Reasons For Expatriate Failure
Expatriate failure is usually defined as a posting that either ends
prematurely or is considered ineffective by senior management. Most
research into the matter has come to the conclusion that failure rates
are high and can vary between 20% and 50% depending on the country.
Emerging countries such as those of Southeast Asia are considered
higher risk than so-called advanced nations.
The costs of failure have been estimated by numerous means with widely
varying results. Despite the lack of clarity, it is clear that a failed
assignment in an overseas location is considerably more expensive than
one occurring closer to home.
Below are the chief factors resulting in an unsuccessful expatriate assignment.
Most expatriate managers are challenged and excited to be in their new
postings. They need to spend a lot of time at work since they are under
pressure to adapt to the new culture and their overall responsibilities
are often larger than they have experienced before.
result, the wives of expatriates spend a lot of time by themselves –
and yes, trailing spouses are still usually female – and are cut-off
from their own family and friends. At the same time, the wife is
usually dealing with problems for which she has no previous experience.
She may catch a maid stealing or get stopped by a policeman who wants a
payoff for a non-existent offence. She may have been told that internet
connectivity is available but then finds it takes 6 months to install.
All through this, she will probably discover that suitable employment
for herself is next to impossible in an emerging country – seriously
damaging her own long-term career.
It is no surprise that it is generally the trailing spouse who suffers the greater
culture shock in the new country. The result can be an unhappy spouse
who does her best to impair the performance of the expatriate
Total marriage breakdown is not an uncommon result. Unofficial numbers
from the Asian Development Bank (a large development organization
modelled after the World Bank) are that upwards of 40% of their
expatriate’s marriages fail due to the stress of offshore
The consequence is that many expatriate postings are either terminated
early or the performance of the expatriate managers are impaired.
It is common for inexperienced expatriate managers to be taken
completely by surprise at the deep cultural differences in their posted
Expatriates can find that, after a seemingly open conversation about
improvements to be made, staff members don't show up for work for 2 days. In meetings, local staff think it is
acceptable to spend hours talking on and on until every possible issue
is agreed to by everyone. If expatriate managers are to be
successful, they will need to learn how to adapt to concepts such as
“saving face” (the cause of staff members not showing up for work)
and “building consensus” that are important in Asia.
also need to realize that transforming their staff into Americans
or Japanese workers has been tried and it doesn’t work. All
expatriates manoeuver a narrow path between accepting local conventions
on one side and aspiring to international standards on the other.
Southeast Asia has a rich variety of cultures. The differences in
religion are one example. Thailand is graciously Buddhist, Indonesia is
gently (but intensely) Islamic and Philippines is completely Catholic.
As for Singaporeans, some say their only religion is work. Managing
such varied peoples obviously requires very different tactics.
In their home countries, most expatriates are middle-managers with
relatively ordinary lives. Once relocated to Asia, they are suddenly
thrust into the national spotlight as the Country Manager of a high profile multinational organization. They have more people reporting to them
than ever and often have more control over them.
On the personal front, expatriates may have household servants for the first
time, are called upon to meet senior government officials and are
generally made to feel important. Further, some expatriates may be
attracting enthusiastic attention of certain local females seeking
their own type of fame and fortune by landing a high-status foreign boyfriend or
The combination of greatly expanded responsibility and social status
can be difficult to handle for people lacking the emotional maturity to
keep themselves grounded. It is not uncommon for expatriates to either
destroy their career opportunities and/or marriages by ignoring
responsibilities and succumbing to self-destructive temptations.
In almost all cases, the responsibilities of expatriates in emerging countries will be larger than they
are used to overseeing. Given the nature of emerging countries in
Southeast Asia, expatriates may supervise 5 to 10 times
more people than ever before.
In other words, a German IT Manager who managed 15 people in his home country
could have 100 in Malaysia. An American call center manager with
100 people in the US
can find himself soon overseeing 800 in Philippines.
Such large increases in responsibility are difficult for anyone to
handle. Added to that, are the new challenges of managing expectations
of head office managers and clients in other countries and who may not
understand the cultural differences that are impacting results.
Expatriates are generally motivated to succeed and excited about
gaining international experience. As a result, they often work long
hours in the early part of their postings to do “whatever it takes” to
be successful. They are also adapting to seemingly overwhelming
cultural differences with local staff and greatly expanded
On the home front, the families of expatriates are almost certainly
going through their own severe cultural adjustments and may be
clamouring for the managers’ time and attention to help them through
combination of emotional despondency and physical exhaustion from elevated stress levels and overwork is a common
problem for new expatriates -- otherwise known as burn-out. Unless alleviated, the result can be
dramatically reduced effectiveness or work-interrupting illness for managers.
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Attendees are both expatriate and Asian management personnel
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CEO Forum is operated as a CSR (Corporate Social
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considered a must-attend occasion for business leaders active in
The star-studded Board of Judges of Asia CEO Awards give
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The awards recognize extraordinary leaders who have demonstrated
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As one of the fastest growing nations on the planet, the world's
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throughout the world call upon the Principals of Chalre Associates for thought leadership.
Below are some examples of published material written by our
consultants or international journalists who refer to them. For a complete list of published work,
Getting Ready For The
Deluge: Outsourcing in Philippines
Chalre Associates senior staff
Economist Intelligence Unit of the Economist magazine
asked Chalre Associates' Chairman, Richard Mills,
to write a chapter about the Philippine outsourcing sector
in its annual Business Guide Book. The material
provides a Executive Briefing on the progress and major
issues facing this industry that is certainly one of most
significant growth stories in the world.
Asia Pacific Mining
Conference 2007 - Report
Chalre Associates senior staff
The 7th Asia Pacific Mining Conference put on by the Asean
Federation of Mining Associations was perhaps the largest
such event in the region. Richard Mills, Chairman of Chalre Associates
gave this report on what was said by the prominent mining
people who presented.
State of BPO in Philippines: Dan Reyes Speaks
Chalre Associates senior staff
Mills, Chairman of Chalre Associates,
interviewed Dan Reyes of Sitel for ComputerWorld (US) recently to get
his views on the state of the BPO industry in Philippines. Dan
presented US readers with compelling information to support his view
that Philippines is currently seen as the "Number 1" option by global
companies sending BPO work to offshore destinations.
Dan Reyes is easily one of most experienced Business Process
Outsourcing (BPO) managers in the Asia Pacific region and the world. He
is head of the extremely successful Philippine operations of Sitel, the
world's largest call center organization. Among other things, he is a
founder and former president of the Business Processing Association of
the Philippines. more