Management Review Quarterly

, Volume 68, Issue 1, pp 77–102 | Cite as

The family in the center of international assignments: a systematic review and future research agenda



Over the past 30 years, the number of studies investigating the family interface of international assignments has risen substantially. While alternative forms of international assignments have been gaining importance, this article focuses specifically on the family interface of traditional organization assigned expatriation as the most prominent and most researched form of global work. Thus far, research has investigated a broad array of topics ranging from the family’s willingness to relocate over family adjustment to work-family balance and utilized a large variety of theoretical foundations. Given this variety in the literature, the field is fragmented and lacks a consistent theoretical argumentation. As a first step to provide some organization, we synthesize the family expatriation literature by developing a comprehensive multi-level framework of the determinants and dimensions of family outcomes. To achieve this objective, we critically assess publications between 1985 and 2017 in peer-viewed international journals, examine theoretical foundations and review the extant literature based on our framework. With this we uncover similarities and inconsistencies in the field, which allows us to deduce an agenda for future research and offer recommendations for practice.


Family Expatriation International assignments Literature review Multi-level framework 

JEL Classification


1 Introduction

Family considerations affect organizations throughout international assignments (IAs) (Lämsä et al. 2017). More precisely, they influence the ability of multinational corporations (MNCs) to attract qualified talent in the pre-assignment phase and retain personnel during the IA. In fact, family concerns continue to rank at the top of the list for assignment refusal as well as under the top three reasons for assignment failure (Brookfield Global Relocation Services 2015). In the pre-assignment phase, the MNC’s ability to recruit first choice candidates is impacted by family considerations such as the stage of the family-life cycle, the family’s structure or concerns for the spouse’s career, which were found to be predictors of the potential expatriate’s willingness to relocate (e.g., Dupuis et al. 2008; Harvey 1997). Moreover, the spouse’s willingness to relocate was uncovered as a determinant of the expatriate’s willingness to relocate (e.g., Brett and Stroh 1995). In line with this finding, concerns for the spouse’s career have been gaining importance as dual career couples increasingly become the norm in the general work force (Beigi and Shirmohammadi 2017). Given that an international relocation typically results in the disruption of the spouse’s career, scholars found evidence that members of dual career couples are significantly less inclined to accept IAs (e.g., van der Velde et al. 2017). Yet, organizations are more than ever reliant on their employee’s willingness to partake in such relocations as the number of IAs continues to increase (Brookfield Global Relocation Services 2016). While alternative forms of global work assignments, such as self-initiated expatriation or international business travel have been gaining importance (Shaffer et al. 2012), traditional company assigned expatriation still depicts the most relevant and the most researched type of IA (Brookfield Global Relocation Services 2015; Lämsä et al. 2017). Given this predominance, this article focuses specifically on the family interface of traditional company assigned expatriation.

The relevance of investigating the family expatriation interface is underscored as the family was repeatedly identified to exert a crucial influence on assignment outcomes through the impact on the expatriate (e.g., Hays 1971; Takeuchi et al. 2002). During the IA for instance, spouse adjustment was found to influence expatriate adjustment (e.g., Takeuchi et al. 2002). The same interrelation of family members was uncovered in stress research where Forster (1997) detected that expatriates whose spouses experienced high stress levels, also showed higher levels of stress. In fact, the study verified that families suffer from increased stress levels as a result of the IA itself. This issue is intensified as the business settings of MNCs are changing as organizations engage to a greater extend in emerging markets and high-risk countries (Bader et al. 2015). While these locations provide growth potentials for MNCs, for expatriates and their families they may be less attractive and more demanding due to safety, environmental and health concerns (Henisz et al. 2010). The increased need for expatriates in these countries may thus further impede the ability of MNCs to attract qualified candidates and aggravate the family’s living situation during the IA (Bader et al. 2015). Given this crucial influence on organizations, scholars identified the expatriate’s family as a stakeholder to the firm (Takeuchi 2010). Nevertheless, many MNCs have not yet fully acknowledged the practical relevance of incorporating family related issues to their strategic expatriation management (Brookfield Global Relocation Services 2016).

While research has made progress in understanding the family expatriation interface, the topic is not sufficiently integrated in the academic expatriation discussion and theorizing in the field. Numerous combinations of theoretical foundations have been investigated in the literature. While some articles draw on theories originating from the general work-family literature (e.g., Greenhaus and Powell 2006) or family science research such as family systems theory (Jaskiewicz et al. 2017), the field lacks a consistent argumentation and common theoretical ground. We argue that a more profound understanding and integration of family related matters to theorizing in expatriation research would allow for the advancement and generation of more comprehensive theoretical constructs.

As a first step to address the fragmentation and complexity of the field, we conduct a systematic review of the family expatriation literature by specifically focusing on studies that investigate family outcomes. Thus, the aim of this study is to take a step back to (1) analyze the theoretical foundations employed, (2) synthesize the current stock of knowledge by developing a comprehensive framework, and (3) analyze the literature based on the developed framework in order to shed light on the similarities as well as inconsistencies in the field, which enables us to deduce an agenda for future research. Thus, while family-work and work-family effects are reciprocal, our review specifically highlights the ways families are affected by IAs as well as organizations and how family members influence each other in this context. Overall, we hope that our review encourages management scholars and practitioners alike to incorporate family matters to further depth.

2 Methodology

We conducted a systematic review of the literature following the guidelines developed by Tranfield et al. (2003). We chose this method as it ensures the reproducibility of obtained results and improves the quality of the review process (Crossan and Apaydin 2010). After the identification of the need for a review and definition of our research objective, we continued with the definition of search terms and the article selection procedure. In line with previous literature reviews in international human resource management (IHRM) research, we conducted an advanced database search utilizing the Business Source Complete (EBSCO host) (e.g., Altman and Shortland 2008). In order to establish a high quality standard, we decided to include exclusively articles that were published in internationally accepted journals. In line with previous literature reviews in related fields (e.g., Breitenmoser and Bader 2016), we deemed the VHB-Jourqual 3 ranking fit as the relevant measure for our article selection procedure (German Academic Association for Business Research 2015). The survey based VHB-Jourqual 3 ranking published by the German Academic Association for Business Research has become the most influential quality estimate for business journals in German-speaking countries and has been proven to correlate significantly with other international rankings such as the ISI Journal Citation Impact Factors (Schrader and Hennig-Thurau 2009). While citation based journal rankings are generally viewed to be objective (Ritzberger 2008), these types of rankings evaluate journals according to the number of citations, which are dependent on many factors such as size or interest in a specific field. Thus, smaller fields and sub-divisions of academic discussions might not be adequately reflected (Schrader and Hennig-Thurau 2009). Given our objective of selecting a quality measure and not an impact measure for the strategic article selection procedure of this review as well as the nascent stage of the family expatriation literature, we contemplated that the survey based VHB-Jourqual 3 ranking fits best with the nature of our study. Articles included in this review were all published in peer-viewed international journals ranked C or higher according to the VHB-Jourqual 3 ranking.

