Chapter 7: Expatriate Management and Intercultural Management

Case Study: ICAS

Independent and Counselling Services Ltd (ICAS) had over 200 client organizations in June 2001. Established in 1982, it is primarily an international provider of behavioural risk management services, operating worldwide through its own network of overseas offices and strategic partnerships. A service it offers that is of interest to us is the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). EAP facilities are available to all companies who have paid fees (comparable to insurance fees) to ICAS. One component of the EAP is expatriate management.

A prime aspect of expatriate management dealt with by the EAP is culture shock , a term first popularized by the anthropologist Oberg (1960). It refers to 'the psychological disorientation experienced by people who suddenly find themselves living and working in radically different cultural environments'. ICAS believes that the psychological wellbeing of expatriates should be taken care of, as well as other issues that relocating to a new culture entails.

Expatriates can avail themselves of the following services offered by ICAS's EAP: 24-hour free phone, telephone counselling and face-to-face counselling. These services are used by employees having problems in two areas: life management (information about: legal matters, money, family care, consumer rights, general matters) and work. The 24- hour free phone service exists so that employees of ICAS's client organization can phone in and request services around the clock. Suzanne Bo thius, Clinical Services Director of ICAS Switzerland, comments, 'We want expatriates to feel that they have somebody reliable to turn to, who will attend to them at any time, and help them to find solutions to their problems. We do not want them to feel lost and unable to cope.' Suzanne's husband Stephan Bo thius, CEO of ICAS Switzerland, adds, 'If an expatriate is experiencing difficulty adjusting to a new culture, he will be unable to put his best foot forward at his place of work.'

When expatriates avail themselves of the 24-hour free phone service, they can request information about issues ranging from local legislation to how a house can be bought, where a hairstylist or a specialist doctor can be located, or how a suitable school for their children can be identified. Sometimes the questions are standard and the answer can be given straightaway: for example, supplying a list of local gynaecologists. Sometimes, the question requires research from ICAS staffers . For instance, an Italian working in Switzerland might call to say that he had bought a house in Switzerland but his work permit had expired , and he wanted to know whether his family could continue living there.

In July 2001 ICAS introduced a new product called Expatriate Connections, which is basically an assessment of potential transferees' cultural awareness. Based on this assessment, customized training and resource packs are assembled for transferees, to prepare them for life in another country. Along with Expatriate Connections, ICAS launched a second new product called Integrate, which helps integrate transferees and their families into their new surroundings. Each family receives a personal consultant who calls on them regularly to discuss key issues. In addition, they have six-month telephone access to specialist advice and information.

The day-to-day problems expatriates grapple with may seem mundane. However, the reality is that coping continuously with such problems in a new culture can prove stressful, and the time spent on resolving them and defusing the attendant stress can add up. One expatriate interviewed for this case study commented that in his first month in Switzerland, he spent an average of 12 hours a week solving day-to-day problems. On the first day, he found that the dishwasher in his apartment was not working, and needed to locate a repair service. This seems simple enough, but since he did not know his neighbours he found it quite distasteful to knock on their doors, introduce himself, and ask for the address of a nearby service. On the second day he had to drive his wife to a nearby village for a job interview. She felt that if she travelled alone by train and bus she might get lost and be late for her interview. She also did not know how to buy a bus ticket in Switzerland, and felt that this was not the occasion to find out. On the third day he had to ask colleagues where he could find a child- minder to take care of his eight-year-old while he and his wife attended an office party that had been arranged partly to welcome them.

Some expatriates find the process of adapting to the new realities of life stressful. When this becomes apparent to ICAS staffers handling calls on the 24-hour free phone, they may recommend telephone counselling. Sometimes the number and complexity of issues facing callers have overwhelmed them to the point where they seek face-to-face counselling from trained ICAS specialists. For instance, a Norwegian expatriate married to an Indian woman and living in Switzerland might want a divorce. He would not know the relevant Swiss legislation, and could well be under unusual stress. ICAS would be able to provide information and counselling in his own language, since its typical European phone service is offered in nine languages. The EAP services are available not only to an employee of a client organization, but to their partners , dependent children and parents as well.

