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Managing Stress in the Expatriate Family: A Case Study of the State Department of the United States of America



We identified international relocation as a source of stress for the expatriate family as it generates uncertainty, reduces control and increases ambiguity. We then described the initiatives taken by the State Department of the United States of America to reduce the stress that the family feels when relocating to a foreign assignment. Each initiative is discussed in terms of its potential to reduce uncertainty, increase control and reduce ambiguity. We concluded that the State Department provides a comprehensive set of initiatives which can help to reduce stress in the foreign-service family.
Managing Stress in the
Expatriate Family: A
Case Study of the State
Department of the
United States of America
By Amanda Wilkinson and Gangaram Singh, PhD
We identified international relocation as a source of stress for the expatriate family
as it generates uncertainty, reduces control and increases ambiguity. We then
described the initiatives taken by the State Department of the United States of
America to reduce the stress that the family feels when relocating to a foreign
assignment. Each initiative is discussed in terms of its potential to reduce
uncertainty, increase control and reduce ambiguity. We concluded that the State
Department provides a comprehensive set of initiatives which can help to reduce
stress in the foreign-service family.
Background Information
The State Department of the United States of America (hereinafter referred to as the
State Department) has diplomatic missions in more than 250 active posts around the
world. Civil servants from the State Department actively relocate to these posts, and
the common practice is for the family to accompany the civil servants. Such constant
relocation can result in a stressful relationship for the family. Managing such a
relationship has become a priority in the State Department partly because of the
lessons learned from research of expatriates in general. Research, for example, has
shown that there is a positive relationship between the adjustment of the spouse and
the adjustment of the expatriate. Maladjustment (a stressor) of the spouse, therefore,
can lead to maladjustment of the expatriate. This can result in a negative effect on the
success of the mission.1
Stress is a central element of international relocation. Stress is defined as a
psychological state that develops when an individual faces a situation that taxes or
exceeds internal or external resources available to deal with that situation.2There are
three major components of stress: uncertainty concerning outcomes; lack of control
over situations; and ambiguity concerning expectations.3By their very nature, overseas
assignments are characterized by uncertainty, lack of control, and ambiguity.
Public Personnel Management Volume 39 No. 2 Summer 2010 169
Of the 40 most stressful life events, 12 can be directly associated with
international relocation of a family.4These are highlighted in Figure 1. Others, such as
an argument with a spouse, a change in eating or sleeping habits, or a vacation, can be
indirectly related with the relocation process. International relocation, as such, can be
an extremely potent stressor for the entire family.
The negative effects of stress can be moderated by social support.5For the civil-
service family, though, each new assignment means abandoning friends and family, the
people who make up the social support system. So not only does the family have to
deal with the stress of the international relocation, it also has to do so without being
able to rely on a familiar social support system.
One coping mechanism that can be used by a civil-service family to manage an
international relocation is anticipatory socialization. Anticipatory socialization accounts
for the cognition of adjustment before the international relocation.6This can be
accomplished through prior international experience. Although a family’s prior
international experience may not have included the specific country it is moving to, it
can understand in a general sense how to transfer and adjust to a new culture. A family
can use principles learned from previous overseas experience and apply them to its
current situation.
The initiatives that the State Department currently uses are described below. Each
initiative is then discussed. It is our opinion that these stress-reduction strategies are
applicable to general international relocation. Hence, the practices can be adapted for
private-sector organizations. Brief conclusions are drawn from the description and
discussion of the coping mechanisms. A logical continuation of this line of research
would be to document the efficacy of the arguments/practices that are presented and
Stress Reduction Initiatives:
The State Department of the United States of America
There are several agencies and departments within the State Department that are
dedicated to preparing expatriates and their families to succeed overseas. Those
departments include the Transition Center and the Family Liaison Office (FLO).
The Transition Center
The Transition Center provides training, information and referrals to civil servants and
their family before, during and after overseas assignments. The Transition Center,
through its associated Training Division, serves more than 30,000 enrollees each year,
providing them with more than 500 courses and training in more than 60 foreign
languages. Several of these courses are designed specifically to prepare the families of
civil servants for a mobile lifestyle.
If civil servants and their families are unable to attend the courses that are offered,
the State Department has published a guide, the Foreign Service Assignment
Notebook, which contains detailed information to help with the international
Public Personnel Management Volume 39 No. 2 Summer 2010170
relocation. Contained in this notebook is a “Preparation Checklist,” which includes
step-by-step tasks that need to be accomplished before an international relocation. The
checklist includes items such as scheduling family training, obtaining required
documents, organizing household items for shipments, preparing banking, insurance
and school arrangements, and securing passports and visas. Each item on the checklist
also includes a detailed discussion of the best way to accomplish the task.