Further, to grasp the full development of the field, we chose a far reaching time frame from 1970 when the importance of the family was first briefly mentioned by Hays (1971) until the finalization of this research in August 2017. We then commenced with the definition of the term family as divergence exists in the literature. Initially, families were thought to be characterized by traditional structures, thus composed of a breadwinner husband, a homemaker wife and possibly children (Duxbury and Higgins 1991). Yet, acknowledging the changes in family structures in recent years, family compositions can vary. In line with previous research in the field, we therefore define a family as any kind of committed partnership with or without children as well as single-parents (Lazarova et al. 2010). Thus, we recognize traditional as well as non-traditional family models, such as dual income or dual career families, homosexual couples, single-parents, split or patchwork families with or without children as families. Moreover, there appears to be a differentiated understanding of the members of a family in distinct cultural backgrounds. While in western societies families are typically considered to be composed of the primary family members only, in other regions of the world, for instance in Asia, extended family members are considered as well (e.g., Gupta et al. 2012).

Given our focus on the family interface of IAs, we concentrated on articles that investigate family outcomes in the expatriation context and excluded studies that consider the family as one of many exogenous variables. We included works investigating family outcomes throughout organization assigned expatriation, thus in the pre-assignment phase, during the IA as well the post-assignment phase. In order to obtain literature that is both associated with the expatriation context as well as the family we conducted our search by employing a combination of keywords. First, we chose the general keywords expatriate/expatriation in combination with the terms family/families. Subsequently, we integrated six additional keyword combinations to our search to account for the different family structures by incorporating the terms spouse, couple, dual career, single-parent, partner as well as children. Lastly, we exchanged the terms expatriate/expatriation in all combinations with the keyword international assignment. Applying the above named criteria, sorting out duplicates and exclusively choosing works that investigate family matters as an endogenous variable in at least one of the hypotheses investigated, our final sample consisted of 56 studies from 1985, when Harvey published the first family-centric article until the finalization of this project in August 2017. We offer a comprehensive overview of the articles included in this review in Appendix 1 of Electronic supplementary material. Next to the research approach, the sampling method and the underlying theoretical construct, we further noted the respective industry as well as the home and the host country.

3 Theoretical foundations of the field

The family expatriation literature builds on a rather large variety of theories. Table 1 provides an overview of the most commonly utilized theoretical foundations.
Table 1

Theoretical foundations of the family expatriation literature





Spillover/crossover theory

Brett and Stroh (1995)*, Caligiuri et al. (1998)*, Cole (2011)*, Cole and Nesbeth (2014)*, Harvey (1985), Harvey (1997)*, Kupka et al. (2008)*, Linehan and Walsh (2000)*, Malek et al. (2015)*, Mohr and Klein (2004)*, Takeuchi et al. (2002), Takeuchi et al. (2007)*, van der Zee et al. (2005)*


Role theory

Cole (2011)*, Dupuis et al. (2008), Harvey (1997)*, Mäkelä and Suutari (2011), Mäkelä et al. (2011), Shaffer et al. (2016), Tharenou (2008)*, van der Zee et al. (2005)*


Family systems theory

Brett and Stroh (1995)*, Caligiuri et al. (1998)*, Konopaske et al. (2005)


Human capital theory

Harvey (1997)*, Shaffer et al. (2001), van der Velde et al. (2005)*


Social capital theory

Gupta et al. (2012)*, Lauring and Selmer (2010)*, McPhail et al. (2016)


Job demands-resources theory

Cole and Nesbeth (2014)*, Lazarova et al. (2010)*


Social identity theory

Cole (2011)*, Shaffer and Harrison (2001)*


Social learning theory

Mohr and Klein (2004)*, Harvey et al. (2010)


Social network theory

Gupta et al. (2012)*, Lauring and Selmer (2010)*


Others (used only once)

Black and Stephens (1989), Caligiuri et al. (1998)*, Harvey (1997)*, Harvey et al. (2009), Haslberger and Brewster (2008)*, Känsälä et al. (2015), Kupka et al. (2008)*, Lazarova et al. (2010)*, Lämsä et al. (2017), Linehan and Walsh (2000)*, Malek et al. (2015)*, Mohr and Klein (2004)*, Shaffer and Harrison (2001)*, Takeuchi et al. (2007)*, Tharenou (2008)*, van der Velde et al. (2005, 2017)*, van Erp et al. (2013)

*Implies that the respective study used more than one theory. The rank is attributed with respect to the number of uses of the theory in the family expatriation literature

The majority of theories is only used once, which underscores the fragmentation and lack of consistent theoretical argumentation in the field. In fact, this relates to a total of 27 theories (e.g., psychological contract theory, identity theory or conservation of resources theory). For a more profound understanding of the theoretical foundations employed, we provide a brief overview of the five most commonly used theories.

Spillover theory is the most employed concept (13 articles). The theory suggests that effects spill from one domain to another. For instance, experiences of the work domain spill over into the home domain and vice versa (e.g., Malek et al. 2015). Moreover, scholars commonly combine spillover theory with crossover theory, which conceptualizes that effects experienced by one individual will create similar effects in another individual. For example, spillover and crossover effects were found between spouse and expatriate adjustment during the IA (e.g., Caligiuri et al. 1998; Takeuchi et al. 2002). Further, role theory has been utilized in seven articles and commonly denotes the investigation of gender and family differences of investigated phenomena (e.g., Tharenou 2008). Particularly in the context of non-traditional family structures, role theory is often utilized to investigate the family’s role development triggered by the IA itself. For instance, Mäkelä et al. (2011) investigate the spousal roles of dual career couples during IAs employing role theory, more specifically spousal role theory.

