Am I ‘In or Out’? A Social Identity Approach to Studying Expatriates’ Social Networks and Adjustment in a Host Country Context

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Business Research, 2021, 136, pp. 558-566
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Utilizing the Social Identity Theory, this study compares the adjustment process of self-initiated expatriates (SIEs) and organizational assigned expatriates (OEs). It explores the effectiveness of organizational training programs for expatriates and the role of host country nationals (HCNs) in the expatriate adjustment process. It further investigates how group membership at work influences the work-related outcomes related to expatriates’ personal, social and relational social identity dimensions. By interviewing key informants from three multinational enterprises (MNEs) in China, this study finds that traditional cross-cultural training practices are redundant as expatriates on various staffing patterns have a different understanding of local cultural and social values. We contribute by providing evidence of how the motivation for undertaking an assignment varies between SIEs (who view this role as a stepping-stone to find a better position in another organization) and OEs (who view this transfer as a key opportunity for promotion, within their current organization). Our findings also suggest that despite SIEs belief that they were in-group members of networks, HCNs do not distinguish between OEs and SIEs, and treated both groups as members of the out-group. We present the theoretical and practical implications of this study and provide future research directions in the paper.
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