Public Personnel Management Volume 39 No. 2 Summer 2010 171
Figure 1: Stressful Life Events
1. Death of a spouse
2. Divorce
3. Marital Separation
4. Jail term
5. Death of close relative
6. Personal injury or illness
7. Marriage
8. Fired from job
9. Marital reconciliation
10. Retirement
11. Change in health, family
12. Pregnancy
13. Sexual differences
14. Gain of new family member
15. Change in financial status
16. Death of close friend
17. Change or new line of work
18. Argument with spouse
19. Mortgage
20. Foreclosure of mortgage
21. Change in responsibility at work
22. Son or daughter leaving home
23. Trouble with in-laws
24. Outstanding personal achievement
25. Wife starting or stopping work
26. Beginning or ending school
27. Revision of personal habits
28. Trouble with boss
29. Change in working hours
30. Change in working conditions
31. Change in residence
32. Change in school
33. Change in recreation
34. Change in social activities
35. Loan
36. Change in sleeping habits
37. Change in family get-togethers
38. Change in eating habits
39. Vacation
40. Minor violations of the law
The Family Liaison Office
The main initiative taken by the State Department to directly address the issues and
difficulties facing a family is the Family Liaison Office (FLO). The FLO focuses on four
major areas in addressing the needs of families relocating abroad: education and youth,
family member employment, evacuation support and support services. These
initiatives are supported by approximately 240 Community Liaison Officers (CLOs) in
173 posts throughout the world (1). CLOs provide on-site support to the civil servant
and his or her family. In addition, CLOs provide resources and information to families
about living in that culture/community, advocate for quality of life issues regarding the
post, organize activities and programs for families, and serve as a welcome wagon to all
new arriving families. CLOs are responsible for organizing orientation programs and
maintaining ongoing cultural, educational and recreational activities for the civil service
A CLO is responsible for providing information to families specifically on the post
to which he or she is assigned. These are generally called arrival or departure packages
and include general information on the post, such as schools, transportation, grocery
stores, neighborhood resources, local customs, protocol for arriving or leaving, and
contact information for the CLO and the United States Embassy.
Education and Youth
In 1996, the FLO addressed education abroad by publishing a comprehensive manual
dealing with educational opportunities for foreign-service youth. The guide, Education
Options for Foreign Service Family Members, is used as a planning tool for parents to
consult before moving overseas. As with stationary families, mobile families have a wide
variety of options when deciding on an educational path for their children. Parents
must decide whether to send children to State Department schools abroad, where
quality of education can be more standardized, versus a non-American school, where
foreign language is emphasized and a more complete cross-cultural experience is the
focus. The children themselves also have varied needs and requirements that must be
considered, whether it’s identifying talented and gifted programs, or classes for
students with learning disabilities or who are physically challenged.
In addition to the published guide, families can turn to the CLO assigned to their
post to acquire information about overseas education. One responsibility of the CLO is
to serve as an education liaison between the families and schools. The CLO will
establish relationships with all schools in the area, and prepare not only the families,
but also the schools for the constant flow of foreign-service children in and out of that
school system.
In addition, returning to the United States or taking another overseas assignment
present a different set of concerns in terms of continuity of education, and the CLO will
have protocol for what files and records need to be transported and how best to do so.
The FLO also has resources for parents, students and teachers on how to make the
transition back to the U.S. school system as seamless as possible, and how to work with
U.S. colleges and universities to facilitate the application process from abroad.
Public Personnel Management Volume 39 No. 2 Summer 2010172
Spousal Employment
When a civil servant is transferred overseas, he or she goes with a purpose to fulfill the
assigned job at the post, to improve relations with foreign countries, or to further his or
her career. The spouse, however, might find it difficult to relocate every two to four
years and do so with a purpose. It is difficult to nurture or maintain a career while being
required to relocate often. They cannot gain tenure at any one company or move up
the corporate ladder. In addition to job hopping, there may be no opportunities
available at all in the spouse’s chosen career field depending on the host country.
The most comprehensive initiative that the State Department has taken to
address this issue is a 13-chapter handbook entitled Employment Options for Foreign
Service Family Members. This manual offers suggestions for spouses who are seeking
employment during overseas assignments. It explains the steps necessary for applying
for government jobs in the missions that their spouses are serving, and also encourages
the utilization of portable careers that can be pursued in any country. These careers
include teaching, nursing, training, translating, contracting and writing/editing. The
guide explains what training and certification are necessary for these occupations and
how to best perform these services overseas.
In a more proactive measure, the State Department has set up bilateral and de
facto reciprocal work agreements with a number of countries, to increase the
opportunities for foreign-service spousal employment abroad. Both types of
agreements give spouses the opportunity to seek employment in another country’s
local economy. Bilateral work agreements give spouses the opportunity to seek
employment in another country’s local economy, and in return, natives of that country
are offered the same consideration in the U.S., and can seek employment in the U.S.
economy. Currently, the State Department has bilateral agreements with 85 countries
and de facto agreements with 53 others.7
The FLO publishes a monthly newsletter called The Network, which contains a
broad list of available overseas jobs. In addition, The Network alerts subscribers to
training and networking events available at specific posts. The FLO is responsible for
maintaining and updating a Web site that lists all available government jobs in posts
throughout the world.
The CLO at each post abroad is also responsible for being an employment liaison
for the civil-servant family. He or she will not only have a database of available jobs
within the government at that post, but will also have established relationships with
human resource officers in local organizations to identify available positions and match
them with current job seekers. The CLO will maintain updated information on the local
economy. If there is no bilateral or de facto reciprocal work agreements with that
particular country, the CLO can initiate that process through the FLO in the U.S.
The Strategic Networking Assistance Program (SNAP) was established by the State
Department in May of 2002 for the sole purpose of assisting foreign-service spouses in
finding employment abroad in the local economy of their post, outside of the U.S.
government mission. SNAP has been deployed in 21 foreign cities and is continually
growing. In order to accommodate the global nature of this initiative, SNAP has an
Public Personnel Management Volume 39 No. 2 Summer 2010 173
online search tool for foreign-service spouses to research employment opportunities
abroad. Another benefit of the online search tool is that it allows spouses to begin their
job search for their next post before the actual relocation.
Pre-departure training courses offered by the State Department attempt to
prepare families for the employment situation abroad. There are several courses
offered through the Transitions Center’s Training Division that specifically address
spousal employment, such as Targeting the Job Market, and English Teaching Seminar:
An Employment Option. The Training Division also offers language training classes and
courses devoted to increasing computer skills. These courses provide spouses with the
opportunity to learn more skills and becoming marketable in the job market abroad.