Moreover, family systems theory, human capital theory and social capital theory have each been utilized in three articles. Family systems theory conceptualizes that families should be perceived as a unit rather than a set of individuals. Family members are part of an enclosed family system that is characterized by reciprocal relationships where the individuals impact each other’s attitudes, well-being and personality (e.g., Jaskiewicz et al. 2017). In the family expatriation context, family systems theory is typically utilized to explain how family members influence each other (e.g., Brett and Stroh 1995; Konopaske et al. 2005). Human capital theory supports the understanding of rational choices made, for instance by dual career couples, particularly in relation to their willingness to relocate in the family expatriation literature (e.g., Harvey 1997; van der Velde et al. 2005). Social capital theory further analyzes the network and the respective resource associated with that network. In the family expatriation context, the family is analyzed as a network providing resources, for instance in form of support to the expatriate (e.g., Lauring and Selmer 2010). Thus, the most commonly employed theoretical foundations aim at investigating and explaining the reciprocal relationships between family members as well as between the work and the family domain and vice versa. The theories largely originate from family science research (e.g., Jaskiewicz et al. 2017).

4 A framework of the family expatriation literature

Given the fragmented utilization of theoretical foundations, the diversity of methodological approaches as illustrated in Appendix 1 of Electronic supplementary material as well as our broad intended research focus on family outcomes throughout IAs, there seems to be little consistency in the literature. Accordingly, the second aim of this article is to synthesize the literature in form of a comprehensive framework. To bring some organization to the field, we therefore deemed the ex-ante introduction of our framework necessary in order to restructure our review accordingly and conduct an in-depth analysis of the literature. This depicts a commonly applied approach for systematic literature reviews (e.g., Breitenmoser and Bader 2016; Crossan and Apaydin 2010; Shaffer et al. 2012). In pursuance of the development of the framework, we proceeded in two consecutive steps. First, we established categorization of the literature based on the dimensions of family outcomes investigated thus far. Second, we analyzed the determinants of family outcomes. We then integrated our findings into a comprehensive multi-level framework.

4.1 Dimensions of family outcomes

According to the descriptive nature of our review, we handled large amounts of text. We therefore decided to employ the qualitative content analysis for a structured manner of approaching the field and to eventually provide categorization (Mayring 2014). After the first systematic reading of the literature we divided the investigated articles by research approach in order to excerpt the relevant text passages concerning the family. For studies with an explorative nature, we extracted the sections that addressed family outcomes. From articles investigating causal relationships such as conceptual or quantitative research approaches any investigated endogenous family outcomes, or that of a specific family member, as well as the corresponding exogenous variables were noted. Finally, for studies employing a mixed methods approach we combined the two previously described procedures by excerpting any relevant information on family outcomes from qualitative sections as well as the information of the investigated relationships of the quantitative parts of the analysis.

Having analyzed all articles in depth, we observed that a variety of family outcomes have been investigated throughout IAs. More specifically, family willingness to relocate has been analyzed in the pre-assignment phase; during the IA, family adjustment, family stress, family role development, spousal career development and work-family balance have been subject to research interest; in the post-assignment phase, family repatriation adjustment has been investigated. In sum, we contemplated that the family expatriation literature can be classified into seven categories based on the family outcomes investigated: family willingness to relocate, family adjustment, family stress, family role development, spousal career development, work-family balance and family repatriation adjustment. While in some cases scholars differentiate between expatriate and spousal outcomes, for instance with regard to expatriate adjustment and spouse adjustment, for simplicity reasons we group these under the category family adjustment. This step is justified by the fact that scholars verified the interrelation of individual family member outcomes (e.g., Takeuchi et al. 2002). Yet, if differences were observed with regard to the individual family members in the literature, we make reference to those differences in our review. Moreover, we summarize the investigation of work-family conflict and enrichment under the category work-family balance. In order to evaluate the stability of the proposed categories, we assigned each study from our sample to the respective categories. Both authors conducted this allocation independently. Reasonable doubt on the allocation of a total of three explorative articles was openly discussed until a solution was agreed upon. Coding reliability was thus ensured. The final classification of the investigated studies with respect to our categorization is illustrated in Appendix 1 of Electronic supplementary material.

4.2 Determinants of family outcomes

We further analyzed the determinants of family outcomes with regard to our established categorization. Given the diverse nature of the determinants investigated in the extant literature, we decided to generate a multi-level framework. We structured the determinants of family outcomes with regard to three levels: the family level, the organizational level and the environmental level. This multi-level logic is based on the guidance of the literature and the theoretical foundations utilized. More specifically, family systems theory conceptualizes that individual family members influence each other’s attitudes, well-being and behavior (Konopaske et al. 2005). Thus, individual characteristics, family characteristics as well as family attitudes and well-being are determinants of family outcomes (Caligiuri et al. 1998). The distinction between the family as an endogenous and an exogenous variable is sometimes blurred in the literature. Our framework therefore differentiates between the family as a determinant as well as family outcomes as endogenous variables.

Further, we identified work-related factors and organizational support as determinants of family outcomes on the organizational level. This level attributes to the management and organization-oriented focus of the family expatriation topic. The integration of the organizational level into our comprehensive framework is legitimated by the fact that the provision of organizational support has been identified as a positive predictor of family outcomes throughout IAs, for example for family willingness to relocate or for family adjustment (e.g., Brett and Stroh 1995; Malek et al. 2015).

Furthermore, the contextual setting of the host country has been demonstrated to influence family outcomes. We therefore allocate the location, culture as well as additional stakeholder within the environmental level. Consistent findings in the literature justify the integration of these factors into our framework. For instance, factors attributed to the location, such as the climate, security or healthcare have been found to impact family adjustment (e.g., Gupta et al. 2012). Moreover, cultural distance was uncovered to influence family willingness to relocate (e.g., Dupuis et al. 2008). Further, network size and breadth with regard to additional stakeholder groups, such as host country nationals was proven to influence family adjustment (e.g., Malek et al. 2015). In sum, we integrated theoretical as well as evidence based considerations in order to generate a multi-level framework of the determinants and dimensions of family outcomes. The framework is illustrated in Fig. 1.
Fig. 1

Multi-level framework of the family expatriation literature

In the following we continue with the analysis of the literature based on our framework. This section transmits in-depth knowledge of the family in the center of IAs and further verifies the generated multi-level framework. We observed similarities of determinants across our established categories. Thus, the same determinants influence family outcomes throughout IAs as illustrated in our framework. In order to prevent repetition, we structure our review based on the determinants with regard to the phase of the IA and make reference to the respective family outcomes analyzed. We begin with the family level determinants of family outcomes.

