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Here we go again: how a family's cross-cultural and repatriation adjustment: relates to the employee's receptivity to future international assignments.

Expatriates play an important role in the global strategies of many organizations by filling a skill gap in a foreign business operation, transferring management expertise or corporate culture, starting up new operations, and coordinating global activities (Black, and Gregersen, 1999; Harzing, 2001; Hocking, Brown, and Harzing, 2004). The need for expatriates to perform these activities remains high. In a 2004 study of global relocations trends conducted by GMAC Global Relocation Services, the National Foreign Trade Council, and SHRM, 85% of companies expected their expatriate workforce size to increase or remain the same for the coming year (GMAC Global Relocation Services [GMAC], 2004). Yet, evidence in both the research and practitioner literature suggests a reluctance among many managers to accept expatriate assignments, believing that such assignments may, among other things, derail their careers by placing them "out of sight" and "out of mind" of the home office (Andreason and Kinneer, 2004; Feldman and Thompson, 1992; Mendenhall, Dunbar, and Odou, 1987; Napier and Peterson, 1991; Selmer, 2001; Stroh, Gregersen, and Black, 1998).

Research shows that family issues affect the willingness of an employee to accept a foreign assignment (Tharenou, 2003). In the GMAC study, the most common reason for refusing an international assignment was family concerns (47%), far outweighing the next most common reason, career aspirations (14%). Similarly, Tung and Arthur Andersen (1997) found that few expatriates would accept an international assignment if their families objected to the assignment or could not accompany them. Several studies suggest that a spouse's willingness to relocate internationally (WTRI) is a strong predictor of the employee's willingness to relocate (Brett and Stroh, 1995; Brett, Stroh, and Reilly, 1990, 1992, 1993; Konopaske, Robie, and Ivancevich, 2005; Tung and Arthur Andersen, 1997). Consequently, greater understanding is needed about factors that might affect a spouse's WTRI.

One such factor is previous international experience, which is important for two reasons. First, it is not uncommon for those returning from an expatriate assignment to serve subsequent foreign assignments during their career if they are successful in their first (Black and Gregersen, 1991a; Black and Gregersen, 1998; Cendant Mobility, 2004; Tung, 1988; Tung and Arthur Andersen, 1997). Second, previous experience can help individuals develop reasonable expectations for a future relocation. Experiences associated with previous international assignments (e.g., personal adjustment to the foreign culture, impact on family, effectiveness of organizational support, etc.) can help an individual predict future outcomes associated with a subsequent international assignment and thus affect his or her WTRI (Black, Mendenhall, and Oddou, 1991).

Two important elements of previous international experience are the cross-cultural adjustment that occurs in the foreign country and the repatriation adjustment that occurs upon return (Andreason, 2003). Nevertheless, no study has explored the effects of assignment adjustment factors on a spouse's willingness to accept an additional foreign assignment. Consequently, this study examines the effect of spouse and family adjustment, both in country and upon repatriation, on a spouse's willingness to relocate internationally once again if the employee is offered an additional expatriate assignment.

Theoretical Framework

Due to the uncertainty inherent in employee relocations, especially international relocations, uncertainty reduction is a useful framework from which to study relocation issues (Kramer, 1993). Theorists suggest that individuals experiencing uncertainty are motivated to seek information to reduce uncertainty (Deci and Ryan, 1985). Scholars from both the domestic and international relocation literatures argue directly or imply that individuals generally want to reduce the uncertainty inherent in the new setting, especially concerning new behaviors that might be required or expected and old behaviors that would be inappropriate (Black et al., 1991; Eschbach, Parker, and Stoeberl, 2001). Individuals may act to reduce uncertainty by drawing upon past experience among other things, to make sense of a current or potential situation (Louis, 1980a).

As individuals enter a new work situation, they are usually uncertain about their ability to cope (e.g., learn acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, reestablish routines, etc.) (Black and Gregersen, 1991b). Brett (1980) asserts that relocations break daily routines and change the environment and social context in which those routines occur. Relocations produce feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, challenge, and lack of control. The potential for such anxiety and uncertainty is even greater in an international relocation due to large contrasts between the domestic and foreign settings (Black et al., 1991). Uncertainty is reduced by behaviors intended to establish (or reestablish) routines that create feelings of control and predictability (Brett, 1980; Louis, 1980a; 1980b).