The FLO recently conducted a survey to identify employment trends among civil
servants abroad. The survey, conducted in September of 2002, targeted 210 overseas
posts. Of the 7,313 spouses that responded, 47 percent were employed while overseas.
Of those that were employed, 77 percent of them had jobs within the government
mission, while the remaining 23 percent worked in the local economy.
Support Services
The last service that the FLO focuses on is personal support services for foreign-service
employees and their families. General resources and information include guidelines
and protocol on adoption services, divorce, getting married abroad, eldercare, child
travel to and from the U.S., and coping with the death of a family member abroad. The
State Department recognizes that these events are stressful without the extra burden of
experiencing them overseas in an unfamiliar environment. The resources provided by
the FLO include not only general guidelines on how the processes generally work
abroad and in the U.S., but also protocol and steps necessary to consider in terms of
their relationship to the U.S. government. Examples of this would be establishing an
adopted child as an eligible family member, providing for travel home for a divorced
spouse, taking bereavement leave abroad and other technicalities that add to the
difficulty of coping with these events.
The FLO, along with the CLO assigned to each post, also coordinates and
maintains counseling services. Counseling is free and confidential. This service, the
Employee Consultation Service, provides families abroad with access to clinical social
workers. Their role as counselors is to attempt to define the problem and offer options
to solve or cope with those problems.
The CLO is responsible for arranging social events that bring together the foreign-
service families at that post—families that have a tremendous deal in common with
each other. These events can include barbeques, book clubs, cultural outings, day trips
and recreational activities.
The FLO encourages the flow of information between families abroad through its
various newsletters and publications. Foreign Service Direct is a bimonthly publication
sent to families abroad to provide them with information about employment,
educational issues, available resources and other aspects of foreign-service life. The
newsletter provides tips for making foreign-service life easier by, for example,
Public Personnel Management Volume 39 No. 2 Summer 2010174
reminding families to keep their U.S. state drivers license current so that when they
return to the U.S., they have a valid driver’s license. These details would be easy to
overlook, but just having a source of information for such things can make a great
Also in Foreign Service Direct is a section called “Notes from the Field.” Family
members in posts around the world write brief descriptions of what life is like for them.
This provides a great advantage to families by supplying firsthand accounts and details
of what can be expected in these countries, which is valuable for families that are about
to move to that country.
Another initiative in the same vein is the Direct Communication Project. These
articles are written by foreign-service employees or family members and address
different aspects of foreign-service life. The topics of the articles vary widely, from
creating a resume for government employment and thriving as a foreign-service spouse
to coping with the challenge of change. These articles contain firsthand experiences
and serve as another resource for dealing with the stress of life abroad. Knowing that
the authors of these articles are going through the same experiences can reassure the
reader that they are not alone.
Another social support mechanism is to rely on family members during the
international relocation. Adjustment to foreign cultures as a family is important. When
families are mobile, they tend to turn to each other for support. So it is important for
families as a whole to be well adjusted and adapted to life abroad. The FLO provides
information to families about making the adjustment to a foreign culture a little
smoother by offering tips on cross-cultural communication and how to foster cross-
cultural adaptation within the family, while still remaining comfortable with past
routines. The FLO also provides literature about raising children overseas, nurturing a
foreign-service marriage with all of its added stress and strain, and adjustment
techniques for families.
One of the most emphasized concepts in the FLO literature focuses on fully
experiencing the foreign culture as a family. It suggests getting totally immersed in the
community, getting acquainted with the new neighborhood, attending local theater
performances, and participating in local entertainment and festivals. However, it also
stresses maintaining family traditions, so that no matter where the family is located,
some familiarity still exists. Examples of participating in family traditions include
patterns around holidays, weekly get-togethers, family vacations and family recreation.
The above initiatives of the State Department are implemented to provide families with
coping mechanisms to deal with the stress that accompanies an international
relocation. We now discuss how each of these initiatives may address the three
components of stress, and how they may lead to a reduction in stress for the foreign-
service family.
Public Personnel Management Volume 39 No. 2 Summer 2010 175
The Transition Center
The Transition Center offers numerous courses to prepare families for life abroad. The
content of the courses offered, and the mindset of the State Department in general
when preparing families, is designed to provide as much information as possible to
those attending, whether it seems trivial or not. One important resource when
attempting to address and deal with stress is knowledge. The more information and
knowledge one has access to, the more prepared one can be in dealing with situations
that might be stressful. Addressing the lack of knowledge associated with unfamiliar
situations can reduce stress by reducing uncertainty and ambiguity. It would follow that
increasing resources for families can mitigate the negative outcome of stress.
Courses dealing with raising children abroad, for example, include information on
how frequent relocation and cross-cultural experiences may affect them and how to
take advantage of the multicultural experiences the mobile lifestyle can offer. Although
frequent transitions can be stressful on children, the opportunity to fully experience
life in foreign countries is one of its greatest advantages. Through these courses,
parents can learn how to teach their children to appreciate and take advantage of those
experiences. Courses designed specifically for children to attend outline how they can
explain American culture and values to their peers, and also how to practice basic social
skills such as introduction, body language and dress. These topics may seem trivial, but
to adults and children venturing into an entirely different culture, even a brief
introduction to acceptable behavior can help alleviate stress. It will help reduce the
ambiguity of entering a foreign culture and not knowing what behavior is expected.
Knowledge, in essence, is a coping mechanism when dealing with the unfamiliar, and
these courses attempt to provide that knowledge.