5 Family level determinants of family outcomes

5.1 Individual characteristics

Individual factors investigated as determinants of family outcomes in the literature are, for instance age, gender and education level (e.g., Brett and Stroh 1995; Konopaske et al. 2005). In the pre-assignment phase, these have been found to be predictors of family willingness to relocate (e.g., Brett and Stroh 1995). Moreover, previous international experience (van der Velde et al. 2005) as well as adventurousness (Konopaske et al. 2005) were found to moderate family willingness to relocate. Further, the stage of the career life-cycle of the expatriate as well as the spouse’s career orientation influence family willingness to relocate (e.g., Harvey 1995). More specifically, the spouse’s career orientation was discovered as one of the most influential negative predictors of family willingness to relocate (Konopaske et al. 2005). Punnett (1997) for instance, established three categories of the spouse’s career orientation: female spouses who do not expect to work during the IA, female spouses who do expect to work and male spouses who predominantly expect to work. Considering the spouse’s career orientation pre-assignment, Stephens and Black (1991) found that career oriented spouses were almost seven times as likely to be employed during the IA in contrast to non-career oriented spouses. Further, spouses with earnings above the median prior to the IA were more likely to find work during the IA than their lower-earning counterparts. In their conceptual paper, Harvey et al. (2009) proposed that curiosity and hope will provide the trailing spouse with the motivation to resolve the potential negative impact of the IA on the career path.

In line with the pre-assignment phase, similar determinants influence family outcomes during the IA (e.g., Mohr and Klein 2004). The largest amount of research has been conducted with regard to family adjustment. For instance, motivation was verified as a factor influencing family adjustment (Black and Gregersen 1991a). Further, De Cieri et al. (1991) detected that the individual characteristic self-esteem was positively associated with family adjustment. Additionally, the influence of intercultural personality traits, such as emotional stability as well as open-mindedness were found to be positive determinants of family adjustment (van Erp et al. 2013). In their longitudinal study among expatriate couples, emotional-stability became less relevant at a later point during the IA, when open-mindedness gained importance. Exploring the adjustment of Indian spouses, Gupta et al. (2012) identified adventurousness as a positive predictor. Moreover, previous international experience was found to be useful for family adjustment (Mohr and Klein 2004). In the post-assignment phase, research is limited. While Black and Gregersen (1991b) verified age as a predictor of family repatriation adjustment, Gregersen and Stroh (1997) found no such connection.

5.2 Family characteristics

Initially, traditional family structures dominated the family expatriation field (e.g., Harvey 1985; Tung 1986). The integration of non-traditional family structures only slowly developed over time. In line with the increase of women and dual career couples in the general work force (Altman and Shortland 2008; Beigi and Shirmohammadi 2017), research investigated dual career couples (e.g., Harvey 1995; van der Velde et al. 2017), female expatriate families (e.g., Fischlmayr and Kollinger 2010; Punnett et al. 1992) and recently also homosexual couples (McPhail et al. 2016). The diverging family structures may trigger different family outcomes. As stated, in the pre-assignment phase, scholars agree that dual career couples are less willing to relocate due to the disruption of the spouse’s career (e.g., Harvey 1997, 1998). Moreover, the presence and age of children is a controversially discussed topic in the literature with regard to all phases of IAs. Scholars uncovered that female spouses and expatriates were reluctant to move when they had children (e.g., Brett and Stroh 1995; Dupuis et al. 2008). Contradicting these findings, van der Velde et al. (2005) were not able to verify this relationship. Yet, they revealed that spouses were more willing to follow their partner on an IA when their children were still young. The authors conclude that this discovery could be based on the women’s willingness to embrace a more traditional role during the IA.

With regard to the actual assignment phase, Shaffer and Harrison (2001) uncovered that the presence of preschool-aged children was a stronger positive predictor for adjustment than having school-aged children or no children accompanying on the IA. In contrast, Mohr and Klein (2004) found no proof for the influence of children on family adjustment. The authors argued that this might be due to the fact that the presence of children might either cause the family to be more engaged with host country nationals, which could positively influence adjustment, while at the same time families might also be exposed to greater difficulties, such as finding a new school or safety related issues, which could negatively affect adjustment. In general, scholars seem to agree that having high school children is often perceived as a burden (e.g., Shaffer and Harrison 2001). IAs might be too much of a disruption of the life of high-school aged children who are already old enough to protest against leaving friends and family (e.g., Tharenou 2008; van der Velde et al. 2005). Accordingly, Haslberger and Brewster (2008) propose in their conceptual work that the transition to a new school for children is a dominant stressor for families. Moreover, Takeuchi et al. (2007) demonstrated the existence of an S-shaped non-linear relationship between parental demands and spouse adjustment. Yet, for expatriates the relationship was insignificant.

Further, family structure affects family role development and spousal career development. In many cases as a result of the IA itself, spouses might not be able to obtain employment during the IA and are thus forced to accept a more traditional role (e.g., Mäkelä and Suutari 2011). Dual career couples therefore employ career coordination strategies during the IA by either focusing more on one career than the other, putting equal weight or loosely coordinating both careers (Känsälä et al. 2015). This situation is particular challenging for female expatriates and male spouses as according to role theory the breadwinner position is still connected to the man in the family (e.g., Fischlmayr and Kollinger 2010; Linehan and Walsh 2000; Punnett et al. 1992). In the post-assignment phase, family income and family standard of living have been uncovered as determinants of family repatriation adjustment (e.g., Black and Gregersen 1991b).

5.3 Attitudes and well-being

Family attitudes and well-being have important implications for a number of family outcomes. In the pre-assignment phase, Konopaske et al. (2005) detected family climate as an influence on family willingness to relocate, while Brett and Stroh (1995) as well as Dupuis et al. (2008) found no significant relationship. The authors argue that unhappy couples might be just as willing to relocate as their happy counterparts (e.g., Brett and Stroh 1995).

During the IA, the situation is clearer as factors associated to the family’s attitudes and well-being are consistently identified. The significance of a supportive family is repeatedly stressed in the literature (e.g., Lauring and Selmer 2010). Further, the importance of a positive attitude has been identified. For instance, the spouse’s favorable opinion of the IA was uncovered as a positive influence on family adjustment (e.g., Black and Stephens 1989; Fukuda and Chu 1994). Family cohesion and communication were uncovered as further determinants of family adjustment (Caligiuri et al. 1998; Forster 1992). Moreover, satisfying family relationships (De Cieri et al. 1991) as well as family instrumental and emotional support were positively related to family role adjustment (Shaffer et al. 2016). In addition, spousal and expatriate well-being were found to be interrelated (van der Zee et al. 2005). Family attitudes and well-being have not been investigated in the post-assignment phase.