Individuals may use their personal experience with previous transfers to reduce uncertainty (Brett, 1980). The number and length of previous international assignments has been shown to positively influence current assignment cross-cultural adjustment (Takeuchi, Tesluk, Yun, and Lepak, 2005). In addition to affecting adjustment factors, previous international experience may enable an employee to form accurate expectations concerning a future international assignment, thus reducing uncertainty (Black et al., 1991). Positive previous international assignment experiences should decrease uncertainty and increase the belief that a future assignment may be a favorable experience. It logically follows that factors reducing anticipated uncertainty will positively affect international relocation intentions.

A recent study listed family adjustment and repatriation as the top two challenges of an overseas assignment (Cendant Mobility, 2004). The current study proposes that positive past adjustment processes experienced by a spouse and his or her family should reduce anticipated uncertainty and create a positive effect on international relocation intentions.

Literature Review and Hypotheses

* Construct of willingness to relocate With few exceptions (e.g., Turban, Campion, and Eyring, 1992), research examining employee relocation decisions has used an intention measure, such as willingness to relocate internationally. While WTRI is not the same as actually moving, it is a relatively good predictor of the actual decision to move. Speare (1974) found a correlation of .44 between willingness to relocate and the actual relocation decision made during the following year. Brett and Reilly (1988) propose that as long as continued employment is not contingent upon accepting the transfer, the intent measure should be correlated with the actual decision to relocate.

The current study uses former expatriate spouses as subjects, which should provide a stronger link between intent to relocate and subsequent behavior in two ways. First, the subjects should perceive a reasonable likelihood of being called upon to serve a future international assignment since this is not uncommon if the family is successful in their first assignment (Black and Gregersen, 1991a; Black and Gregersen, 1998; Cendant Mobility, 2004; Tung, 1988; Tung and Arthur Andersen, 1997). Second, the subjects have previous experience living abroad, so their attitudes will have an experience component. Research suggests that attitudes formed through direct experience are more stable and predictive of behavior than those based on indirect or secondhand information (Fazio and Zanna, 1981; Petty and Krosnick, 1995).

* Cross-cultural adjustment factors

Cross-cultural adjustment is the degree of psychological comfort an individual feels concerning a new situation or culture (Gregersen and Black, 1990; Nicholson, 1984). Lack of adjustment to a new culture is viewed by researchers as a key factor in the high unsuccessful completion rates (16%-40%) in international assignments exhibited by U.S. expatriate managers (Black, 1988; Selmer and Leung, 2003; Tung, 1981). Spouse adjustment is an especially important factor. One study found that the spouse's adjustment to the culture was rated by expatriates as the top factor affecting their quality of life on the foreign assignment (Cendant Mobility, 2004).

Gregersen and Black (1990) found cross-cultural adjustment in an overseas assignment was positively related to intentions to stay and complete it. Similarly, adjustment in previous assignments may also affect spouse WTRI in future assignments. Previous adjustment experiences help individuals know what to expect (Black et al., 1991). Researchers studying self-efficacy concur with this, proposing that previous direct experience is a key factor affecting an individual's assessment of potential success or failure in a given task or assignment (Gist and Mitchell, 1992). Previous successful cultural adjustment should provide information that would reduce uncertainty associated with an international relocation and thus increase spouse WTRI.

Research by Black and associates (e.g., Black, 1988; Black and Stephens, 1989; Black et al., 1991; Black and Gregersen, 1991a) suggests that spouse cross-cultural adjustment has at least two dimensions: (1) adjustment to the general culture, and (2) adjustment to interacting with host-country nationals. Concerning the first, expatriate spouses must adjust to living conditions, housing, transportation, shopping, food, etc. that are new to the spouse (Black, 1988). In addition, spouses must learn to communicate with host-country nationals who have different cultural backgrounds and often speak a different language (Black, 1988; Black, Gregersen, and Mendenhall, 1992; Black and Gregersen, 1991a).

To date, research examining consequences of cross-cultural adjustment does not suggest whether one dimension of adjustment is more important than another (Andreason, 2003; Black and Stephens, 1989; Gregersen and Black, 1990; Gregersen, 1992). Consequently, differential effects will not be hypothesized for each of the two dimensions. Positive experiences in each dimension of cross-cultural adjustment should reduce uncertainty concerning an international transfer (Louis, 1980a) and be positively related to spouse WTRI.