It is important to ICAS that it involves the entire family in its expatriate management efforts. Hence it uses an instrument called the Cross-Cultural Adaptability Assessment (CCAA), which is administered to prospective expatriates and their families. ICAS does not place its CCAA in the public domain, but Table 7.1 reproduces a comparable tool called the Cross-Cultural Adaptability Inventory (CCAI), to give the reader an insight into the kind of information that is collected.

Table 7.1: Cross-Cultural Adaptability Inventory

The purpose of this inventory is to help you assess your ability to adapt to living in another culture and to interact effectively with people of other cultures. Read each statement carefully and choose the response that best describes you right now.

Indicate your response by circling the appropriate abbreviation to the right of the statement. For example, if you think that a statement 'tends to be true' about you circle TT next to that statement.

Some items may sound similar. Don't worry about being consistent in your answers. Just choose the answer that best describes you right now.

Use a ballpoint pen or a pencil to place a tick in the appropriate column (DT, T, TT, TNT, NT, DNT). Press firmly when making your choice. If you decide to change your answer, draw an X through your original answer and then tick your new answer.


DT: Definitely true

T: True

TT: Tends to be true

TNT: Tends to be not true

NT: Not true

DNT: Definitely not true








  1. I have ways to deal with the stresses of new situations.

  1. I believe that I could live a fulfilling life in another culture.

  1. I try to understand people's thoughts and feelings when I talk to them.

  1. I feel confident in my ability to cope with life, no matter where I am.

  1. I can enjoy relating to all kinds of people.

  1. I feel that I can accomplish what I set out to do, even in unfamiliar settings.

  1. I can laugh at myself when I make a cultural faux pas.

  1. I like being with all kinds of people.

  1. I have a realistic perception of how others see me.

  1. When I am working with people of a different cultural background, it is important to me to receive their approval.

  1. I like a number of people who don't share my particular interests.

  1. I believe that all people, of whatever race, are equally valuable .

  1. I like to try new things.

  1. If I had to adapt a slower pace of life, I would become impatient.

  1. I am the kind of person who gives people who are different from me the benefit of the doubt.

  1. If I had to hire several job candidates from a background different from my own, I feel confident that I could make a good judgement.

  1. If my ideas conflicted with those of others who are different from me, I would follow my ideas rather than theirs.

  1. I could live anywhere and enjoy life.

  1. Impressing people different from me is more important than being myself with them.

  1. I can perceive how people are feeling, even if they are different from me.

  1. I make friends easily.

  1. When I am around people who are different from me, I feel lonely .

  1. I don't enjoy trying new foods .

  1. I believe that all cultures have something worthwhile to offer.

  1. I feel free to maintain my personal values, even among those who do not share them.

  1. Even if I failed in a new living situation, I could still like myself.

  1. I am not good at understanding people when they are different from me.

  1. I pay attention to how people's cultural differences affect their perceptions of me.

  1. I like new experiences.

  1. I enjoy spending time alone, even in unfamiliar surroundings.

  1. I rarely get discouraged, even when I work with people who are very different from me.

  1. People who know me would describe me as a person who is intolerant of others' differences.

  1. I consider the impact my actions have on others.

  1. It is difficult for me to approach unfamiliar situations with a positive attitude.

  1. I prefer to decide from my own values, even when those around me have different values.

  1. I can cope well with whatever difficult feelings I might experience in a new culture.

  1. When I meet people who are different from me, I tend to feel judgmental about their differences.

  1. When I am with people who are different from me, I interpret their behaviour in the context of their culture.

  1. I can function in situations where things are not clear.

  1. When I meet people who are different from me, I am interested in learning more about them.

  1. My personal value system is based on my own beliefs, not on conformity to other people's standards.

  1. I trust my ability to communicate accurately in new situations.

  1. I enjoy talking with people who think differently than I think.

  1. When I am in a new or strange environment, I keep an open mind.

  1. I can accept my imperfections, regardless of how others view them.

  1. I am the kind of person who gives people who are different from me the benefit of the doubt.

  1. I expect others will respect me, regardless of their cultural background.

  1. I can live with the stress of encountering new circumstances or people.

  1. When I meet people who are different from me, I expect to like them.

  1. In talking with people from other cultures, I pay attention to body language.


Constructed and copyright 1995 by Colleen Kelley, PhD and Judith Meyers, PsyD. Reproduced from Kelley and Meyers (1995).