6 Organizational level determinants of family outcomes

6.1 Work-related factors

Work-related factors impact families throughout IAs. In the pre-assignment phase, compensation and attractiveness of the position (Dupuis et al. 2008; Harvey 1997) as well as organizational tenure and commitment (van der Velde et al. 2005) were uncovered as significant predictors of family willingness to relocate. During the IA, affective organizational commitment by the expatriate (e.g., Shaffer et al. 2001) as well as the integration of a high involvement work system (Shih et al. 2010) were detected to increase work-family conflict. In relation, a number of studies uncovered work-family issues with regard to the work engagement of the expatriate. For instance, in their explorative study of 50 senior female managers, Linehan and Walsh (2000) found that for female expatriates, work-family conflict was mostly generated by role conflict and time strain between having a career and running a home. In relation to the post-assignment phase, scholars uncovered that family repatriation adjustment was negatively associated with total time overseas (Black and Gregersen 1991b).

6.2 Organizational support

Organizational support was repeatedly recognized as a determinant of family outcomes throughout IAs. In the pre-assignment phase, the availability of organizational support was found to be a positive predictor of family willingness to relocate (e.g., Brett and Stroh 1995). Recent research indicated that MNCs tend to concentrate their support efforts on the pre-assignment phase (e.g., Cole and Nesbeth 2014). Mostly the family’s basic needs are targeted by providing general relocation assistance. These needs may include assistance in finding accommodation, support for storage or home sale, finding a new kindergarten or school, providing language courses and cross-cultural training, assisting with immigration paper work as well as salary supplements until employment is found for the spouse (e.g., Cole and Nesbeth 2014; Dupuis et al. 2008). However, there appear to be cultural differences with regard to this determinant in the pre-assignment phase. More precisely, a number of studies with Asian samples found no relationship between organizational support and family willingness to relocate (e.g., Gupta et al. 2012). However, scholars also uncovered that Asian MNCs usually did not provide any support for families at all (e.g., Cho et al. 2013).

During the IA, the provision of organizational support has been identified as a positive predictor for family adjustment (e.g., Malek et al. 2015). As most MNCs support practices are designed for the specific needs of female spouses (e.g., Linehan and Walsh 2000), male spouses often felt unsupported and overlooked by their wife’s organization (e.g., Harvey and Wiese 1998; Selmer and Leung 2003). Further, MNCs seem to be indecisive on whether to grant the same benefits and support mechanisms to homosexual couples (McPhail et al. 2016). In the case of dual career couples, researchers underscored the importance of career assistance for the spouse with regard to the spouse’s career development during and after the IA (e.g., Handler and Lane 1997; Känsälä et al. 2015). Further, the relevance of a mentor has been stressed in the literature with regard to family adjustment as well as spousal career development (e.g., Harvey and Buckley 1998; Harvey et al. 1999, 2010). Concerning family repatriation adjustment, organizational support in form of frequent visits to the home country was found to have a positive influence (Gregersen and Stroh 1997).

7 Environmental level determinants of family outcomes

7.1 Location

Factors associated to the location impact a number of family outcomes. In the pre-assignment phase, the level of economic development (Harvey 1997) as well as the climate (Gupta et al. 2012) were identified as parameters of family willingness to relocate. Moreover, family role development as well as spousal career development are impacted by visa restrictions, the transferability of qualifications and degrees, and a restricted job market in the host country, which may impede the chances of obtaining a job for the spouse (e.g., Brookfield Global Relocation Services 2016; Harvey and Wiese 1998). Hence, the spouse might be forced to accept a more traditional role during the IA (Lauring and Selmer 2010).

In line with the determinants of the pre-assignment phase, determinants such as the weather (Gupta et al. 2012), the quality of air, the noise level, the economic development of the host country (Harvey 1997) and the availability of entertainment outside the home domain as well as the quality of healthcare impact family stress and adjustment during the IA (Haslberger and Brewster 2008). Again, research on the post-assignment phase is scarce.

7.2 Culture

A number of studies uncovered a negative relationship between cultural distance and a variety of family outcomes. In the pre-assignment phase, cultural distance determines an important consideration for families (e.g., Dupuis et al. 2008; Gupta et al. 2012). For instance, with Canada as a reference point, Dupuis et al. (2008) uncovered that families were more willing to relocate to low-cultural than high-cultural distance locations. During the IA, a number of studies detected a negative relationship with the level of cultural novelty and family adjustment (e.g., Black and Gregersen 1991a; Harvey 1997; Shaffer and Harrison 2001). De Cieri et al. (1991) verified that culture shock and perceived cultural distance were negatively associated with psychological adjustment especially in the early phases of expatriation. Takeuchi et al. (2007) found the same non-linear, S-shaped relationship between spouse-perceived cultural novelty and spouse adjustment as with parental demands and spouse adjustment. Again, this relationship was not significant for expatriates. In contrast, Mohr and Klein (2004) were not able to verify the relationship between cultural novelty and spouse adjustment in their empirical study of American families in Germany. Similarly, in the post-assignment phase, cultural novelty functions as a negative predictor of family repatriation adjustment, especially when cultural differences are large (Gregersen and Stroh 1997). In sum, large cultural differences between home and host country appear to aggravate all levels of the family’s situation.

7.3 Additional stakeholder

Additional stakeholder have been proven to influence family outcomes. In the pre-assignment phase, responsibility for extended family members was found to be a negative predictor of family willingness to relocate (e.g., Gupta et al. 2012). During the IA, members of the host country naturally gain more importance. For instance, network size and breadth, such as the engagement in expatriate networks or the receptiveness of host country nationals were identified as eminent factors for family adjustment (e.g., De Cieri et al. 1991; Shaffer and Harrison 2001). In general, scholars agree that spouses and children face a more challenging situation than the expatriate during the IA as they are usually more exposed to the host country environment and its citizens, while the expatriate experiences some continuity through the work domain (e.g., Kupka and Cathro 2007). Accordingly, the interaction with host country nationals and perceived host country national support were uncovered to positively impact spouse adjustment (e.g., Malek et al. 2015). In order to prevent the isolation of spouses (e.g., Brown 2008), introductions to other expatriated families, expat networks or sports and social clubs appear to be useful with regard to family adjustment (e.g., Cole 2011; Kupka and Cathro 2007). The influence of additional stakeholders in the post-assignment phase has not yet been investigated.

8 Summary

This review synthesized the extant family expatriation literature by systematically analyzing 56 articles published between 1985 and 2017. We contributed to the advancement of the academic family expatriation discussion in several ways. First, our review identified several inconsistencies and gaps in the literature that would not have been obvious within the scope of an individual paper. From a theoretical point of view, we added to the development in the field by discussing the most commonly employed theoretical foundations. More precisely, we uncovered a rather eclectic utilization of theory. Hence, we contributed to a more nuanced understanding by discussing the prevailing theories, their main propositions as well as their application in the literature.

