Family Performance in Expatriation: About the Concept and Measurement

family-law-attorneyThe role of the family in expatriation has been a long-standing topic in the field of global mobility. Many different sources highlight that the family has been and continues to be an important factor in expatriation. Indeed, according to the latest Cartus 2014 Global Mobility Policy and Practices survey, family challenges remain the top (61%) reason for assignment failure. Moreover, based on the Cartus data, 70% of expatriates are being accompanied to the assignment by their spouse or partner, and nearly half of the respondents are also accompanied by children (or other dependent family members). Finally, the importance of family is even more evident given that 76% of survey respondents rated family or personal circumstances as the primary reason for turning down an assignment.

Given the aforementioned data it is possible to argue that work and family are not discrete domains, but are actually interrelated and influence each other. This may have positive sides, for example when a functioning family can provide resources for dealing with challenges abroad (e.g., Lazarova et al., 2010) but it may also lead to work-family conflicts. Indeed, today, with more hours worked and increased female participation in the workforce employees around the world are faced with the challenge of combining work and family roles. Work-family research has primarily been conducted with a focus on the influences on employees’ performance at work, with much less attention paid to the influences of work-family conflicts on employees’ performance at home in their family roles. Aiming to address this gap, my coauthors and I recently (Chen et al., 2014) looked specifically into the concept of family role performance. After a thorough literature review, we realized that while the importance attributed to family role performance is fairly well established , there is a lack of consensus about what constitutes family performance, and a need for a solid measure to tap into it. Hence, the aim of our study was to clarify the concept and come up with a sound measure of it.


Defining and measuring the concept of family performance

Relying on previous theoretical perspectives, we began the process by constitutively defining family role performance as the fulfillment of obligations and expectations stemming from the roles associated with participation in the family domain. To be more specific, and drawing on parallels with work role performance theories, we anticipated that these obligations and expectations would comprise both task-related (i.e. getting things done) and relationship (i.e. facilitating the psycho-social context) aspects. The assumption for the multidimensionality of the construct was supported with the first study in our series.

Specifically, after 26 in-depth interviews with Israeli and US respondents, we came up with a list of descriptions of the concept, out of which we derived an initial set of 17 family role performance items. Based on the organizational performance literature we further classified the 17 items into two separate categories. The first category is family role task performance, which refers to those aspects of the particular role (e.g., being a parent, spouse, child) that are expected by others. For example, the role of a parent may include the task of doing household chores. The second category was termed family role relationship performance, andit refers to items of social support and quality of interactions and communications. For example, apart from explicit parental tasks, such as household chores, the role of a parent may also include contextual performance, such as giving emotional support and expressing affection to other family members.

In two consecutive studies, we assessed the initial 17-item family role performance scale, and based on the results of the exploratory factor analysis came up with the modified and final version of the scale, which comprises 8 items across two dimensions (task and relationship). The scale items are reproduced below:

derived from Chen et al. 2014
derived from Chen et al. 2014

Family role performance: Related variables

Our empirical results showed that both dimensions of family role performance (task and relationship) were significantly and positively related to engagement in one’s family role. In addition, we found that family role engagement (both in terms of attention paid to the family and being engrossed in the family) was in turn predicted by family resources such as the existence of emotional support within the family. As such, we concluded that engagement in one’s family role serves as a mediator between different types of family resources and family role performance. In other words, we can assume that when feeling support within a family one is more likely to be engaged with the family, both cognitively and physically, which in turn would lead to better performance in relation to one’s family role as expected by other family members.

In conclusion…

All in all, I would argue that family role performance is a relevant concept not just in the general work-family context, but also in the specific context of expatriation as an international relocation also changes the family dynamics. For example, one of my older posts provides some evidence that expatriates have less work-life balance abroad than at home. Given the underlying assumption of our study that performance in the work and family roles are interrelated and influence each other, it is important to pay attention to both of these domains in parallel. This also points to important implications for organizations, which should help their employees perform well both at work and within their families, as it is likely that an individual who has better family role performance also performs better in his/her work role.


Further reading:

Chen, Y.-P., Shaffer, M., Westman, M., Chen, S., Lazarova, M., & Reiche, S. (2014). Family Role Performance: Scale Development and Validation. Applied Psychology, 63, 1, 190-218.

Lazarova, M., Westman, M., & Shaffer, M.A. (2010). Elucidating the positive side of the work-family interface on international assignments: A model of expatriate work and family performance. Academy of Management Review, 35, 93-117.

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