The CCAA measures the extent to which prospective expatriates and their families possess intercultural competencies. The scores obtained by ICAS are communicated to the client organization. It decides, based inter alia on ICAS feedback, whether expatriates should be despatched or not. Before expatriates are despatched to a country, they and their family are briefed about the norms of behaviour there. The briefing is detailed, and has practical utility. Information is provided on such matters as how much to tip at a restaurant, and how to pay a utilities bill. If a wife accompanying her husband is anxious about how to spend her time, ICAS ascertains her hobbies. If she were an amateur golfer, for example, ICAS would supply her with a list of golf courses and golf clubs at her prospective place of residence.

Some expatriates contact ICAS to obtain information, while others are in stressful situations. In the six-month period January “June 2001, 57 per cent of the expatriate management cases handled by ICAS pertained to relationship issues, and the remaining 43 per cent to life management issues (consumer, housing, insurance, divorce legislation, Swiss law). Of the cases that pertained to relationship issues, 75 per cent advanced to the stage of face-to-face counselling. The remaining 25 per cent reached the stage of telephone counselling.

We cite here three examples supplied by ICAS of the work it does. The cases have been fabricated but are based on actual situations.

Illustrative case 1: life management

The wife of an employee - let us call her Angela - called at about 9.00 am. Her voice was calm to begin with, but as she started to tell what was on her mind, she became more emotional and distressed. The counsellor could hear small children in the background, and sometimes Angela had to stop talking because the baby was making its way up the staircase . After making sure that the service was confidential, she began to talk.

Her husband had been transferred from the United States to Switzerland 13 months ago. Just recently, they had bought a beautiful home and ordered a new fitted kitchen. When the kitchen arrived after three and a half weeks of delay, it was obvious that the measuring had not been done properly. The kitchen company took the responsibility, after trying to blame a man who had ceased to work for it. Four weeks previously almost the entire kitchen had had to be taken out again. Since then, the kitchen company had not reacted to her phone calls. She had problems speaking in German, although she was starting to learn the language, and the people she rang pretended they couldn't understand English. Her husband was constantly on business trips, and when he came home, too tired to bother with such matters. This made Angela feel even more alone with the problem.

When the counsellor asked if she had any friends who could help, she answered that she felt quite isolated in Switzerland, because of the language, and because she had to be at home to look after her children, who were too young to take to a nursery where she might meet other mothers. She mentioned that she couldn't understand the mentality of the Swiss people. She could feel the cultural shock. In the United States, before she had had the children, she had worked as a freelance real estate agent and been financially independent of her husband. She had had friends, family around her, and her mother-in-law who happily babysat when she needed to do shopping, go to the dentist or whatever. Now she was locked up in her home with her young children, dependent on a husband she hardly ever saw. In addition, the family now had no kitchen and nothing was moving. Her question was simply, what could she do to get her kitchen?

The counsellor understood that there were many issues involved, including emotional ones, but first of all the practical problems had to be solved . She helped Angela write a letter to the kitchen company. Angela wrote her claims in English and faxed the document to ICAS, who translated it into German.

Second, the counsellor talked to Angela about the possibility of help in the house, and gave her a list of agencies where she could find an au-pair or a cleaning lady who could take over the hardest work. This would give her some freedom to move about again. The financial part of this was not a problem, as the husband had a good position and earned well. Angela just had not thought of this option herself.

ICAS also found an English-speaking nursery not far from their home, which took children from two and a half years of age. Angela was delighted .