Along the same lines, the Foreign Service Assignment Notebook provided by the
State Department can alleviate some stress by providing families with a list of things to
do once they learn of an international assignment. This will help make them feel in
control of these situations and their outcomes, which in turn will reduce the stress that
they experience. As families become familiar with their move, their new country and its
expectations, they can begin to make adjustments while still at home that will make
adjustment upon arrival a little easier. For example, with the knowledge that they might
not have access to certain food or supplies, families can prepare for that absence in
advance and be better prepared for what is to come. Feeling that they have at least
some measure of control over their quality of life abroad, even if just by bringing a stash
of their favorite food, could mitigate some stress factors for these families.
Family Liaison Office
The creation of the FLO was the most proactive step taken by the State Department to
facilitate international relocation. It identifies international relocation as an experience
that the whole family goes through, and addresses the uncertainty, ambiguity and lack
of control that these families face. The variety of programs put into place by the FLO
provides additional coping mechanisms for families to fight these stressors that are
inherent with an international relocation.
Public Personnel Management Volume 39 No. 2 Summer 2010176
The CLO program is the most comprehensive in addressing the three
components of stress. Similar to pre-departure training, but specific to each country,
the information that the CLO provides about the post, the move, the adjustment and
life in general will reduce the uncertainty that families face by giving them an idea of
what to expect. It also provides the families with at least a modicum of control over
their lives, allowing them to evaluate and choose neighborhoods, schools and jobs.
The main purpose of the CLO is to help families adjust to living in foreign countries,
and that includes dealing with the uncertainty that results from the unknown. Having a
designated person in each assignment city greatly increases the available resources that
families have when dealing with international relocation and reduces the associated
In order to be fully effective, families abroad have to actually take advantage of the
services offered by the CLO. If families are unaware of the office’s existence, then they
certainly cannot turn to the CLO for assistance. The arrival package that the CLO
provides to families ensures that families are introduced to the CLO and his or her
services at the beginning and that they realize the CLO is there to assist them.
When parents live a mobile lifestyle, such as that required by the State
Department, consideration must be given to the education of their children. This
important factor may not have been a top priority in the early years, but quality of
education has a drastic impact on opportunities that young adults will receive later in
life. The uncertainty associated with the quality of educational opportunities abroad,
and the discontinuous nature of the children’s education, can be a major source of
stress when dealing with international relocation. Parents may be concerned that their
mobile lifestyle will indeed be a hindrance for their children in the future if their
foreign educational experiences are perceived to be subpar to that available in the U.S.
Knowing that options are available, learning what the U.S. requirements are
concerning education and having resources available about their children’s education
will greatly relieve the stress associated with education abroad. All the resources
offered by the State Department, the Education Options guide and the CLO, are meant
to provide coping mechanisms for parents to reduce the uncertainty and increase the
control that parents have over the education of their children. Knowing that there are
processes in place to ensure quality education for youths can reassure parents that
their children’s futures are not compromised, thereby relieving parents of some of that
The employment situation associated with an international relocation puts an
enormous amount of stress not only on the spouse, but also on the entire family. Not
knowing what the employment situation will be after a move certainly provides for a lot
of uncertainty concerning future lifestyle and the financial situation of the family. In
addition, the spouses feel a lack of control over the situation, as the opportunities for
employment overseas are largely out of their hands. This would be especially prevalent
for spouses who enjoyed established careers prior to the relocation. In addition,
financial concerns also play a major part, as any change in financial status, especially
loss of an income, is a stressful event.8Most State Department assignments last
between two and four years in a given country. Typically, families will move between
Public Personnel Management Volume 39 No. 2 Summer 2010 177
three and five times before accepting a more permanent assignment at home. The
prevalence of almost 50% of spouses currently employed (and possibly more seeking
employment) speaks to how important employment and careers are to foreign-service
spouses, considering they know their tenure at those jobs will be quite brief. Without
the support and assistance of the State Department, the FLO and the CLOs, spousal
employment would not be as widespread as it is today. The bilateral and de facto
agreements increase opportunities for spousal employment, while the SNAP provides
online access to available jobs and enables spouses to have some control over their
employment situation by preparing in advance of their move. At the same time, the
CLO serves as a link between the spouses and the local economy. These mechanisms
increase the likelihood of a spouse finding employment abroad and give a measure of
control over their employment situation, therefore reducing the stress associated with
finding employment abroad. The amount of effort that the State Department expends
in dealing with this topic is indicative of its importance.
The counseling and support services that the FLO provide are essential for
families moving and living abroad. Counseling service aims to help individuals that are
feeling stress by identifying ways for them to cope with that stress. If the current coping
mechanisms that the families have, or that the State Department has attempted to
provide, are not sufficient, the counselors can work with the family members to
identify new coping mechanisms to reduce uncertainty, ambiguity and lack of control.
The fact that the counseling service is offered free of charge indicates that the
State Department feels it’s an important and necessary benefit. Expending time, effort
and money on ensuring the proper adjustment of foreign-service families not only
helps those families adjust, but also can make them feel like they are a significant part
of the overseas mission.
As previously mentioned, social support systems have a moderating effect on
stress. However, since international relocation often requires leaving existing social
support systems, that important coping mechanism may not be available to the
spouses and children who have relocated. This could lead to increased amounts of
One of the most important functions of the CLO at each post is to bring the
families of the State Department together by planning activities and events. Other
families that are experiencing the same international relocation would provide a social
support system and in turn reduce the associated stress. Spouses who have been at a
post for a while can let new spouses know the best way to find a job, point them to the
best schools in the city or help them learn local customs. This will not only provide
them with a new social support system to reduce stress, but that system would also be
a good tool for reducing the uncertainty and ambiguity of relocation by letting the
families know what to expect and how to behave. Having a network of other families to
turn to is a coping mechanism, one that the State Department has encouraged and
Just as support from other foreign-service families is important, so too is support
from one’s own family. This type of support is essential and effective in identifying
Public Personnel Management Volume 39 No. 2 Summer 2010178
family members who are unable to cope with the stress of the international relocation.
