Retaining international employees

For multinational organizations, the ‘war for talent’ has become global. When organizations face skill shortages they can draw on international workers as a source of human capital. Similarly, in-demand skilled workers are willing to work overseas where their competences are needed. Consequently, multinational organizations need to address the unique needs and circumstances of qualified immigrant workers and expatriates when developing employee retention strategies. The few studies that have been conducted in this area have focused on expatriates working in the US (Siers, 2007), US expatriates (Ren, Shaffer, Harrison, Fu & Fodchuk, 2014) and skilled migrant workers (Bahn, 2014; Halvorsen, Treuren & Kulik, 2015).

As discussed earlier, retention studies based on traditional employee samples have consistently shown the importance of various worker perceptions and attitudes, including perceived fit, equity, justice and support, as well as job satisfaction and organizational commitment. In addition to these critical perceptions and attitudes, studies conducted on expatriates suggest a few other factors necessary for the retention of international workers, most notably the extent to which they are able to adjust and embed themselves in a new organization, community and culture (Bahn, 2014; Halvorsen et al., 2015; Ren et al., 2014; Siers, 2007). Appropriate adjustment and a good fit tend to lead to greater organizational commitment and cognitive states of engagement, which ultimately enhance retention (e.g., Halvorsen et al., 2015; Ren et al., 2014).

The expatriate literature has predominantly viewed expatriates as having to react to and navigate the demands and pressures of an uncertain international assignment (e.g., learning a new language, becoming familiar with cultural novelty, managing differences in cultural values; e.g., Bhaskar-Shrinivas, Harrison, Shaffer & Luk, 2005; Black & Gregersen, 1991; Ren et al., 2014) in order to adjust appropriately to the new environment. If the expatriate does not respond well or properly adjust to the new environment, cognitive and behavioural withdrawal is expected. However, Ren and colleagues (2014) proposed that expatriates can also engage in proactive tactics to ease their transition to an unfamiliar environment and fully engage in the new organization, community and culture. Indeed, the proactive tactic of positive framing (e.g., casting circumstances in a favourable way) has been linked to more successful adjustment, and both positive framing and relationshipbuilding (e.g., networking with host country colleagues) were linked with greater expatriate embeddedness (Ren et al., 2014). Furthermore, Ren and colleagues found that adequate adjustment and embeddedness were positively related to intentions both to stay on international assignments and renew their contracts.

These results indicate that organizational retention strategies should be adjusted for international workers. The traditional turnover models suggesting that perceived fit, equity, justice and organizational support are important to retention strategies certainly apply to international workers. However, there are other factors and nuances to consider for this employee group. Psychological adjustment to a new environment is critical, so organizations should equip their international employees not only to manage the demands and pressures of a new environment, but to proactively acclimatize themselves to it. Foremost, it is not only job fit and organizational fit that matter, but also embeddedness in a new community and culture. The research suggests that organizations employing international workers should provide them with opportunities for engaging socially with the local community and reducing cultural distance (Halvorsen, Treuren & Kulik, 2015).

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