Going abroad, leaving your own country and comfort zone, has always been viewed as taking some sort of risk. The same is also valid when speaking about companies pursuing international business opportunities, because foreign markets always involve potential country risks, whether of economic, political or cultural sort. In recent years, the list of relevant country risks has grown, with more attention being paid also to terror-related issues.
Becoming a direct victim of terrorism, such as employee death in terrorist attacks, damaged buildings and goods, or ransom paid for kidnappings, may be of rather limited occurrence for international companies. Yet, terrorism has much more far-reaching indirect effects. For example, terrorist activities may cause unpredicted disturbances to the business (e.g. shortages of goods), result in changes of governmental law and requirements for business to follow, increase the costs of companies’ security measures, and influence each individual employee on their personal or family level. Given that international organizations usually do use expatriate assignments, the terrorism related issues naturally influence them as well.
A recent article by German researchers Bader and Berg (2014) analyzes the effects of terrorism on expats, specifically looking at expat performance, and suggesting some practical measures to minimize the related impediments.
Looking at expatriate assignments from a stress theory perspective, Bader and Berg argue that terrorism can be a source of stress for expats, that the stress effects depend on the individual’s perception of the stressful situation, and that reduced expat performance is one of the potential outcomes of this stress.
More specifically, the author’s terrorism-related stress model includes two stages, separating the emergence of stress from the potential outcomes. In the stress emergence phase, the individual is reacting to relevant stressors (e.g. terrorist threat and attacks), and, as the scholars highlight, the level of perceived stress depends on the individual’s appraisal of the stressors. For instance, people with different levels of sensitivity may perceive the same terrorist threat quite differently. A more sensitive perception of stressors leads to higher levels of actua stress, which causes strain and further leads to other outcomes. In the potential outcomes phase, the model highlights the effect of stress and strain on expats’ work attitudes, which eventually influence expat performance.
Based on the model, the researchers suggest three possible ways of mitigating the impact of stress on expat performance. First of all, organizations could potentially intervene on the level of stressors, trying to eliminate them, so that stress does not arise in the first place. Yet, this is not realistic at the level of one organization.
The next possible intervention point is trying to leverage and lower the influence of existing stressors. As the authors put it, ‘from a management point of view, it is crucial to analyze what a company can do in order to keep the accruing stress level low’ (pg. 547). The authors suggest that company interventions can start already during expat selection, considering such factors as gender, age and experience for assignments in high-risk countries. Further, the company can provide training and organizational support with respects to expats’ work and personal life domains. Similar to the logic of cross-cultural training, training for high-risk countries can provide information about terrorism, create realistic expectations, and teach coping skills and strategies to deal with difficult situations. The coping skills may range from self-management skills to physical self-defense skills and behaviors in a crisis situation. As for company support, it can be of both organizational (e.g. providing information) and social (e.g. employee get-togethers, on-site mentoring) nature. Moreover, employers should not forget about the expat family, in case they relocate together with the assignee.
In case an individual has already experienced stress, the third way to intervene would be in helping employees to cope with the stress and increase their psychological well being. For example, the researchers propose to implement anti-stress programs, which should be tailored for each individual’s needs separately. Such personalized measures may include giving time off, providing possible psychological assistance, and organizing recreational activities that allow recovering from the stress. In general terms, the anti-stress initiatives should aim at distancing the employee from the source of the problem and providing him/her with some mental distraction.
Bader, B. & Berg, N. (2014) The influence of terrorism on expatriate performance: a conceptual approach. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 25, 4, 539-557.