In one of the Direct Communication Project articles written by a clinical psychologist
and foreign service spouse, four classifications have been identified with adjustment
disorders: change in mood, change in behavior, physical complains and social
withdrawal.9Family members are in the best position to identify these changes in each
other and guide them in coping with these difficulties. Having an understanding of
what is happening during the period of maladjustment will make it easier to be of
assistance to them.10
Another article in the Direct Communication Project, written by a foreign-service
spouse, stresses the importance of foreign-service families being conscious of their
reactions to stress, in order to be able to better manage the reaction and deal with that
stress.11 As foreign-service life presents many situations that are beyond anyone’s
control—natural disasters, political unrest, illness and cultural differences—knowing
how to best react to such situations will enable adjustment. The article also states that
finding support systems will enable foreign-service family members to keep a normal
perspective on situations. Although lack of control is a cause of stress, reactions to that
stress is something that is controllable.
Through identifying and encouraging family experiences as a support system, the
State Department is providing these families with yet another coping mechanism to
deal with stress. While living in the U.S., these families may not have considered
turning to each other for support, since each member most likely had their own
established support system. The State Department does an effective job in fostering
this support system among families abroad.
Concluding Comments
The issue of family stress and adjustment has come to the forefront of the State
Department’s agenda in the last 25 years. The three components of stress—lack of
control, ambiguity and uncertainty—are undeniably inherent in any international
relocation. The State Department funded the FLO to directly address these issues,
realizing that the family’s inability to cope successfully with the stress of international
relocation could negatively affect the success of the mission.
The main areas of interest to the FLO are those areas that are also of great
importance to families: education and youth, spouse employment and personal
support services. In addressing each of these areas, the State Department in turn
addresses some key sources of stress for foreign-service families. The government’s
approach to reducing the stress of moving abroad is focused around proving coping
mechanisms for families through preparation and information.
Although no studies have been done to specifically test the effectiveness of these
measures in reducing stress in foreign service families, by preparing families to deal
with situations that they will experience and providing as much information as possible
about how to cope, the State Department may be reducing the ambiguity, uncertainty
and lack of control felt by foreign-service families—the three components of stress—
which in turn can reduce stress.
Public Personnel Management Volume 39 No. 2 Summer 2010 179
Through pre-departure training, comprehensive guidebooks, social networks and
online resources, the State Department creates a comprehensive support system for
foreign service families that strives to reduce the stress of foreign-service families and
maximize the cross-cultural experiences that are offered by a foreign service lifestyle.
1Black, J.S. & Stephens, G. (1989). The influence of the spouse on American expatriate
adjustment in overseas assignments. Journal of Management, Volume 15, pp 529-554.
2Lazarus, R.S. (1966). Psychological Stress and Coping Behaviors. New York: McGraw-Hill.
3Cohen, S. (1980). After Effects of Stress on Human Performance and Social Behavior: a Review
of Research and Theory. Psychological Bulletin. 88, pp 82-108.
4Holmes, T.H. & Rahe, R.H. (1967) The Social Readjustment Rating Scale. Journal of
Psychosomatic Research, 11, pp 213-218.
5Mazerolle, M.J., & Singh, G. (2002). Social Support and the Reduction of Discouragement After
Job Displacement. Journal of Socio-Economics, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 409-422.
Moyle, P. & Parkes, K. (1999). The Effects of Transition Stress: A Relocation Study. Journal of
Organizational Behavior, Volume 20, Issue 5.
6Black, J.S & Gregensen, H. (1991). The other half of the picture: Antecedents of spouse cross-
cultural adjustment. Journal of International Business Studies, Volume 22, Issue 3, pp 443-456.
7Barnes, F. (2003) The Family Liaison Office Celebrates 25 Years of Making a Difference. Special
Edition FLO Focus, Volume 10, Issue 1.
8Holmes, T.H. & Rahe, R.H. (1967) The Social Readjustment Rating Scale. Journal of
Psychosomatic Research, 11, pp 213-218.
9Lassleban, M. (2003). The Challenge of Change. Direct Communication Project, Resource No. 27.
10 Lassleban, M. (2003). The Challenge of Change. Direct Communication Project, Resource No. 27.
11 Hess, M. & Grady-Huskey, J. (1997). Thriving as a Foreign Service Spouse. Direct
Communication Project, Resource No. 31.
Public Personnel Management Volume 39 No. 2 Summer 2010180
Amanda Wilkinson
1191 N. Vermont Street
Arlington, VA 22201
(619) 384-2621
Gangaram Singh, PhD
Professor and Chair
Department of Management
College of Business Administration
San Diego State University
5500 Campanile Drive
San Diego, CA 92182
(619) 594-2201
Amanda Wilkinson completed her master’s of science in business administration at
San Diego State University.
Dr. Gangaram Singh received his PhD from the University of Toronto and is currently
the chair of the Management Department as well as the director of the Center for Inter-
national Business Education and Research at San Diego State University.
