Expatriate Employee Work Experiences
The Effects of Expatriate Employee Status on Performance and Work Experiences

Renee Raville
Wayne State University Department of Psychology


Expatriates face unique challenges when adjusting to workplace environments in the United States. This premise is based on the person-environment fit theory (Edwards, et al; 1990), which postulates that work related stress is increased when employee characteristics do not match job requirements. Participants recruited in this survey included working male and female expatriates in the United States with the ability to converse in English and a minimum of one year U.S. residency. Data-gathering techniques employed the Job Diagnostics Survey to test expatriates’ fit with their job description, job satisfaction, and perceived performance. The findings indicate that acculturation challenges do exist indeed, but also reveal cohort effects as a function of age and educational status of expatriate employees.


Acculturation problems in the workplace decrease employee productivity and challenge organizational function. Costs include absenteeism, early return to the home country, and lower performance (Tung, 1982; Copeland & Griggs, 1985). Poor cross-cultural adjustment decreases job performance and satisfaction (Vianen & Pater, 2004). Cultural misunderstandings generate psychological stress (Gelade & Ivery, 2003) and undermine organizational efficacy. Employees resist management initiatives when they conflict with their cultural values (Adler, 1997; Kirkman, 2001). Globalization promotes expatriation and therefore necessitates the development of positive cross-cultural relationships within the workplace. Different cultural orientations and unique situational constraints challenge the success of expatriate acculturation. Despite growing attention to cross-cultural issues in multi-cultural work environments, acculturation challenges persist. Many surveys have been used to examine various aspects of multinational organizations. We hypothesized that inadequate acculturation leads to reduced job performance among expatriates and tested the hypothesis using the Job Diagnostics Survey (JDS) (Oldham, 1975). This validated instrument has not previously been employed for the study of acculturation in the workplace.



Fifty-seven adults between the ages of 18-65 completed the online survey. Eligibility requirements included comprehension of English or completion of an ESL course, having been born in another country, residency for at least one year in the United States, and current employment or college attendance in the United States. Sixty-eight percent of participants were between the ages of 20 and 29. Eighty-one percent of participants had received some level of college education. Participants held various job titles and descriptions. See Figure 1. The ethnicities varied also. See Figure 2. Survey responses were compared with age-matched control groups of participants who were born in the United States and employed or attending college.

Figure 1

Figure 2


A modified JDS was administered to participants online. Thirteen questions pertaining to respondent perceptions of equity in the workplace were added to the original 83 JDS items. A series of demographic items: sex, age, education, job title and/or brief description, country of origin, and ethnicity were also included. The survey assesses job fit through the following factors: performance, satisfaction, security, conscientiousness, co-worker relations, equity, challenge, and autonomy. Validity and reliability were established for the JDS in 1982 using the multi-trait-multi-method matrix.

The additional thirteen questions were pre-tested to establish their reliability and validity. Pre-testing was conducted by administering the 13 items to ten expatriate students. Responses to the questions were rated for content validity and reliability of those questions and found to be both valid and reliable. The full questionnaire took 30-45 minutes to complete. Answers were quantified using a Likert scale. A moderate effect size (.33) was obtained.

Data Analysis

Analyses of variance (ANOVA) were utilized to test differences between the groups in job performance, perceptions of equity, and job satisfaction. Multiple regression analyses were run to characterize relationships between the variables, and determine which variables would be good predictors of other variables. Chi Square analyses were run on preferences between test groups of different paired variables. Independent sample t-tests were run on expatriate and national groups to test the performance variable and the job satisfaction variable separately.


The mean scores were similar for the test and control groups on all variables tested (performance, equity, satisfaction, co-worker relations, autonomy, challenge, conscientiousness, and security). The largest difference was found regarding the preference for challenging work/tasks (t(55) = 1.94, p < .05). See Table 1&2.

Table 1

Mean Scores for Expatriate Experiences in the Workplace






Task Challenge





















Table 2

Mean Score for National Experiences in the Workplace






Task Challenge




















Performance differences were apparent between expatriates and national employees. The latter self-reported significantly higher performance scores as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3

Text Box:    				 (F(40) = 2.25, p < .05)

There is also a relationship between self-reported performance and job satisfaction (F(40) = 4.53, p <. 05) All variables were significantly related to job satisfaction. Conscientiousness was more important to expatriates but not on a significant level (t(55) = 1.87, p < .06). Challenging work environments were preferred by expatriates compared to national employees (t(55) = 2.33, p<.05).

