Dissertation: Is repatriation really an issue? Not for expatriated dual-career couples

Uutisen oletuskuva
Coming back to the home country seems to be a smooth process for the expatriated international dual-career couples, according to a new study from the University of Vaasa.

“The comprehensive interviews which have been conducted with 36 expatriates and their dual-career partners show that the return is actually much more pleasant than anticipated”, says Agnieszka Kierner, who will defend her doctoral dissertation in Management on March 16th.
Agnieszka Kierner väittelee Vaasan yliopistossa 16. maaliskuuta johtamisen alalta.

The world is becoming more global, and more dual-career couples, where both partners are not only physically but also psychologically involved in their careers choose to give an international life a try and leave their home country to work abroad. This decision, also called expatriation, is difficult for them, but since it is made by people who are engaged in their career, it is most often conscious and very rational.


These highly driven couples, who made cautious decisions and are often accompanied by children, land in a new location full of hope.


“But, after a few months, enthusiasm softens, and reality bites, especially when one of the partners in the couple does not feel progress in their career. After a while of fascination with the new culture, travelling and experiences that expatriate life offers, one of the partners starts to press on coming back home. The need to return to an intensive professional life, a sense of self-fulfillment, becomes more important than rational understanding of the importance of living an international experience for a partner and the family” - says Kierner.


According to Kierner, earlier research has shown that returning home after an international assignment can be problematic, since usually organizations do not have good programs to leverage the experience of returning expatriates and for the family. The loss of many benefits that come with expatriation, adjusting to the ‘home’ which already changed, usually make returning to the home country very difficult. The results of Kierner's dissertation shows that the situation is different in the case of expatriated dual-career couples. The couples interviewed reported surprisingly positive experiences with repatriation.


I can truly say that the whole process of coming back was really easy for us...”, this is the significantly dominant voice of the research participants.. These positive experiences are driven by a few factors that are unique for dual-career couples.


“First, they are mature about their choices and self-manage timing on when and how they want to expatriate.  Second, many of them have had international orientation, gained by earlier international experiences, studying abroad or observation of expats in their workplace”, says Kierner.


The third factor is that they are better at integration of work and family life. Often, upon return they would be more coordinated around selecting housing at home or starting a personal interest project like building a cottage on a lake.


“Finally, and likely most importantly, at least the partner who initiated the idea of coming back home is really happy that he or she can realize future career interests”. – Kierner said.


“Living abroad was nice, but personally I need to have a job. Coming back was actually a relief”- said one of the respondents.


Kierner's research and dissertation covers the full cycle of expatriation of dual-career couples. It begins with the identification of research gaps through a review of the literature on dual-career assigned expatriates, starting with issues preceding assignment, followed by an examination of adjustment to a new country, and concluding, as said above with the repatriation of dual-career couples to their home country.


Kierner also formulates practical recommendations for dual-career expatriates, partners, and human resources managers. Current and prospective expatriates may be interested in the description of each phase of their experience as well as the support practices available during expatriation. Understanding of the perspective on value of these support practices may encourage future expatriates to utilize them and to request specific help, for example, in the area of job or educational support for dual-career partners..


Specifically, for expatriates, the work of Kierner presents the potential challenges inherent to female expatriation and provides a guide to the roles that a male partner needs to adopt for such expatriation to be successful. The described evolution of hope of partners points out the importance of meaningful employment and can help increase attention to ensuring that the job permit for DCC partner is available prior to leaving for an assignment, or that the job search starts well ahead of expatriation.


Managers of expatriates, and human resources managers in charge of diversity and expatriation benefits will find useful analysis of support practices, which provides a portfolio of potential support programs. This portfolio should aid in the design of expatriate benefits and enhance current support systems for partners, who are those most in need of either job or emotional support. Knowledge of the spillover effects between family members and the influence of the partner on early repatriation should motivate MNCs to offer support practices providing meaningful job opportunities for DCC partners such as help in obtaining job permits, help with finding employment abroad or options to further partner’s education. HR managers intent on the creation of a diverse and efficacious workforce should find beneficial of successful female expatriates, as well as guides to the roles male partners should adopt to give a foreign assignment the best chance of success. The male partner support practices suggested therein could increase the recruitment and success rate of diverse expatriate candidates.


In conclusion, Kierner says that leaders should not be afraid to appoint dual-career couples.


“It’s time to stop the stereotypical thinking that dual-career couples are not movable. These highly educated and experienced individuals bring incredible value – we only need to understand what their needs are and how to cope with them. Leaders who really care for diversity of their employees cannot pass on the opportunity to welcome international dual-career couples to their teams”, says Kierner.


Public defense


The public examination of M.Sc. Agnieszka Kierner’s doctoral dissertation  “Expatriation of Dual-Career Couples” will be held on Monday 16 March at 15 o´clock D219 (University of Vaasa). The field of dissertation is Management.


Professor Svetlana Khapova (Vrije University Amsterdam) will act as opponent and professor Vesa Suutari as custos. The examination will be held in English.


Further information


Agnieszka Kierner, tel. +1 4256586500, e-mail: kierner.a@gmail.com


Agnieszka Kierner (2020). Expatriation of Dual-Career Couples. Acta Wasaensia 442. Doctoral dissertation. University of Vaasa. Vaasan yliopisto.


PDF: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-476-908-2


Additional information


Agnieszka Kierner was born in Lodz, Poland in 1975. She has two Masters' degrees - in Management and in Sociology - from the University of Lodz, Poland. She has also completed an Executive MBA in Business Management at the University of Maryland, Robert H. Smith School of Business, USA. In her career, she has worked as an HR Director. She currently works as Strategic and HR advisor, board member and as visiting lecturer at Boston College, USA.

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