Public Personnel Management Volume 39 No. 2 Summer 2010 181
... Partners of foreign service diplomats are confronted with very similar problems concerning labour market entry in the foreign environment as the spouses of business expatriates (Davoine et al., 2013;Groeneveld, 2008;Gudmundsdottir et al., 2019;Wilkinson and Singh, 2010). Whereas most business expatriates are assigned temporarily to a foreign post, however, diplomats are considered as "permanent expatriates" who typically relocate every three to five years (Fliege et al., 2016;Grill et al., 2021;Zhang et al., 2021). ...
... Particularly among previously employed spouses, being unemployed in the host country is associated with dissatisfaction and severe identity disruptions (Cole, 2011;Collins and Bertone, 2017). As Foreign Service diplomats typically stay no longer than three to five years in each location (Davoine et al., 2013;Fliege et al., 2016;Wilkinson and Singh, 2010), diplomat spouses find it particularly difficult to find employment abroad (Groeneveld, 2008;Gudmundsdottir et al., 2019). Moreover, diplomatic services have traditionally operated within a hierarchical framework of conventional gender roles that emphasized the domestic and social qualities of diplomatic wives and made it particularly difficult for female partners to pursue a career (K€ ans€ al€ a et al., 2015;Wood, 2005). ...
... Diplomats are a special expatriate group in the sense that international relocation is a dominant feature throughout their careers (Fliege et al., 2016). International relocation of German diplomats is regulated by a rotational system, and this also applies to Foreign Service employees of other Western countries (Groeneveld, 2008;Wilkinson and Singh, 2010;Davoine et al., 2013;Gudmundsdottir et al., 2019). In the German scheme, employees relocate every three to five years throughout the entire length of service to destinations around the world. ...
Purpose Previous research indicates that accompanying partners often struggle to find employment upon international relocations. This study aims to highlight diplomat’s partners’ employment situation and to examine how unrealized professional aspirations affect their socio-cultural and psychological adjustment in the foreign environment. Design/methodology/approach This study applies OLS regression analysis to a sample of 220 partners of German Foreign Service diplomats who were surveyed regarding their locational adjustment, general stress and perceived quality of life using an online questionnaire. This study differentiates between working partners (19.5% of the total sample), non-working partners with a desire to obtain paid employment (65.5%) and partners who are unemployed by choice (15.0%). Findings The results demonstrate that partners’ employment situation and employment aspirations are important variables explaining differences in socio-cultural and psychological adjustment. Working partners reveal the highest levels of general stress, non-working partners with an employment desire report the lowest levels of locational adjustment and non-working partners without employment aspirations experience the highest quality of life. Research limitations/implications As this study has a cross-sectional design, the authors are not able to deal with potential issues of reverse causality. Practical implications Sending organizations should consider accompanying partners' unrealized employment aspirations by providing services with regard to job search and career development. Moreover, they should ensure the provision of services that support the work–life balance of working couples. Originality/value Previous research only sparsely examined the adjustment and well-being of partners accompanying foreign service employees, who are in contrast to business expatriates required to relocate every three to five years. Moreover, this study features the crucial role of partners' employment situation and discusses possibilities to promote spousal employment, as well as complementary measures to improve work–life balance for dual-earner couples.
... Being extroverted and open to change or open-mindedness are found to be beneficial for a spouse to adjust successfully (Gupta et al., 2012a(Gupta et al., , 2012bVan Erp et al., 2014;Weeks, Weeks, & Willis-Muller, 2009). Furthermore, job opportunities in the host country help expatriate spouses adapt faster to the new environment (Cole, 2011;Wilkinson & Singh, 2010). However, in their study of expatriate spouses in Dubai, Mendonca, Shrivastava, and Pietschnig (2020) found no significant relationship between the spouses' employment status and their happiness. ...
... While expatriates perceive organizational support and pre-departure training as having a positive impact on spouse adjustment (Gupta et al., 2012a;Malek et al., 2015;Wilkinson & Singh, 2010), in practice, this has no bearing on the adjustment process because organizational support is often perceived poorly by spouses (Cole, 2011). Organizational practices are commonly investigated when studying expatriate families' adjustment ( Fig. 4), but the lack of support for those practices on their adjustment could be attributed to organizations' lack of appreciation for families. ...
... Organizations can, indeed, enable the expatriate family's efficient functioning and eventually boost expatriates' performance . Career, spiritual well-being (Haslberger, 2011;Känsälä et al., 2015), education, social networking, raising children (Wilkinson & Singh, 2010), language, and culture support (Seak & Enderwick, 2008) have been identified as beneficial supports for expatriate families. Wilkinson and Singh (2010) present an example of these practices from the US State Department and how these practices support expatriate families in reducing stress to enhance successful expatriation for the whole family. ...
The influence of family on expatriates and their families' international assignments experience have been long discussed in various disciplines. We undertake a systematic review of 151 articles on expatriates' families published between 2006 and 2020 in peer-reviewed academic journals in Business and Management, Medicine, Psychology, and Decision Sciences. Adopting a step-wise approach to conduct the review and using Leximancer, we analyze the literature and categorize it into five major themes: family's influence on expatriates; expatriation's influence on expatriate families; family and individual adjustment in the expatriation process; organizational practices concerning family issues in expatriation; and expatriate families' social interaction. This mapping, thematizing and systematic organizing of the literature allows us to identify research areas that have been overpopulated and others that have not received sufficient scholarly attention. By doing so, this study contributes to the literature by providing a multidisciplinary perspective on the issue of expatriates' families. We also present a research agenda to advance knowledge in the field and make recommendations for practice.
... For employees, it is a challenge. Wilkinson & Singh (2010) identified that out of the 40 most stressful life events, 12 can be directly associated with international relocation of a family. Others, such as an argument with a spouse, a change in sleeping or eating habits, or a vacation, can be indirectly related with the relocation process. ...
