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Highway to Hell? Managing expatriates in crisis

Yvonne McNulty (SR Nathan School of Human Development, Singapore University of Social Sciences, Singapore)
Jakob Lauring (Department of Business Administration, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark)
Charlotte Jonasson (Department of Psychology, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark)
Jan Selmer (Department of Business Administration, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark)

Journal of Global Mobility

ISSN: 2049-8799

Article publication date: 12 July 2019

Issue publication date: 23 July 2019




The purpose of this paper is to develop a conceptual framework of severe expatriate crises focusing on the occurrence of “fit-dependent” crisis events, which is when the crisis is “man made” and triggered by expatriates’ maladjustment or acculturation stress in the host country. The authors focus on the causes, prevention and management of fit-dependent expatriate crises.


The authors develop a conceptual framework of fit-dependent expatriate crises that involves different levels of analysis.


The conceptual framework shows that crises can be triggered at micro, meso and macro levels ranging from the personal and family domains (micro), to the network and organisational domains (meso) as well as the host country domain (macro). The authors conceptualise these “domains of causes” as triggering maladjustment and acculturation stress that ultimately leads to a severe crisis event with correspondingly serious and potentially life-changing consequences. Furthermore, using a process perspective, the authors outline strategies for preventing and managing crises before, during and after the crisis occurs, discussing the support roles of various internal (organisational) and external (specialist) stakeholders.


Studying the link between expatriation and crises is a highly relevant research endeavour because severe crisis events will impact on HRM policies, processes and procedures for dealing with employees living abroad, and will create additional challenges for HRM beyond what could normally be expected. Using attribution theory to explain why organisational support and intervention to assist expatriates during a crisis is not always forthcoming, and theories of social networks to elucidate the “first responder” roles of various support actors, the authors contribute to the expatriate literature by opening up the field to a better understanding of the dark side of expatriation that includes crisis definition, prevention, management and solutions.



This paper forms part of a special section “The dark side of global mobility”.


McNulty, Y., Lauring, J., Jonasson, C. and Selmer, J. (2019), "Highway to Hell? Managing expatriates in crisis", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 7 No. 2, pp. 157-180.



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