Hypothesis 1a: Spouse general cross-cultural adjustment during an international assignment will be positively related to spouse WTRI.

Hypothesis 1b: Spouse interaction cross-cultural adjustment during an international assignment will be positively related to spouse WTRI.

Since evidence suggests that most U.S. expatriates and their spouses on long-term assignments are accompanied by their children (Caligiuri, Hyland, Joshi, and Boss, 1998; GMAC, 2004; Guzzo, 1996; Selmer, 2001; Tung and Arthur Andersen, 1997), the adjustment of those family members is another source of uncertainty. The work-family literature provides a framework for explaining this interaction of effects among family members. The theoretical explanation of spillover suggests that family concerns from one domain can affect concerns in another domain (Zedeck, 1991). For instance, studies have found that family and spouse adjustment affect the employee's adjustment overseas (Eschbach et al., 2001; Takeuchi, Yun, and Tesluk, 2002).

In applying the spillover perspective to this study, the adjustment experiences of children in previous expatriate assignments should affect the spouse's WTRI. Brett (1982) found that moving created social problems for the children. Children of relocated families had fewer close relationships than children in stable families, and parents in mobile families reported their children often experienced social adjustment problems. Such concern over the adjustment of children should affect the relocation intentions of the parents. Noe and Barber (1993) mention previous research (e.g., Barret and Noble, 1973; McAllister, Butler, and Kaiser, 1973) indicating that actual or anticipated adjustment problems on the part of relocated children can reduce willingness to accept relocation.

If the children in a family experienced adequate cross-cultural adjustment in a previous international assignment, uncertainty concerning their future adjustment should be reduced. Consequently, cross-cultural adjustment of the children in previous international relocations should be positively correlated with spouse WTRI.

For the purposes of this study, child cross-cultural adjustment is examined in a general sense as one dimension.

Hypothesis 2: Children's cross-cultural adjustment during an international assignment will be positively related to spouse WTRI.

* Repatriation adjustment factors

Upon repatriation, expatriate spouses must readjust to their home environment. Similar to the foreign cross-cultural adjustment experience, spouses who have good experiences upon repatriation may be more willing to accept an additional international relocation.

However, good experiences are not the norm. Repatriation is often a forgotten element of the international assignment. Common sense dictates, "They're coming home. How much adjustment is needed?" Regarding the expatriate employee, Tung (1998) found that most were satisfied with their assignment as a whole but were dissatisfied with the repatriation process. Upon returning home, many expatriates feel they are given a position that feels like a demotion from their foreign assignment and are denied opportunities to use the skills developed overseas (Black and Gregersen, 1999). Expatriates often feel their expatriate experience was of little value to their career and their company (Selmer, 2001). In a recent study, the repatriation process was listed as the second-most-difficult challenge of the international assignment (Cendant Mobility, 2004). Some researchers have even suggested that adjustment during repatriation may be more difficult than the overseas adjustment (Andreason and Kinneer, 2004; Harvey, 1989; Stroh, Gregersen, and Black, 2000).

Like the expatriate employee, returning spouses also face challenges. Spouses find that conditions of the foreign assignment--perks, extra money, and nice living conditions--have all changed (Stroh et al., 1998). Financial difficulties and family problems are not uncommon upon repatriation (Selmer, 2001). In essence, the repatriation process is similar to the expatriation process since both involve significant adjustments (Black and Gregersen, 1991b). The expatriate and his or her family may face changes in an organization (e.g., organizational culture, colleagues and friends, power structures, etc.) and a society (e.g., technology, economic conditions, social norms, etc.) for which they are not prepared (Black, 1992).

Individuals who have previously experienced this transition will know better what to expect in a future readjustment (Black and Gregersen, 1991a; Louis, 1980a). As with cross-cultural adjustment in the foreign country, prior positive repatriation adjustment experiences should reduce uncertainty. Returning expatriate spouses who more readily readjust to their home country environment should be more willing to be involved in an overseas assignment again than those who have had more difficulty.