Moreover, by analyzing the determinants and dimensions of family outcomes and integrating our findings into a comprehensive multi-level framework of the family expatriation topic, our review highlighted how families are impacted throughout IAs. Thus, we contributed to the advancement of the field by organizing the fragmented and diverse literature. More precisely, in a first step, we established seven categories of family outcomes throughout IAs: family willingness to relocate, family adjustment, family stress, family role development, spousal career development, work-family balance and family repatriation adjustment. We then integrated these dimensions of family outcomes into our comprehensive multi-level framework where we classified the determinants of family outcomes on the family level, the organizational level and the environmental level. By reviewing the literature based on our framework, the rigor of our established categorization was further supported.

Table 2 summarizes the current stage of the field by providing an overview of the literature available with regard to the established categorization. Given that the family’s structure was throughout this review found to be a central variable, we integrated the respective family structure investigated into the table. This rationale is justified by the fact that the depth and breadth of research conducted with regard to the diverging family structures differs considerably. Next to traditional as well as non-traditional family structures, there is a large body of literature that investigates the family expatriation interface from a generic perspective without differentiation of the family’s structure. We label these works generic family investigation. In order to account for the variety of non-traditional family structures, we further make a distinction between female expatriates, dual career couples and alternative family types.
Table 2

Categorization of the extant family expatriation literature with regard to the family model investigated


Family type

Traditional family structure

Non-traditional family structures

Generic family investigation

Female expatriates

Dual career couples



Family willingness to relocate



Dupuis et al. (2008), Harvey (1995), Harvey (1997)*, van der Velde et al. (2005, 2017)

McPhail et al. (2016)*

Brett and Stroh (1995), Cho et al. (2013), Gupta et al. (2012)*, Konopaske et al. (2005), Tharenou (2008)

Family adjustment

Black and Stephens (1989), Black and Gregersen (1991a), Fukuda and Chu (1994), Tung (1986)


Harvey (1997)*


Caligiuri et al. (1998), Cole (2011), De Cieri et al. (1991), Forster (1992), Gupta et al. (2012)*, Haslberger and Brewster (2008)*, Malek et al. (2015), Mohr and Klein (2004), Shaffer and Harrison (2001), Shaffer et al. (2016), Stephens and Black (1991), Takeuchi et al. (2002), Takeuchi et al. (2007), van Erp et al. (2013)

Family stress

Harvey (1985)




Brown (2008), Cole and Nesbeth (2014), Forster (1997), Haslberger and Brewster (2008)*, Kupka and Cathro (2007), Kupka et al. (2008)

Family role development

Not applicable

Harvey (1998)*, Punnett et al. (1992), Selmer and Leung (2003)

Lauring and Selmer (2010), Mäkelä and Suutari (2011)



Spousal career development

Not applicable

Harvey (1998)*

Handler and Lane (1997), Harvey and Buckley (1998), Harvey et al. (1999), Harvey et al. (2009), Harvey et al. (2010), Känsälä et al. (2015), Punnett (1997)

McPhail et al. (2016)*


Work-family balance


Linehan and Walsh (2000), Fischlmayr and Kollinger (2010)



Lazarova et al. (2010), Lämsä et al. (2017), Mäkelä and Suutari (2011), Shaffer and Harrison (2001), Shih et al. (2010), van der Zee et al. (2005)

Family repatriation adjustment

Black and Gregersen (1991b), Gregersen and Stroh (1997)





*Applicable to more than one field

As illustrated in Table 2, the categories family adjustment and subsequently family willingness to relocate have received most attention in the extant literature. Truly only within these two categories an advancement of the scholarly discussion has taken place. All other categories remain at a largely explorative level, often without noteworthy theoretical foundation or contribution. Recently the category work-family balance has been receiving increased attention, yet also remains at a largely explorative stage. Moreover, there is considerable inequality in the breadth and depth of research with regard to the different family structures analyzed. While the generic family investigation depicts the largest group of interest, non-traditional family structures remain underrepresented. Accordingly, theoretical propositions have not been fully empirically investigated in relation to the diverse nature of families, but have mostly been examined from a generic perspective. Overall, our literature review provided a nuanced understanding of the family in the center of IAs, which is essential for a more thorough integration of the family to the current academic expatriation discussion and theorizing in the field.

9 Future research directions

Throughout over 30 years of research, we have obtained valuable knowledge of the family in the center of IAs. Yet, much empirical as well as theoretically grounded research remains to be done. Our review uncovered a number of inconsistencies and gaps in the literature that offer straightforward recommendations for future research. The summary provided in Table 2 depicts an overview of the gaps in the literature and is a valuable starting point for the themes and family outcomes that are worth evaluating in the future. For instance, it is evident that the investigation of family repatriation adjustment is nascent as only two studies have examined this aspect (Black and Gregersen 1991b; Gregersen and Stroh 1997). Besides the necessity to fill these obvious gaps, in the following we discuss future research directions that would substantially support the advancement of the family expatriation discussion.

Overall, we deem three extensions necessary to promote the thematic and theoretical development in the field. First, we recommend to further integrate management and family science theory. In this matter, we argue for the utilization of theory from related fields, more specifically boundary theory, where this integration has already provided fruitful results. Second, we advise the investigation of alternative types of families and children in order to examine and test the robustness of theoretical arguments. Third, we suggest the extension of research to other countries in order to examine the contextual fit of theory. Throughout the future research discussion, we make reference to our established framework, more specifically to the determinants and dimensions of family outcomes not yet investigated. In addition to these recommendations for the family expatriation literature, we further argue for increased research efforts on the family interface with regard to other forms of IAs as these are gaining relevance in practice as well as in research.

9.1 Theoretical advancement in the field

In the family expatriation field, scholars have utilized theoretical arguments in a complementary manner. In fact, our review uncovered the use of over 30 different theories. Given this fragmentation there appears to be little development of theoretical arguments. At least partially, this results from the largely explorative character of the family expatriation investigation, where themes and interrelations might still be uncovered and conceptualized. While due to the interdisciplinary character of the field the utilization of theory in a complementary manner is feasible, at the same time a more thorough integration of theory is necessary in order to examine work-family, and in a next step also family-work effects. More specifically, with the exception of spillover theory our review did not reveal a theory that could operate across the levels of our framework, i.e. the family level and the organizational level. However, due to the cross-level nature of the topic, a theory that can be applied across levels is likely to provide fruitful results. Advancements that offer a useful extension for the family expatriation discussion have been made in the domestic work-family literature. More precisely, Ashforth et al. (2000) introduced boundary theory that concentrates on how individuals negotiate and handle factors associated to the family and work domain and thus allows for the simultaneous investigation of the family and the organizational level. Boundary theory is a cognitive theory that conceptualizes that individuals are engaged in several roles, more specifically, the work role and the family role. Given the limited time and resources available to individuals, they are transitioning between these roles. The theory further constitutes that there can either be a blurring of boundaries where roles are interrelated or roles can be kept strictly separate. Aspects such as the meaning of both roles, frequency of interrelation or engagement in the home and the work domain are investigated (Ashforth et al. 2000; Jaskiewicz et al. 2017).

