Expatriates have less work-life balance abroad than at home. Some evidence.

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.

Further reading:

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.


14 thoughts on “Expatriates have less work-life balance abroad than at home. Some evidence.

  1. Hello Dr,

    Thank you for this insightful post and for linking to the survey results. I cited you and this article in a blog post linking to this post. The topic of the post is: How to Have Good Work-Life Balance While on Assignment (http://blog.paragonrelocation.com/index.php/good-work-life-balance-international-assignment/ ). It has some tips and advice for people are struggling with this while on assignment. If you’d like to read it and link to it, that would be great! Thanks again!

    -Mike Morabito

  2. Can attest to the fact that it is difficult to maintain that balance.
    However my greatest difficulty was adjusting to normal family routine after returning from working in Ghana for nearly 2 years.

    Channel my energy into online marketing where there is no hours required. Enjoy web development, but must admit that I have become a “family-misfit”

  3. An interesting post. Surely though the stress placed upon the expat and his family depends largely on the degree of “difference” or”foreignness” of the host country. Cultural and social differences play a large part. This can most clearly be seen not in countries such as South Africa, which is largely Western in outlook, but in those like India where huge cultural and social differences exist, making it difficult for the expat and his or her family to adjust.

  4. I can see where this could be difficult for a family with teenage kids. I have traveled a lot and the adjustment period varies depending on where I went but the cultural differences can make it difficult in some areas.

  5. I think the point can be that if you choose to move away from your native country and are prepared to give it a go it can work. The languages in Europe can be difficult to learn however you can get by if you just try. Doing it also with children has its advantages as they pick up the language at school and you get to meet the parents and join in from a different angle.
    The overall result is very rewarding if you stick at it.

  6. Working here in Bangkok certainly has its pros and cons both professionally and culturally. I’m an expat who has been living out here for over ten years now and I can safely say that there are times when this place drives me nuts. The move towards westernization in Thailand came at lightning speed and totally engulfed Bangkok without Thai people really being prepared for it. One of the main reasons for this is that the country is one of the only ones in South East Asia that never got colonised and so the benefits (if you can call them that) of having firsthand experience with foreigners on different of levels never happened.
    There’s some interesting stuff about some of the loop holes us foreigners have to jump through here at business lawyer Thailand.
    There is a level of balance here though for most of us who have at least steeled for the long term and I think there is another country in the region which is so tolerant and understanding towards its foreign guests.

  7. I spent 4 years working for an Insurance company in Singapore and went through an interesting period of adjustment.
    Upon arrival I threw myself into work as I knew know one and found this was the easiest thing to do. So ended up doing the exact opposite of what the intended move was for from my perspective, I had envisaged exotic travel and lots of free time on the beach, instead I was doing 12hr – 14hr days and working harder than I ever have.
    I eventually managed to create a better work life balance for myself and I have to say once it was in place, there is no better City or region in the world to live in my opinion.
    I would say from my experience, that expats do have a better work-life balance, it is just the initial adjustment period that can be a little fraught.

  8. i like reading your artilcle about having a balanced life. i was born in ghana . i studied in the usa . i occasionally visit ghana . i can compare the feelings. great post.

  9. I have to agree with Peter. A lot of it has to do with the similarities between your host and home country. For example, language strain can also cause a lot of issues, along with the visas and finding good jobs. Acculturation is difficult and I don’t think that finding a balance between work life and home life is any different for foreign born nationals or native born nationals. The cultural influence merely influences how they approach support and the different types of support they choose to contribute (ie material versus emotional).

  10. I think it depends. Even though some expatriates find it hard to adapt to a new job or some other pressure. Sometimes, competition in other locations are very much low compared to that of technically advanced countries.

  11. I live in Bangkok and originally planned to work here although this ambition literally died in the first weeks. The long hours, the measly pay, and just the heat and sapping climate of the metropolis makes the idea of working terrifying. A western wage does go a lot further here but the general type of expat on local wages here is jaded and miserable. I’d much rather work back home then call to BKK for holidays instead.

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