As with cross-cultural adjustment, research by Black and associates (Black, 1992, 1994; Black and Gregersen, 1991b; Black et al., 1992; Gregersen and Stroh, 1997) has identified two dimensions to spouse repatriation adjustment: (1) adjustment to the general living environment, and (2) adjustment to interacting with homecountry nationals. It is not uncommon for returning spouses to feel a significant culture shock during the repatriation process (Black and Gregersen, 1991a; Gregersen and Stroh, 1997). In addition, they must once again interact with home-country culture and people on a full-time basis after typically spending three to five years with individuals from a different culture. Consequently, it is believed that previous repatriation adjustment experiences should affect the spouse's level of uncertainty regarding his or her ability to readjust to the U.S. upon returning home from a future international assignment. Positive repatriation experiences in the past should increase spouse WTRI, while negative experiences should decrease spouse WTRI.

Hypothesis 3a: Spouse general repatriation adjustment after an international assignment will be positively related to spouse WTRI.

Hypothesis 3b: Spouse interaction repatriation adjustment after an international assignment will be positively related to spouse WTRI.

As with cross-cultural adjustment, the spill-over effect is expected to occur in the repatriation domain. The children's repatriation adjustment in previous international relocations should reduce the spouse's uncertainty concerning the ability of family to readjust to the U.S. Thus, repatriation adjustment of the children in previous international relocations is expected to influence spouse WTRI. Like cross-cultural adjustment, repatriation adjustment of children is examined in a general sense using one dimension.

Hypothesis 4: Children repatriation adjustment after an international assignment will be positively related to spouse WTRI.


* Sample

The sample for the study was drawn from eight Fortune 200 U.S. multinational corporations. Industries represented include computers and office equipment, electronics and electrical equipment manufacturing, aerospace, industrial and farm equipment, mail and freight delivery, petroleum refining, and food processing. Surveys were sent to 616 spouses who had returned within the past three years from an international assignment of at least nine months duration. These criteria were based on previous research (e.g., Black, 1992; Black and Gregersen 1991b; Tung, 1998) suggesting that these time frames were long enough for the employee to have interacted with the foreign culture and its attendant adjustment processes, while at the same time being recent enough to maintain the saliency of the experience.

Of the 616 surveys mailed, 200 were returned, for a response rate of 32.5%. The average respondent was 42 years old, and 99% of the respondent spouses were female. The respondents spent an average of 3.1 years on their most recent international assignment and had been home for an average of 15 months. The assignments occurred in 39 countries representing all regions of the world. Moreover, 42% had served at least one previous international assignment.

The self-reported demographics of the respondents are similar to those in other studies of U.S. expatriates and repatriates (e.g., Black, 1988; Black and Gregersen, 1991b; Eschbach et al., 2001; Stroh et al., 2000; Tung, 1998).

* Measures

Spouse WTRI. Spouse WTRI was assessed with a one-item measure utilized by Brett and Stroh (1995) that they modified from their extensively used measure in domestic relocation studies (e.g., Brett and Reilly, 1988; Brett et al., 1990, 1993). Spouses were asked to select from among five responses (i.e., 5=I will move internationally; 4=I probably will move internationally; 3=I prefer not to move internationally; 2=I will move internationally only if pressured by the company; 1=I will not move internationally for any reason).

Spouse cross-cultural adjustment. Spouse cross-cultural adjustment was gathered using measures developed by Black and colleagues (e.g., Black and Stephens, 1989; Black and Gregersen, 1991a). Using a seven-point scale, spouses were asked to indicate the degree to which they adjusted (1=not adjusted at all; 7=completely adjusted) to seven items assessing general adjustment to the culture and three items assessing interaction with the host-country nationals. Reliability for the scales as measured by coefficient alpha was .86 for spouse general crosscultural adjustment and .92 for spouse interaction cross-cultural adjustment.

Children cross-cultural adjustment. The overall cross-cultural adjustment of the spouse's children was assessed with a measure created for this study based on the adjustment measures of Black and colleagues. Spouses were asked to indicate the extent (1=not adjusted at all; 7=completely adjusted) to which they believed their children as a group adjusted to two items: (1) general living conditions, and (2) interacting with host-country nationals. Coefficient alpha was .77 for the two items.

