouses were just as satisfied with the IA as unemployed spouses and portrayed similarly low levels of their premature return intention. For multinational organizations the findings imply that it is crucial to keep expatriates and spouses satisfied by examining their expectations and wishes for the IA to then tailor support mechanisms in order to reduce the premature return intention.

The full article can be found here: Goede, J. (2020), "Do they really want to leave? A (re)-evaluation of expatriates' and spouses' premature return intention", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 8 No. 2, pp. 209-228.