International projects and cross-cultural adjustments of British expatriates in Middle East: A qualitative investigation of influencing factors

Ashwini Konanahalli, Lukumon O. Oyedele, Ron Coates, Jason von Meding, John Spillane


Abstract

 

Increased globalisation within the British AEC (Architectural Engineering and Construction) sector has increased the need for companies to transfer their staff to manage their overseas operations. To be able to perform abroad, expatriates must harmonise themselves to the conditions prevailing in the host country. These include getting accustomed to living, working and interacting with the host country nationals. The process is commonly referred to as ‘cross-cultural adjustment’. Various factors influence the process of adjustment. In order to identify these issues, a qualitative study was undertaken, which mainly comprised of a comprehensive literature review and interviews with British expatriates working on international AEC assignments in Middle Eastern countries. The current study focuses on exploring the role of the organisation, host country, work related factors and their ability to dictate a British expatriate's adjustment.

The findings suggest that success of expatriation does not entirely rest on an expatriate's ability but also on organisational support and assistance that expatriates receive prior to and during the assignment. Organisational factors such as, selection mechanisms, job design, training, logistical and social support, mentoring, etc., influence various aspects of expatriate adjustment. Striking cultural contrasts between British and Arab culture both in work and non work situations also dictate the level of support required by the expatriate, suggesting that expatriate relocation to less developed, remote or politically unstable regions, demands additional support and consideration by the parent company. This study is relevant to the AEC companies employing British expatriates, who need to be cognisant of the issues highlighted above to make rational and informed decisions when handling international assignments in the Middle East.

Keywords

Cross-cultural adjustment; International Project Management; Overseas Construction Assignments; Middle East and North Africa; Work related factors; Organisational strategies

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