Spouse repatriation adjustment. Spouse repatriation adjustment was gathered using measures developed by Black and associates (e.g., Black and Gregersen, 1991b; Gregersen and Stroh, 1997). Using a seven-point scale, spouses were asked to indicate the degree to which they adjusted (1=not adjusted at all; 7=completely adjusted) to seven items assessing adjustment to the general home-country environment and three items assessing adjustment to interacting with home-country nationals. Reliability for the scales as measured by coefficient alpha was .87 for spouse general repatriation adjustment and .93 for spouse interaction repatriation adjustment. Children repatriation adjustment. The repatriation adjustment of the spouse's children was measured through two items created for this study, but based on the repatriation adjustment measures of Black and colleagues. Spouses were asked to indicate the extent (1=not adjusted at all; 7=completely adjusted) to which they believed their children as a group adjusted to general living conditions and interacting with home-country nationals upon returning to the United States. Coefficient alpha was .83 for the two items.


Table 1 provides the means, standard deviations, and zero-order correlations for the variables examined in this study. The two measures of spouse cross-cultural adjustment as well as the measure of cross-cultural adjustment for the children were positively correlated with spouse WTRI, providing initial support for hypotheses 1a, 1b, and 2 (see Table 1). In addition, the two measures of spouse repatriation were negatively correlated with spouse WTRI, which was the opposite direction of the relationship proposed in hypotheses 3a and 3b.

Table 2 provides the results of the regression analysis. To test the incremental effects of the cross-cultural adjustment and repatriation adjustment measures on spouse WTRI, a hierarchical regression model was employed. Demographic control variables, based on their potential correlation with both the dependent and the independent variables in the regression equation, were entered in step 1. The measures of cross-cultural adjustment and repatriation adjustment were entered in step 2 of the regression model. The significance of the change [R.sup.2] from step 1 to step 2 tests whether the set of predictor variables in step 2 explain a significant amount of the variance in spouse WTRI beyond that already explained by the control variables. Standardized regression weights (beta) are reported in Table 2 for ease in comparing the strength of the relationships between spouse WTRI and the various predictor variables in the regression model.

As indicated by the significant overall F score (3.71, p <.001), the total set of predictor variables was significantly related to employee WTRI. In addition, the set of predictor variables explained 24% (adjusted [R.sup.2] =. 18) of the variance in the dependent measure of spouse WTRI. As indicated by the change in [R.sup.2] shown in the table, the set of cross-cultural and repatriation adjustment variables explained an additional 17% of the variance in spouse willingness to relocate internationally beyond the 7% explained by the control variables.

An examination of the beta coefficients of the independent variables reveal that spouse age was negatively related to spouse WTRI, while the length of assignment was positively related to spouse WTRI. In addition, while zero-order correlations provided some support for hypotheses 1a, 1b, and 2, the regression analysis revealed that only spouse general cross-adjustment explained unique variance in spouse WTRI. Thus, hypothesis 1a was supported while the regression analysis did not support hypothesis 1b or hypothesis 2 (see Table 2). Hypothesis 3a was not supported in the direction predicted (see Table 2), although the regression analysis revealed a significant negative relationship between spouse WTRI and spouse interaction repatriation adjustment. The regression analysis also revealed a positive relationship between children repatriation adjustment an spouse WTRI (hypotheses 4), but there was no significant correlation between these two variables, as indicated in Table 1. These results may indicate that children repatriation adjustment is a suppressor variable, which is an independent variable not correlated with the dependent variable (i.e., spouse WTRI) but correlated with other independent variables in the regression equation. A suppressor variable is typically not interpretable but is useful in the regression model because it helps remove part of the variance associated with the predictor variables (Schmitt and Klimoski, 1991). In this case, children repatriation adjustment is highly correlated with both measures of spouse repatriation adjustment but is not correlated with spouse WTRI (see Table 1).


This study adds to our knowledge of correlates of spouse and family adjustment. That spouse age was negatively related to spouse WTRI is not surprising given that this is one of the most consistent findings among studies examining domestic and international relocation intentions (Borstorff, Harris, Giles, and Feild, 1997; Brett et al. 1993; Gould and Penley, 1985; Landau, Shamir, and Arthur, 1992; Marshal and Cooper, 1976; Noe and Barber, 1993; Tharenou, 2005; Veiga, 1983). Length of assignment was positively related with spouse WTRI, perhaps because a longer assignment allows more time to adjust to the foreign culture and living conditions. However, an interesting note is that the zero-order correlations in Table 1 do not show a significant relationship between length of assignment and the measures of crosscultural adjustment. Consequently, future research should examine more closely the relationship between assignment length and cultural adjustment measures.