Accordingly, the application of boundary theory in the family expatriation discussion might be useful in order to investigate interpersonal relationships between family members, expatriates as well as host-country nationals and their influence on the work-family interface. At this point, there is only one study that investigates the influence of host country nationals (additional stakeholder in our framework) in relation to adjustment and performance (Malek et al. 2015). Further, the application of boundary theory is particularly of interest as research as well as theory-building surrounding work-family balance has largely concentrated on negative aspects associated with the family, such as work-family conflict. The inquiry not only originates from stress research, but largely focuses on the conflict perspective (e.g., Linehan and Walsh 2000). The positive side of the family expatriation interface remains, with few exceptions (e.g., Lazarova et al. 2010), underresearched. Thus, boundary theory offers the potential to investigate spillover effects between the family and the organizational level in a reciprocal manner. Moreover, factors contributing to work-family conflict/enrichment and spillover effects can be investigated simultaneously (e.g., Chen et al. 2009), which until this point has only been possible by combining several theories. Further, the theory offers the opportunity to examine the impact of organizational policies on the family interface and may help to answer the question whether organizations can create support mechanisms and policies that would facilitate healthy family-work and work-family relationships. As our review has pointed out, there is a lack of empirical research concerning the breadth and depth of organizational support. For future research, boundary theory therefore provides an avenue worth taking to evaluate the impact of organizational support policies. By and large, we propose that boundary theory provides a fruitful avenue for future research in order to generate a more nuanced understanding of the interconnectedness between levels, more specifically of the resources distributed to the roles within the family level and the organizational level (Chen et al. 2009).

While boundary theory offers a valuable integration of management and family science theory, it alone does not suffice to promote the development in the field. In order to fully understand the family interface including its’ individual members, the utilization and combination of theoretical arguments remains reasonable. In this matter, the commonly employed combination of spillover theory with for example family systems theory or role theory remain important foundations for future research in the field, for instance to investigate family level aspects that cannot be thoroughly covered with the proposed theoretical extension. As outlined, the extant literature offers a broad variety of theoretical foundations that have only been used once and thus require further examination with regard to the family expatriation context.

9.2 Investigation of non-traditional family models and children

Future research should investigate whether theoretical arguments hold when evaluating other family types and children. At this point, large amounts of the family expatriation literature consider the family interface from a generic perspective. While this provides valuable knowledge of the family, it may not necessarily reflect reality as families are diverse. Particularly, with the upsurge of dual career couples and female expatriates the inquiry of non-traditional family models is urgently required. The same applies to single-parents, homosexual couples and split or patchwork families as they are currently underrepresented in the literature. Overall, we argue that insufficient amounts of research have been conducted with regard to non-traditional family structures that would allow for a generalization to all family structures.

In order to examine the robustness of theoretical arguments, increased research efforts to investigate other family types is necessary. We therefore recommend the generation of homogenous samples of specific family types in order to establish similarities and differences across family structures. With this the generalization of results can be assessed and theories adapted if necessary. For instance, while family adjustment has received the largest amount of attention, family role adjustment requires further inquiry as a parameter that has recently been added to the adjustment discussion (e.g., Mohr and Klein 2004). Particularly, as role development has been proven to be challenging for non-traditional families, such as female expatriates and male spouses as well as dual career couples (e.g., Harvey and Wiese 1998), the investigation of these family structures is of interest in this context.

Moreover, the international character of the family expatriation topic adds complexity to the investigation of families as they may not stay in the same location. For instance, initial research has found that female expatriate families opted to live in a long-distance relationship in order to diminish the potential negative effects of the international relocation on the spouse and children (Fischlmayr and Kollinger 2010). Scholars might in this matter find the application of boundary theory to different types of families fruitful as there are likely substantial differences between the distinct family types. For instance, a study by Lauring and Selmer (2010) suggested that spouses were engaged in work related matters of their expatriate husband. It appears that boundaries between the family and the organizational level in this specific case were blurred. On the other hand, it can be assumed that families opting to live in long-distance relationships are likely to experience less blurring of boundaries.

Furthermore, theoretical propositions have not been fully empirically investigated in the family expatriation literature. More specifically, while family systems theory conceptualizes that family members are part of an enclosed family system where individuals influence each other (e.g., Konopaske et al. 2005), our review uncovered that scholars focus largely on the expatriate-spouse relationship. Even though over 50 percent of families relocate with children (Brookfield Global Relocation Services 2015), with few exceptions (e.g., Forster 1997) data from children is limited. In order to fully examine theoretical foundations, the integration of children to the data generation process is eminent. Children offer a largely unexplored perspective on the family expatriation interface that might bring light to avenues not yet investigated. In order to increase the generalization of research in the field, it is essential to assess whether theoretical arguments hold against non-traditional family structures and by incorporating children as well.

9.3 Increase of contextual research

It is no secret that context matters. Due to the international character of the family expatriation topic, the extension to additional contexts is required in order to evaluate the generalization of theoretical arguments across countries. As our review highlighted, research as well as expatriated families originate, with few exceptions (e.g., Fukuda and Chu 1994; Shih et al. 2010), from North American and Western European countries, while other regions of the world remain underrepresented. Host country locations are internationally dispersed. Given the little amount of research from non-western backgrounds, it is poorly understood how the family expatriation interface differs across countries and how theoretical arguments are applicable under these highly diverse circumstances. In fact, with regard to our multi-level framework contextual diversity is introduced within all three levels that may challenge a theoretical argument. On the family level, our article uncovered that a differentiated understanding of the composition of a family may exist between western and non-western countries. Further, background and culture are highly diverse as expatriated families may originate from all around the world. For instance, the evaluation of the determinants of family willingness to relocate has shown that there are cultural differences between western and non-western families (e.g., Cho et al. 2013). While the acceptance of an IA has been proven to be a family decision in western societies (Brett and Stroh 1995), in a study among Korean managers the interviewees indicated that the company decided who would relocate where and when and the family generally complied (Cho et al. 2013). Thus, it appears that according to boundary theory, families in western societies engage more in work-family blurring, while in the Asian sample the two domains were kept strictly separate. Based on boundary theory, future research should further investigate whether families from distinct cultural backgrounds are influenced by different determinants. Overall, family outcomes from non-western backgrounds remain, with few exceptions (e.g., Takeuchi et al. 2007), significantly underrepresented with regard to all seven categories of family outcomes identified in our review.

