In my previous Fact or Fiction entry I asked whether ‘Expatriates have less work-life balance abroad than at home’.
Here is some evidence:
The statement that expatriates have less work-life balance abroad than at home is a Fact.
In 2007 the ORC Worldwide conducted a survey focused directly on work-life balance within the internationally mobile community. The survey respondents were expatriates themselves, who indicated that they find it difficult to reach balance between their personal and professional life while abroad. One of the main findings was that expatriates spend longer hours at work than they do in their home countries, working on average 13.4 hours per week more. Several reasons explain this tendency.
First of all, expatriates identified challenges of the new job as the principal pressure. International assignments often involve some form of project implementation, higher-level management or another important objective, which certainly puts additional pressure on the employee. In addition, expatriates’ compensation packages often include incentive schemes linked to the successful completion of the assignment, which may also increase the extra time spent working.
Moreover, the survey respondents indicated that international assignments intrude into one’s family life. Mila Lazarova, a professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, who co-authored a book chapter on ‘Work-Life Balance and the Effective Management of Global Assignees’ argues that: “Overseas, family members rely on each other a lot more for support. An unhappy trailing spouse or child affects much more than the ‘work’ of expatriates. Tension in the family may have a negative impact on all aspects of the life of the expatriate.” Apart from long working hours and lots of business travels, factors such as language and cultural barriers as well as the loss of support networks may disrupt family life. Socialization with host country nationals or connecting with the expatriate community may take some time upon arrival, which also limits the range of activities available outside of the working time.
It is important to note that the survey respondents also mentioned a lack of organizational support and commitment in regards to work-life balance issues. Many reasons for work-life imbalances still stem from insufficient preparation before the assignment, insufficient help to adjust to the new country, lack of work-life balance policies and insufficient organization assistance with family relocation.
However, work-life balance is not only influenced by assignment-related challenges but also by host country nationals, their culture and working etiquette. Interestingly, the data of the 2010 Expat Explorer Survey indicates that work-life balance issues are perceived to vary between countries. The top five countries ranking positively on a work-life balance scale were (in descending order): South Africa, Thailand, Spain, France and Bermuda. The least work-life balance ‘friendly’ country seems to be India, ranking 25th in the list.
Caligiuri, P. and Lazarova, M. (2005). Work-Life Balance and the Effective Management of Global Assignees. In: S.A.Y. Poelmans (Ed.), Work and Family: An International Research Perspective. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.