Positive cross-cultural adjustment of the spouse in the day-to-day issues of living in a foreign country was related to the spouse's willingness to relocate overseas again. Since previous research indicates that spouse relocation intentions have a positive relationship to employee relocation intentions (e.g., Borstorff et al., 1997; Brett and Stroh, 1995; Konopaske et al., 2005; Tung and Arthur Andersen, 1997), this finding suggests that companies risk employees turning down future global assignments if they neglect the spouse's adjustment process. Organizations need to pay particular attention to helping the spouse adjust to differences in living conditions such as housing, schooling, shopping, and entertainment opportunities.

Interestingly, a spouse's willingness to go on an additional international assignment was negatively related to repatriation adjustment in terms of interacting with individuals in the home country. This may signal that positive social interactions upon return to the U.S. may increase a spouse's desires to maintain those interactions by not relocating overseas again. Similarly, the results may also suggest that spouses who adjust well overseas (in this study, spouse scores on the two measures of spouse cross-cultural adjustment averaged about 5 on a 7-point scale), but then have a different time adjusting to social interactions in the U.S., have stronger desires to return overseas than those who readjust well upon return. The international arena, within which the spouse was well adjusted to the culture, may look more inviting when the domestic situation is less than ideal upon return. It is not uncommon for both the expatriate employee as well as the spouse to conclude that the process of adjusting to one's home environment is one of the worst aspects of an international assignment (Andreason and Kineer, 2004; Cendant Mobility, 2004; Gomez-Mejia and Balkin, 1987; Harvey, 1989; Stroh et al., 2000).

Four of the six measures of cross-cultural and repatriation adjustment did not have a significant relationship with spouse WTRI in the regression model. One possible explanation may lie with multicollinearity. The regression model indicated that only spouse general cross-cultural adjustment and spouse interaction repatriation adjustment had interpretable relationships with spouse WTRI (see Table 2). The measures of spouse and children cross-cultural adjustment were highly correlated, as were the spouse and children measures for repatriation adjustment (see Table 1). Since the spouse and children cross-cultural adjustment and repatriation adjustment measures were entered into one regression equation to test all of the hypotheses, multicollinearity may have contributed to the nonsignificant results for hypotheses 1b, 2 and 3 (see Table 2).

The data may also suffer from a restriction of range. With research indicating that between 25% and 50% of returning expatriates resign within the first year of returning home due to a poor repatriation experience with their company (Black, 1992; Stroh, 1995; Stroh et al., 1998), people who had a difficult time repatriating may have left the company and not been included among the survey respondents. In general, most respondents reported that they adjusted well upon repatriating to the United States (means for the measures of repatriation adjustment ranged from 5.86 to 5.95 on a seven-point scale) (see Table 1). Thus, it is difficult to explain the variance in spouse WTRI when the mean is high and there is little variance in the independent variable.

* Contributions

This study contributes to the literature by being one of the first to examine how previous international assignment experiences relate to receptivity to future foreign service. This was the first study to investigate how cross-cultural and repatriation adjustment processes associated with a previous international assignment affect a spouse's willingness to accept an international relocation. The study was also one of the first to examine a spouse's willingness to accept an assignment that would not be an initial stay outside the U.S. (since all of the subjects had previously completed at least one international assignment).

The findings also provide a practical contribution to international human resource management. With a high need for expatriate managers (GMAC 2004) coexisting with concern about being "out of sight, out of mind" in relation to the home office (Andreason and Kineer, 2004; Feldman and Thompson, 1992; Mendenhall et al., 1987; Napier and Peterson, 1991; Selmer, 2001; Stroh et al., 1998), organizations need to know how they can encourage their best performers to accept a global assignment. Since a spouse's willingness to accept a foreign relocation can have a dramatic effect on the employee's desires to accept an overseas assignment (Brett and Stroh, 1995; Brett et al., 1990, 1992, 1993; Konopaske et al., 2005; Tung and Arthur Andersen, 1997), this study increases our understanding about the factors that affect the spouse's global relocation decision.