Angela went on to get a babysitter and a cleaning lady once a week. This gave her the opportunity to take some German lessons, and the contact to other mothers at the nursery made it possible to start making new friends. She also received the address of the American Women's Club. She had not known it existed, and this too was very welcome to her. After a while the kitchen was installed, and she didn't have to wash the dishes in the bathroom sink or buy fast food any more.

All this had of course been a nuisance to the couple, who had been afraid that their relationship, which had been very good before they moved to Switzerland, would suffer. Now that the practical problems were solved, they both felt much more at ease.

ICAS let Angela know that she could call anytime , day or night, as many times as she wanted.

Illustrative case 2: counselling

Rita ( names are made up) called ICAS in the afternoon, talking in a determined manner. She must have been upset, but did not want to let anyone know. The problem was rolled out very quickly: her husband had cheated on her with a woman at work. She had just found out and she was not mistaken. There was proof and John had finally admitted it. This was not the first time he had been with other women, but Rita had decided it was going to be the last time. She wanted a divorce and she wanted to know her rights. She had been married to John for 29 years, had travelled along with him all over the world, raised two children, put up with his affairs for so long, and now she had had enough.

Rita was Iranian and John Canadian, and both had lived in Switzerland for nine years. Rita knew nothing about the Swiss divorce law, so ICAS did some research, called her back and gave her the information the following day. What was remarkable was that Rita didn't take any notice of the answers she received. Instead she seemed very quiet, quite the opposite of her attitude the previous day. The counsellor asked what was distracting her. Was she not happy with the answer? Yes, she said, very happy. Then the counsellor heard her voice start to tremble, and soon she broke into tears.

The anger had disappeared and only her total despair remained. For a while Rita just cried, but then her whole story started to develop. She said afterwards that it was so nice that someone who was not judgmental had had the time to listen to her. The counsellor spent about half an hour in assessment and counselling, talking about how Rita felt, asking her questions such as did she have a doctor she could see, did she have friends who could support her, did she take any drugs, alcohol or medication to calm her down, did she ever think of suicide, where were the children now, and whether there was any other practical help she needed. The counsellor asked if Rita would consider marital counselling to clear things between herself and John. Rita said that in spite of her love for him, she was now so hurt that she was not willing to get her hope back only in order to lose it the next time he cheated on her. In addition she had suggested therapy to him before, but he had always refused .

Then the counsellor told Rita about the opportunity to see somebody face to face, a psychotherapist close to where she lived, who would assess her situation and discuss with her how to proceed. Rita said she would think about it and call back the next day.

The following day Rita rang back and agreed to see a psychotherapist in Geneva. She thought it was a good idea although she was a little nervous because she had never had therapy before. The counsellor assured her that ICAS therapists were very experienced and the service confidential.

ICAS always tries to get in touch with affiliate psychotherapists as soon as possible, but with Rita the counsellor thought it was urgent, because she seemed quite alone and depressed, although she had not expressed any suicidal thoughts and was not taking any drugs. The case manager called Mrs P, a skilled psychologist , who immediately made an appointment with Rita for two days later. Mrs P later called the case manager and confirmed that Rita had attended.

After two sessions of assessment, Mrs P suggested that Rita should receive long-term therapy to support her during the inevitable divorce. The ICAS Employee Assistance Programme only guarantees two professional face-to-face assessment sessions. If the case can be categorized as short term and the focus is on pure problem solving the therapy can go on for up to five to eight sessions, otherwise the client has to be referred to another therapist and be paid for by health insurance or privately.

So Rita was sent on to another psychotherapist. She went there for six months, during her divorce. The ICAS case manager called her back after three months, and Rita told her that she finally was able to take her life into her own hands. She had moved away from John, taken a small apartment in Geneva, and was slowly getting back on her feet. Communication with John was easier now, and she still missed him, but she didn't regret the divorce.

Illustrative case 3: general

Mr W called ICAS in the afternoon. He was Irish and had worked for a big company in Switzerland for the previous five years. His question was about Swiss law on the acquisition of real estate. He wanted to buy a house for himself. He was about to get his 'C' work permit but was not sure whether he could buy a house; if he could keep it if he were transferred abroad for three years; and if he could keep it if he left Switzerland for ever. He also wanted to know if he would be able to rent it out to third parties when he was abroad, and whether there was a limit to the size of the house he could buy.