... There are major components of stress: uncertainty concerning outcomes, lack of control over situations, and ambiguity concerning expectations. In the United States of America, The State Department such as Transition Center and Family Liaison Office (FLO) provide a comprehensive set of initiatives which can help to reduce stress in the foreign-service family through pre-departure training, comprehensive guidebooks, social networks and online resources (Wilkinson & Singh, 2010). Otto & Dalbert (2012) identified that there are three personality dispositions (neuroticism, openness to experience, uncertainty tolerance) and three social orientations (social norms -in terms of perceived social endorsement of relocation mobility, individualist orientation, collectivist orientation) as the predictors of relocation readiness. ...
... Stress is a psychological state that develops when an individual faces a situation that exceeds internal or external resources available to deal with that situation (Lazarus, 1966). In this context, stress during and after the relocation process has various components like uncertainty, lack of control over situations, job related ambiguity and social support issues (Wilkinson and Singh, 2010). ...
... Relocation can give benefits for an organization such as knowledge transfer, employee development, and human resources distribution [1]. On the other side, relocation could become a source of stress for employees and their family [2], [3]. The Indonesian public audit institution has to implement a policy to relocate its employees periodically in order to maintain its independency. ...
... Expatriate assignments can generally be considered as challenging. They generate uncertainty, reduce control and increase ambiguity (Wilkinson & Singh, 2010). Established routines are broken when confronted with new and unfamiliar situations, and the individual's sense of control is reduced (Brett, 1980). ...
Conference Paper
Despite significant insights from recent studies focusing on personality variables and their influence on expatriation willingness in general, the influence of personality variables on expatriation willingness to dangerous environments has received limited attention. Building on expectancy-value theory, we develop a set of hypotheses to explore personality differences between individuals who are receptive to an expatriate assignment in a safe environment and individuals who are receptive to an expatriate assignment in a dangerous environment. Using data from 230 employees and students, we show that respondents were significantly more receptive to an expatriate assignment in a safe environment than in a dangerous environment. Moreover, we find a significant main effect of the personality variable of emotionality on expatriation willingness. Most importantly, our results indicate that conscientious individuals are significantly more receptive to expatriate assignments in safe environments while less conscientious individuals are significantly more receptive to expatriate assignments in dangerous environments. We discuss the implications of our findings for future research and human resource management in multinational enterprises. Our study contributes to the emerging literature on expatriation to dangerous environments and specifically advances research on the influence of personality on expatriation willingness.
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Up to now, we know only a little about the causal effect of international migration on partnership stability, with the few existing analyses being restricted to internal migration or international migration from less developed countries to the Global North. Using longitudinal data on German citizens [the German Emigration and Remigration Panel Study plus the German Family Panel (pairfam)], this study contributes to existing literature primarily in two ways: first, by comparing international migrants to nonmigrants at origin and applying the appropriate methods (Entropy Balancing and Discrete Time Proportional Hazards Models), the causal effect of international migration was studied. Second, assessing (non‐)mobile German citizens allows looking at these effects in the context of a highly industrialized welfare state. Additional to the general effect of international migration, differences between emigrants and remigrants are studied — which has not been done before, except for the Latin American context. To advance our understanding of the underlying mechanisms, the role of further migration characteristics is investigated. Findings show that international migration increases the risk of union dissolution compared to no migration and that the risk of union dissolution is higher for remigrants compared to emigrants. The underlying migration reasons play an additional role in explaining the risk of union dissolution.
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Purpose This paper aims to explore the interplay between burnout, national identity and career satisfaction among diplomats. In particular, the authors focus on the roles of home and host country identification as an emotional resource for overcoming the negative effects of job-related burnout. Design/methodology/approach Survey responses from 123 diplomats were used to assess the moderating role of home and host country identification on the relationship between burnout and career satisfaction. Findings Various combinations of high or low home or host country identification were tested, and the findings suggest that the negative effect of burnout on career satisfaction is reduced for those individuals that have high identification with both the home and the host country, while this is not the case for other combinations. This points to the beneficial effects of dual national identifications even for diplomats – a group that would normally be expected to identify strongly with the home country alone. Originality/value No existing study that the authors know of has explored the relationship between burnout, national identity and career satisfaction among diplomats or other types of expatriates. This is unfortunate because a better understanding of national identity could guide practitioners in finding ways to reduce the negative consequences of burnout in international organizations.
Over the last few decades, companies capture talent from all over the world to increase their competitiveness. However, it is in these displacement processes that the true nature of the talent is put to the test. Why? Previous research showed how an increase in the levels of stress generated by an international assignment could have several negative outcomes for employees and, consequently, for companies. Therefore, it is critical that managers understand the need to manage these assignments well, and to try to alleviate all the tension that an international work assignment could generate. In addition, it must be considered that not only do employees become stressed in these new situations, but managers may also suffer from anxiety when they have to meet deadlines and make quick and often complex decisions. This chapter reviews these issues, providing a definition of stress and discussing the main stressors that may affect managers and employees on an international assignment. This chapter also proposes some resources and strategies for managing stress.