This study also contributes to methodology by providing a theoretically stronger link between intent to relocate responses and subsequent actual relocation behavior than most previous studies provide. The study used subjects that should perceive a future global assignment as a real possibility, since multiple foreign assignments are not uncommon for those who succeed in their first assignment (e.g., in this study 42% had served more than one foreign assignment) (Black and Gregersen, 1998, Cendant Mobility, 2004; Copeland and Griggs, 1985; Tung and Arthur Andersen, 1997). Therefore, willingness to accept a future international relocation should be a salient issue to the spouses in the survey. Most research examining either spouse or employee willingness to relocate internationally has used subjects with little or no international experience and with an unknown likelihood of a future international assignment (see Aryee, Chay, and Chew, 1996; Brett and Stroh, 1995; Borstorff et al., 1997; Konopaske et al., 2005; Yurkiewicz and Rosen, 1995; Tharenou, 2003). In addition, the recently repatriated spouses' attitudes toward accepting a foreign assignment should be based in part on their previous experience. Attitudes formed through experience are more stable and predictive of future behavior than those based on indirect or secondhand information (Fazio and Zanna, 1981; Petty and Krosnick, 1995). Thus, the findings relating to spouse WTRI in the study should be more indicative of actual future decisions to accept assignments than results in previous studies that did not utilize subjects with international experience.

* Limitations

This study has two common limitations regarding the nature of the data that must be considered when reviewing the results. First, since the data was gathered via a questionnaire, common method variance could affect the findings. Results may reflect a response-response bias. Second, no inference can be made regarding the causal direction of the relationships since the independent and dependent variables were all gathered at the same time (although, longitudinal studies using expatriates present their own methodological challenges) (Menard, 1991). The relationship between the independent and dependent variables may be reversed. For instance, a spouse's willingness to return overseas may color the memory of the cross-cultural and repatriation adjustment experience in the previous assignment. Additionally, the results may not be generalized but may only apply to the U.S. expatriate experience. Since data were gathered only from individuals return to the U.S., the results may not apply to expatriate spouses of other nationalities. Future research in this area should attempt to examine organizations in other countries.

* Future research

This study examined the effect of spouse and child adjustment factors on a spouse's willingness to return overseas. Future research should examine the effect of spouse and family adjustment factors directly upon the employee's desires to accept a foreign transfer. In addition, the overall [R.sup.2] of .24 for the regression equation in this study suggests that key variables are missing from the model that would explain additional variance in receptivity to international assignments. Other measures of previous international experience might shed more light on spouse and employee WTRI. For instance, factors such as predicted career and financial gains have been cited as top reasons for accepting global assignments (Cendent Mobility, 2004; GMAC, 2004; T; renou, 2003; Tung, 1998). However, career enhancement is often not what the employee expects upon repatriation (Cendant Mobility, 2004; Selmer, 2001; Tung and Arthur Andersen, 1997), and an increasing number of companies are using short-term international assignments, which reduce the financial perks often used to entice acceptance of global assignments (Cendant Mobility, 2004). The importance of these factors in swaying a spouse to accept a second or third international assignment is unknown.

Future research should also examine how the support provided by an organization to the expatriate family during a global assignment affects spouse WTRI. The organization's support during an international assignment is typically more encompassing than support supplied with a domestic position (Guzzo, Nelson, and Noonan, 1992), thus affecting a broad spectrum of the expatriate's and his or her family's experiences in the foreign setting. Examining the effects of different organizational support practices may ultimately yield valuable insight into the spouse's attitude toward acceptance or rejection of future assignments.

For instance, companies typically offer "hard" support services such as tax equalization or logistical support for the move. "Soft" services, such as cross-cultural training for the spouse, are much less consistently offered (Cendant Mobility, 2004) but may have an impact on the relocation decision. Cross-cultural training, which is offered by about 26% of companies according to one recent study (GMAC, 2004), has been related to lowered levels of culture shock and faster adjustment to the foreign culture (Eschbach et al., 2001). Such training may also be associated with higher levels of spouse WTRI. Similarly, social support provided by the organization, possible in the form of support groups, may positively affect spouse WTRI. Two studies indicate that expatriates and their spouses believe that social support for the trailing spouse is inadequate (Harvey, 1997, 1998). Career support concerns have previously been shown to be negatively related to spouse WTRI (Konopaske et al., 2005), and future research could examine actual levels of career support on spouse WTRI. In addition, future studies could also examine the impact on spouse WTRI of "hard" support in areas such as salary and financial premiums (e.g., hardship pay, housing allowance, educational allowance, annual return trips to U.S., etc.).

