As a consequence of increasing international contact through globalisation, managers have to work with people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, philosophies, attitudes and values: all of which make the task of the international manager complex and demanding. Managers who are the most subject to different cultural influences are those who work abroad – known as ‘expatriate managers’. They are sent abroad by their companies, generally for periods of between three months to five years, and are expected to carry out their normal duties, but in another country. This means that they work in a different cultural environment, and may also have to operate through the medium of another language. Shorter assignments are generally referred to as ‘nonstandard international assignments’, and have become increasingly popular as a direct consequence of rising costs and staff immobility (Tahvanainen et al. 2005). Whatever the length of time of such assignments, expatriate managers generally experience varying degrees of social difficulty and culture shock, as many are poorly prepared by their companies for foreign assignments; this is a major reason why so many expatriate assignments fail. It is the job of the Human Resources (HR) departments to support their expatriate managers, generally at three critical junctures: before, during, and after the placement. In the first two, the objective is to help them integrate into the culture and society of the country to which they are to be sent; in the last instance, it is generally to help them re-integrate into their home country on completion of the foreign assignment. As we shall see, the support of HR to this process is critical, yet generally inadequate.
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