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Background: Decades have passed since trailing spouses were first identified as the primary causes of expatriate failure. This has led to numerous studies to determine how best to avoid such failures. In particular, it was determined that through the preparation, training and support of trailing spouses multinational enterprises (MNEs) can not only assist with their adjustment to the host country, but also reduce the likelihood of expatriate failure. Aim: With the impact of the trailing spouse still being a major concern for the success of an international assignment decades after it was first identified as such, this research aimed to determine the preparation, training and support requirements of trailing spouses prior to, and during an international assignment. Setting: The article includes the responses from trailing spouses who at the time of the study were on assignment in 52 countries on six continents. Methods: Both non-probability judgement sampling and snowball sampling were used to identify the 218 respondents who completed a self-administered questionnaire which respondents were able to access online. The data was then analysed using exploratory factor analysis, Cronbach’s alpha, a t-test and paired t-test. Results: Statistically significant differences were found between the preparation, training and support required by trailing spouses and what was offered to them by MNEs for all the specific forms of preparation, training and support measured in this study. Conclusion: MNEs are still falling short of the preparation, training and support needs of trailing spouses. In particular, MNEs seem to focus on some operational aspects of spousal adjustment while the social aspects are still not sufficiently addressed.
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A review of experimental and correlational studies suggests that the aftereffects of stress on performance are due to a wide range of unpredictable, uncontrollable stressors including noise, electric shock, and bureaucratic stress. These effects are not limited to stressful situations that involve a lack of predictability and controllability over a distracting stimulus; they can also be induced by increased task demand. Interventions that increase personal control and/or stressor predictability are effective in reducing poststressor effects. There is also evidence for poststimulation effects on social behavior which generally involve an insensitivity toward others following stressor exposure. Studies of exposure to environmental stressors in naturalistic settings report effects similar to those found in laboratory settings. Several theories (e.g., psychic cost, learned helplessness, arousal) are examined. Some receive more support than others, but it is concluded that the reliability and generality of poststimulation effects have many causes. (86 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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Scholars have argued that the adjustment of the expatriate's spouse is an important factor in the success or failure of expatriates in overseas assignments; however, they have not empirically examined which factors are related to spouse adjustment. This study is the first to systematically examine the antecedents of spouse cross-cultural adjustment to interacting with host country nationals and to coping with the general, foreign environment. The results indicate that firms seeking the spouse's opinion about the international assignment, the spouse's self-initiated predeparture training, and social support from family and host country nationals during the overseas assignment have a positive relationship with spouse interaction adjustment. Additionally, firms' seeking the spouse's opinion about the international assignment and standard of living have a positive relationship with spouse general adjustment, while firm-provided training and culture novelty have negative relationships with spouse general adjustment. Several important research and practical implications are explored.© 1991 JIBS. Journal of International Business Studies (1991) 22, 461–477
Past international human resource management literature has suggested that most American multinationalfirms that employ expatriate managers have difficulty successfully retaining these managers in overseas assignments. Although some scholars have suggested that the inability of the spouse to adjust is one of the major reasons expatriate managers return early from their overseas assignments, few researchers have attempted to verify empirically a relationship between the spouse's adjustment and the adjustment and intentions to stay or leave of the expatriate manager. This study found that a favorable opinion about the overseas assignment by the spouse is positively related to the spouse's adjustment and the novelty of the foreign culture has a negative relationship with the spouse's adjustment. Additionally, the adjustment of the spouse is highly correlated to the adjustment of the expatriate manager and the adjustment of the spouse and the expatriate are positively related to the expatriate's intention to stay in the overseas assignment.
Survey participants (N=175) were drawn from six branches of a major British supermarket chain. Employees from three branches, who had been selected for transfer to new stores, were surveyed before and after relocation to examine the impact of this transition on individual well-being. A comparison sample of employees, drawn from similar stores but not involved in relocation, was also surveyed. Cross-sectional multiple regression analyses found that psychological distress was related to both work demands and personal characteristics (gender, neuroticism, locus of control, and social desirability response). Furthermore, path analysis revealed that after controlling for prior symptom levels, distress during the relocation period was predicted independently by the relocation and by work demands. Although in the present study it was not possible to account for differences in outcomes between new and comparison store employees in terms of changes in measured work characteristics, the negative impact of relocation was found to be buffered by perceptions of control and social support. Additionally, the impact of high work demands was buffered by Type B personal characteristics. Copyright © 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
The authors extrapolate from social-science and medical-science research to examine the relationship between the reduction of discouragement after job displacement and social support. Using data from a unique data set, they showed that displaced workers are less likely to be discouraged if they receive a referral from their employer, if they are encouraged by family members to seek employment, and if they spend time while unemployed in a productive manner. Discouragement, in contrast, is positively related to the number of part-time jobs. Implications of the results span both organizational practice and public policy.
IN PREVIOUS studies [l] it has been established that a cluster of social events requiring change in ongoing life adjustment is significantly associated with the time of illness onset. Similarly, the relationship of what has been called ‘life stress,’ ‘emotional stress,’ ‘object loss,’ etc. and illness onset has been demonstrated by other investigations [2-131. It has been adduced from these studies that this clustering of social or life events achieves etiologic significance as a necessary but not sufficient cause of illness and accounts in part for the time of onset of disease. Methodologically, the interview or questionnaire technique used in these studies has yielded only the number and types of events making up the cluster. Some estimate of the magnitude of these events is now required to bring greater precision to this area of research and to provide a quantitative basis for new epidemiological studies of diseases. This report defines a method which achieves this requisite. METHOD
The Family Liaison Office Celebrates 25 Years of Making a Difference
  • F Barnes
Barnes, F. (2003) The Family Liaison Office Celebrates 25 Years of Making a Difference. Special Edition FLO Focus, Volume 10, Issue 1.
Thriving as a Foreign Service Spouse
  • M Hess
  • J Grady-Huskey
Hess, M. & Grady-Huskey, J. (1997). Thriving as a Foreign Service Spouse. Direct Communication Project, Resource No. 31.