Examining these suggested aspects of previous international experience should enhance our understanding of the foreign assignment factors that most affect the acceptance of an international relocation and provide insights into practical interventions organizations can use to enhance the overseas experience of the entire expatriate family.

* Conclusions

The implications of the results of the study are straightforward. Organizations need to do what practitioners have been advising for years: take care of the trailing spouse! Organizations often request employees to serve more than one international assignment during their careers (Black and Gregersen, 1991a, 1998; Cendant Mobility, 2004; Tung, 1988; Tung and Arthur Andersen, 1997). Since spouse WTRI has strong implications for employee WTRI (Brett and Stroh, 1995; Brett et al., 1009, 1992, 1993; Konopaske et al., 2005; Tung and Arthur Andersen, 1997), organizations need to be concerned about the spouse's experiences all the way through the international assignment. The spouse's adjustment experiences overseas, as well as those upon return, will have repercussions on an organization's ability to persuade an employee to accept a long-term global assignment.


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TABLE 1. Means, Standard Deviations, and Zero-Order Correlations

Variable (a) Mean S.D. 1 2

 1 Spouse WTRI 4.06 0.98 ...
 2 Sex (b) 1.97 0.18 0.06 ...
 3 Age 42.04 5.54 -0.14 *** -0.10
 4 Length of assignment (c) 37.35 18.75 0.18 ** 0.00
 5 Time back in U.S. (d) 15.08 9.36 -0.03 0.13 ***
 6 Spouse c.c. 5.07 1.00 0.29 * 0.02
 7 Spouse c.c. 4.74 1.48 0.13 *** 0.00
 8 Children c.c. 5.42 1.34 0.17 ** -0.03
 9 Spouse repat. 5.86 0.98 -0.12 *** 0.10
10 Spouse repat. 5.95 1.14 -0.15 ** 0.15 **
11 Children repat. 5.91 1.13 0.05 0.13 ***

Variable (a) 3 4 5 6

 1 Spouse WTRI
 2 Sex (b)
 3 Age ...
 4 Length of assignment (c) 0.26 ...
 5 Time back in U.S. (d) 0.07 0.14 *** ...
 6 Spouse c.c. 0.05 -0.04 -0.11 ...
 7 Spouse c.c. -0.17 0.05 -0.07 0.52 *
 8 Children c.c. -0.13 *** 0.06 -0.06 0.43 *
 9 Spouse repat. 0.11 -0.30 * -0.05 0.18 **
10 Spouse repat. 0.06 -0.13 *** 0.04 0.14 **
11 Children repat. -0.08 -0.23 * -0.04 0.04

Variable (a) 7 8 9 10 11

 1 Spouse WTRI
 2 Sex (b)
 3 Age
 4 Length of assignment (c)
 5 Time back in U.S. (d)
 6 Spouse c.c.
 7 Spouse c.c. ...
 8 Children c.c. 0.58 * ...
 9 Spouse repat. -0.05 -0.01 ...
10 Spouse repat. 0.01 0.10 0.60 * ...
11 Children repat. -0.07 0.11 0.54 * 0.53 * ...


(a) n = 127

(b) coded as 1=male, 2=female

(c) recorded in months

(d) recorded in months

* bold and underlined p #.01

** bold p #.05

*** underlined p #.10

TABLE 2. Hierarchical Regression--Spouse WTRI on Spouse and Children
Adjustment Measures

 Willingness to Relocate Internationally (a)

Variables [beta] t [R.sup.2] [DELTA]F

Step 1 .07 2.47 *
 Control variables
 Sex .05 0.60
 Age -.20 -2.24 *
 Length of assignment .25 2.77 **
 Time back in U.S. -.01 -0.03

Step 2: .17 4.27 ***
 Adjustment variables
 Spouse cross-cultural .41 4.04 ***
 Spouse cross-cultural -.14 -1.29
 Children cross-cultural .04 0.36
 Spouse repatriation -.07 -0.65
 Spouse repatriation -.25 -2.32 *
 Children repatriation .22 2.13

Overall [R.sup.2] and F .24 3.71 ***
Adjusted [R.sup.2] .18

(a) n = 127 * p [less than or equal to] .05; ** p [less than or equal
to] .01; *** p [less than or equal to] .001
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Author:Larson, Don A.
Publication:SAM Advanced Management Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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