Second, context factors influence the organizational level. For instance, our analysis uncovered that organizational support for expatriated families differs substantially across countries. In a study originating from Asia, families were not aware of any support mechanism at all, while it appears to be more common for western MNCs to provide some sort of relocation assistance (e.g., Cho et al. 2013; Kupka et al. 2008).

Finally, while scholars acknowledge that factors associated with the location impact a number of family outcomes (e.g., Harvey 1998), environmental level considerations are not sufficiently integrated in the current family expatriation discussion and theorizing in the field. Yet, given that MNCs increasingly engage in emerging markets and high-risk countries, health and safety related issues have become increasingly important in the IA context (Bader et al. 2015; Henisz et al. 2010). Accordingly, future research should investigate the determinants of family outcomes with regard to the context specific setting of IAs. Research could, for instance examine how families sent to these locations are impacted in terms of family adjustment or stress. Further, it is worth determining what coping mechanisms enable families to be comfortable in these unique settings. Overall, the extension of context offers the possibility to examine and develop the boundaries of a theoretical argument, increase the potential of generalization and with this strengthen the impact of research results on practice (Johns 2017).

9.4 Family interface of alternative forms of IAs

Aside from traditional company assigned expatriation, alternative forms of global work, for instance self-initiated expatriation or international business travel have been gaining importance in practice and in research (e.g., Shaffer et al. 2012). Yet, as the scholarship on these types of IAs remains at an emerging stage in general, little research has been conducted with regard to the family interface (for an exception see i.e. Fischlmayr and Puchmüller 2016). Depending on the type of IA, the impact on the family is likely to differ substantially. For instance, while the family typically relocates with the expatriate during traditional company assigned expatriation or self-initiated expatriation, during international business travel the family usually stays behind in the home country (e.g., Shaffer et al. 2012).

In this matter, boundary theory may likewise support the investigation of family implications with regard to these different types of IAs. For instance, the application of boundary theory might shed light on whether the reciprocal spillover effects between the work-family and the family-work interface differ and where they are alike. Similarly to the family expatriation inquiry, the utilization of individual and family level theory, such as role theory or family systems theory is of interest in order to provide a better understanding on this level of our framework. In general, our review and the established multi-level framework can serve as a starting point with regard to potential avenues as well as theoretical foundations that would be worth pursuing for scholars seeking to investigate the family interface of alternative forms of IAs. Particularly for the investigation of self-initiated expatriates, the framework might be similarly applicable, while for international business travelers it would have to be adjusted. For instance, the environmental level is likely to have substantially less impact on family outcomes as the family usually remains in the home country. Overall, understanding the family interface of alternative types of IAs is crucial for MNCs in the sense that they can establish organizational support policies in relation to the family’s structure and type of IA in order to facilitate successful assignment outcomes.

10 Managerial implications

There is evidence that MNCs continue to underestimate the vital role of the family throughout IAs (e.g., Brookfield Global Relocation Services 2015; Kupka et al. 2008). Yet, given the significance of the family as outlined by our review, the neglect of the family may undermine the success prospects of IAs. Hence, organizations can simply not afford to ignore this influential stakeholder group. As a first step to provide a more nuanced understanding, this article offered in-depth knowledge of the family expatriation interface. The developed multi-level framework illustrates the determinants and dimensions of family outcomes that organizations should have on their radar when planning and executing IAs. By and large, scholars agree that currently provided organizational support practices are insufficient (Cole and Nesbeth 2014; Kupka et al. 2008). We therefore discuss the implications for practice based on our findings. Given the complexity of the family expatriation topic, we argue that organizations need to take all three levels of our established multi-level framework into consideration.

First, organizations should be aware of the determinants on the family level such as the family’s structure. Given the heterogenic nature of families, there is an absence of a “one-fits-all” solution for family expatriation management (e.g., Cole 2011). For instance, if children are present, families require financial support and assistance in finding a kindergarten or school. Moreover, as dual career couples are increasingly becoming the norm, career assistance might be required for spouses who are planning to work during the IA. In contrast, families opting to live in a long-distance relationship across countries or even continents are likely to face completely different challenges than families that relocate together. As more strain is imposed on the family’s cohesion due to the distance, expatriates might require more flexible working times and travel arrangements in order to facilitate frequent visits to the family in the home country (Fischlmayr and Kollinger 2010). Accordingly, the basis of any sound family support practice must be an understanding of the individual characteristics, such as the career orientation of the spouse, the family’s characteristics and the family’s needs.

Second, the organizational level provides an overview of the work-related determinants of family outcomes and the organizational support practices, both of which lie within the MNC’s ability to reevaluate and adapt if required. After all, scholars repeatedly demonstrated that organizational family support practices are a positive facilitator of a number of family outcomes (e.g., Brett and Stroh 1995; Gupta et al. 2012), yet also that their availability and implementation offers room for improvement (e.g., Cole and Nesbeth 2014). The extant literature discusses several potential support mechanisms, such as pre-departure and cross-cultural trainings for families (Kupka et al. 2008), mentoring programs for dual career couples (Harvey et al. 1999) or network provision, which has been uncovered as an essential facilitator of spouse adjustment (Malek et al. 2015). Next to the summary within our framework, Punnett (1997) offers a comprehensive overview of possible family support mechanisms.

Third, when designing these mechanisms, organizations should be aware of the family’s challenges associated to the environmental level. Depending on the economic situation or the security level of the host country, families require differentiated support. Particularly in relation to the MNC’s engagement in emerging markets and high-risk countries, these factors continue to gain relevance (e.g., Bader et al. 2015). Families sent to these locations are likely reliant on more extensive support to facilitate a safe living environment. Moreover, in the case of language differences, the provision of adequate classes for spouses and children might be necessary. Overall, the generation and provision of organizational support for families throughout IAs depicts a complex task for HR managers. The established multi-level framework can serve as a practical tool for MNCs to evaluate and redesign currently employed family management practices.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (pdf 24 KB)


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Strategic ManagementUniversity of HamburgHamburgGermany

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