ICAS could give him a relatively immediate answer, because it had dealt with these issues many times. Basically, the answers to his first four questions were yes, if the acquisition took place after 1997. The answer to the final question was that the size of the living area or the surrounding land is not limited as long as it is not in any way used for speculations.

ICAS also gave him the address of the home page of the Swiss Federal Office of Justice, where he could link in to the English translation of this particular legislation. To make things easier for him, it also faxed him a German printout with arrows that indicated the way through the German pages to the English version.

ICAS did not only assist Mr W in finding information, but helped his company too, because Mr W did not need to take time during office hours to do this time-consuming research himself. In this way Mr W could go ahead with his job assignments and leave his questions to ICAS.


As the three examples suggest, expatriates often find that moving to another location can create problems in family life. According to ICAS, this is the prime adjustment problem that expatriates face. Global managers may enjoy working in different cultures, but their families may not be primed for accepting change in their lives.

The experience of ICAS affirms the findings of several studies which emphasize the importance of the expatriate's family adjusting effectively to a new culture. One study by Tung (1981) has designated ineffective spouse adjustment as the predominant factor leading to expatriate failure. Usually the burden of dealing with the practical aspects of a new environment falls on the hapless spouse. These practical aspects relate to non-professional matters, varying from locating suitable food outlets to enrolling children in school. Ferraro (2001) notes in his book, 'Whereas the expatriate employee may see the international transfer as a positive career move, the accompanying spouse may see the move as little more than the disruption of his or her own career.'

ICAS's experience suggests the following requirements for successful expatriate management:

  • Institutional support for managing the practical problems of setting up hearth and home in a new culture is essential for enabling an expatriate to settle in.

  • The provision of timely psychological counselling for expatriates encountering problems of adjustment can contribute to their mental health and performance.

  • The families of employees should also be assisted in their efforts to find their feet in a new culture.

ICAS provides all the services that expatriates and their families require for assimilating into a new cultural context. Many multinationals are retaining ICAS (or comparable organizations) to oversee their expatriates' assimilation process. Other multinationals are developing the expertise to provide support in-house. It is assumed that these multinationals have selected their expatriates with great care, and that support is being extended to people who are culturally sensitive. The caveat suggested by the ICAS experience is that the selection process should be extended to the expatriates' families as well. Many companies, like Du Pont and Conoco, are following this approach.

Suzanne Bo thius says of the assistance ICAS provides with practical problems, 'We always give information to our clients about the place they are going to, so that they know about simple but everyday matters such as how to fill out pay bills, how much tip to leave at a restaurant, and so on. This is just so that they can feel at home a little earlier than if they had to find out all these things after arrival.' She says of the provision of psychological counselling, 'It really is astonishing how the provision of psychological counselling can make the wife of an expatriate more willing to adapt to a new culture. Once in a while, wives of expatriates suffer from depression when relocated . That is where psychological counselling helps.' Regarding the extension of assistance to family members of expatriates, she notes, 'If the family is not happy, then the expatriate will not be happy. He will therefore be unable to work properly. So for us, we cannot just look after an expatriate, without looking after his family as well.'

start example
  1. Why have the services provided by ICAS been well received by transnational corporations engaged in expatriate management?

  2. What sort of competencies should an effective expatriate manager possess?

  3. What are the differences between a European adjusting to life as an expatriate manager in Asia, and an Asian adjusting to life as an expatriate manager in Europe?

  4. Why does ICAS provide such a wide array of services?

  5. What recommendations would you give to ICAS so that it can enhance its services?

  6. What role does training play in aligning expatriate management with intercultural management?

end example

Intercultural Management
Intercultural Management: MBA Masterclass (MBA Masterclass Series)
ISBN: 0749435828
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2002
Pages: 98
Authors: Nina Jacob © 2008-2017.
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