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It Takes Two to Tango: Socialization versus Expatriate Adjustment

It Takes Two to Tango: Socialization versus Expatriate Adjustment

by Dr Ben van den Anker

Whereas traditional views considered the expatriate the sole actor in his/her adjustment process; recent literature suggests an important role for host country nationals in the expatriate adjustment process. It seems that socialization tactics of the organization and the information-seeking process of the individual have been overlooked as factors in the success of expatriates. As well, expatriates will also experience socialization in the host country national culture. This distinction between socialization in organization and host country national culture is essential. Because incoming expatriates are new organizational members, it is likely that boundaries between organizational and national culture will not always be recognized as such.

Socialization in this context can be defined as the process by which an individual fits in or becomes adjusted to a new role in the organization and learns the content of information necessary for adjustment to this new role. Socialization is, therefore, essentially a learning process and has been described as an expatriate coping strategy (Stahl and Caligiuri, 2005). Six socialization dimensions can be distinguished: politics, performance proficiency, language, people, history and organizational goals/values. Lueke and Svyantek (2000) suggested that combining knowledge gained through research on both socialization and information seeking processes is essential in gaining an understanding of expatriate turnover. Their suggestion is supported by research confirming that the use of these socialization tactics would affect job satisfaction and commitment to the organization. Overall, financial costs of expatriate turnover/failure have been estimated between $2 and $2.5 billion in recent research.

Post-entry socialization experiences then may affect expatriates’ experience of fit and value in the new organization. Consistent with the general nature of socialization described above, Florkowski and Fogel (1999) link perceived acceptance of expatriates in the new organization to host socialization efforts. Socialization is dependent on two players, the host country nationals and the expatriates themselves. Discordant behaviour by either party can disrupt the socialization process. It appears that expatriates at times display behaviours that are unhelpful to their own adjustment process. American expatriates who attempted to avoid resocialization (socializing to a new environment) have been found to experience conflicting internal and external demands. They were unable to communicate effectively with host country nationals and less satisfied with their situation.

Best practice in socialization strategies can assist relocating staff members in achieving their new fit to both the organization and a new community. However, expatriate motivation is key in achieving this fit and, at the same time, reducing expatriate turnover.

Information and feedback seeking, relationship building, negotiation of job changes and positive framing are suitable tactics for proactive socialization. Positive framing, which in contrast with the other techniques does not involve interactions with others, is a personal technique whereby individuals change their understanding of a situation by explicitly controlling the cognitive frame they put on the situation. Relationship building and positive framing were found to have positive effects on expatriate adjustment.

Findings in literature suggest that one size fits all approaches to socialization may not be effective. In order to benefit from the possible positive outcomes related to diversity at the workplace organizations should individualize their socialization tactics within, in particular, collectivistic organizational cultures. Collectivistic cultures tend to favour ingroups and behave according to values and norms within these ingroups. Organizational culture can be defined as the underlying values, beliefs, and principles that serve as a foundation for the organization’s management system, as well as the set of management practices and behaviours that both exemplify and reinforce those principles. This definition emphasizes the role of unique organizational context in socialization processes.

Individualized socialization tactics therefore may provide tailored solutions for the individual, which may also increase the efficiency of the learning process as it would build on established skills and knowledge.

In summary, deliberate socialization is clearly related to expatriate adjustment and turnover and requires participation of host country nationals. It takes two to tango!


Dr B.J.L. van den Anker received his PhD in Business and Management from the International Graduate School of Business of the University of South Australia. Dr van den Anker hails from the Netherlands and has extensive experience living and working in SE Asia. His (I)HRM and cross-cultural consultancy assignments focus primarily on western-Asian contexts. He can be contacted at vandenanker@yahoo.com



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