Table 3

Correlations between variables and their corresponding p values





Task Challenge




r =.652, p < .001

r =.685, p<.001

r =.697, p<.001

r =.402, p<.001

r =.586, p<.001

r =.613, p<.001


r =.620, p<.001

r =.347, p<.05

r =.350, p<.05


r =.368, p<.05

r =.579, p<.001


r =.816, p<.001

r =.640, p<.001

r =.368, p<.05

r =.527, p<.001

Task Challenge

r =.393, p<.001


r =.375, p<.05

r =.487, p<.001

r =.399, p<.001

r =.391, p<.001

There were significant differences in preferences between two variables when expatriates and nationals were required to choose between them. Expatriates preferred equity over task challenge (Χ 2 (1) = 9.53, p< .05). Nationals also preferred equity over task challenge (Χ 2 (1) = 5.33, p< .05). Both expatriates and nationals placed more importance upon co-worker relationships than autonomy (Χ 2 (1) = 4.26, p< .05). When tested as separate groups, neither showed a significant preference for co-worker relations versus autonomy. National employees showed a preference for easier jobs versus jobs where they were treated more equitably (Χ 2 (1) = 8.07, p< .05). Expatriates placed more importance upon co-worker relationships than challenging tasks (Χ 2 (1) = 7.26, p< .05). National employees also preferred positive co-worker relations versus challenging tasks (Χ 2 (1) = 6.23, p< .05). Expatriates preferred challenging jobs to jobs with more security (Χ 2 (1) = 10.7, p< .05). Nationals reflected the same preference (Χ 2 (1) = 3.77, p< .05). Both expatriates and nationals preferred a more satisfying job to a more secure job, respectively (Χ 2 (1) = 4.55, p< .05), (Χ 2 (1) = 7.14, p< .05).


Previous research cites large disparities between national and expatriate work environment preferences and treatment. Our results did not reveal any significant disparities between the groups. The similar mean scores for all the variables tested reflected this finding. This is shown in the small difference found between groups in performance ratings. Both groups were closely related in self-reported job satisfaction. This could be due to cohort effects in our expatriate test group, since the majority of participants were in the 20-29 age brackets and attending college. Perhaps job satisfaction is not much of a concern for them right now. They may perceive it differently than other expatriate groups, and they may not work as often because they are in school. These same reasons can be stated for the small difference in performance scores. There is the additional possibility that, since these participants were attending college, this could have assisted in the acculturation process, thus lowering performance disparities. The conscientiousness variable was found to be higher (though not significantly) among the expatriate group, perhaps more aware of their social status as expatriates and perceiving additional challenges to complete work successfully. Lack of a significant difference here could be due to the modest effect size and lower power due to a smaller number of participants than originally sought. All the variables correlated to some extent and were predictive of one another. This multi-linearity reflects the importance of all these variables upon one another and upon overall job performance and satisfaction. The preferences for one variable over another, when forced to choose between two answers, was the same whether groups were tested together as one population or separately with expatriates forming the test group and nationals forming the control group. This similarity contrasts with prior research reflecting different priorities between expatriate and national employees. These findings were consistent when respondents from Canada and the United States were combined. This could be due to the aforementioned cohort effects of the test group, because they were all attending college and possibly more acculturated than other expatriate groups. Both groups preferred equity over task challenge. Co-worker relationships were more important than autonomy. Nationals also cited co-worker relationships as being more important than challenging tasks. There was no significant preference for this among the expatriate group. Challenging tasks were more important than job security. Perhaps this was due to a lack of employment security in other countries as well or, perhaps younger workers do not expect job security as much as older generations. Both groups preferred a job with overall satisfaction and less autonomy than one with more autonomy and less overall satisfaction. This indicates autonomy is not as important as other job components to most expatriate and national employees alike.


There is no way to verify that participants met the requirements of the study apart from their self-report. The number of participants and the effect size were modest, and so we must question the generalizability of these findings. Cohort effects were apparent: a majority of participants were in a particular age bracket and most attended college. This could have biased the results. The same constructs should be tested with a tool other than JDS. Some research reflects overly positive performance scores when self-reports were administered (Strauss, 2005).


The preference for challenging jobs could be indicative of the personality type of people enrolled in college. Perhaps people in college prefer a challenge, need more challenging tasks to hold their attention due to the mental rigors of college work and critical thinking skills, are not focused on a solid career yet and do not hold as many specific job preferences while going to school, or still reside with family and do not work. All of these possibilities should be questioned and studied. Other studies show acculturation issues and performance discrepancies within expatriate populations working in the USA (Martocchio, 2004 & Aycan, 1997). There are consulting programs specifically constructed to deal with acculturation issues. Are these groups working to alleviate an issue that is non-existent or misdiagnosed? We are reluctant to say “yes,” but should try understanding why our findings were so different from previous research. We should test the perceptions and self-reports of expatriates working in this country briefly compared to those that have been here over longer time increments to find any trends in acculturation and perceptions over time. Does being a college student help you acculturate quicker to work environments? What are the social and economic implications of this? These questions require additional research.

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