Is expatriation still a problem?

Following Anne-Wil Harzing’s disabusing of the commonly held view that failure rates of expatriate assignments were a major problem for international companies in her 1995 article ‘The persistent myth of high expatriate failure rates’, International Journal of Human Resource Management, 6(2): 458–74, where she says: ‘The persistent myth of high expatriate failure rates seems to have been created by massive (mis)quotations of three articles. Only one of these articles contained solid empirical evidence on expatriate failure rates and in fact showed them to be rather low’, she berated the fact that by 2002 this article still had had little effect on the literature. Even in the years since 2002 it still seems that some scholars are blindly repeating this myth and still citing the same literature. Just as examples I’ve picked out McCaughey, D., Bruning, N. S. (2005) Enhancing opportunities for expatriate job satisfaction. Human Resource Planning, 28(4), 21–29; and Vögel, A. J., Vuuren, J. J. Van, & Millard, S. M. (2008) Preparation , support and training requirements of South African expatriates. South African Journal of Business Management, 39(3), 33–41.

Much of the contemporary literature is focused more obliquely at this ‘problem’. For example Kraimer, M. L., Shaffer, M. A., Harrison, D. a., & Ren, H. (2012) No Place Like Home? An Identity Strain Perspective on Repatriate Turnover. The Academy of Management Journal, 55(2), 399–420, question whether returning home prematurely is a good measure of expatriate failure and see the resignation of repatriates as more of an issue. Or, the literature focuses on other issues. Yet there still seems to be a market out there for academic work on acculturation and other issues that assume major problems with expatriate assignments. Perhaps there is still an issue. But I think that what Hofstede wrote in 1998 when he was referring to Harzing’s 1995 article, and quoted by Harzing in her 2002 article (Harzing, A., 2002, Are our referencing errors undermining our scholarship and credibility ? The case of expatriate failure rates. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 23, 127–149) still applies:

‘Practitioners who work with multinationals may have noticed that multinational HR managers aren’t imbeciles. Does anybody really think that multinationals would have continued expatriating managers or other personnel if they kept getting such dramatic failure rates?’

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