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Torrington, D., (1993). Managing the Cosmopolitans, Research and Practice in Human Resource Management, 1(1), 69-86.

Managing the Cosmopolitans

Derek Torrington


The international dimensions of human resource management practice are not described in textbooks and journal articles as often as the international context of human resource management. This article focuses on the management of the cosmopolitans and proposes a five-fold classification of those who work internationally, together with the different aspects of managing the employment and performance of people in each category.


The three men and one woman who got into conversation in the executive lounge of Hong Kong airport represented the four types of international employee found most often in contemporary companies. Elsewhere in the airport a fifth traveller waited in slightly less comfortable surroundings.

Willem is the genuine international manager. He speaks fluent English and German as well as his native Dutch and moves regularly throughout Europe and the United States, making deals and opening up opportunities for his company. His mind travels easily across the barriers of culture and language. Although constantly on the move, he is seldom away from his base for more than a week at a time and he only deals with the representatives of companies and agencies he visits; there is little involvement with their internal structures and management arrangements. It is quite stimulating and he often meets the same people who seem to operate a similar circuit in the high-powered, esoteric world of international business. His marriage has not survived, but he is still young enough - at 34 - to try again when he eventually gets off this crazy merry-go-round of 747s and identical five-star hotels.

Charles is the expatriate. He had two years in the Middle East a little while ago and is now on the way to a three year assignment in Southeast Asia. This time he is accompanied by his wife, Caroline, who has had to leave behind her burgeoning career in journalism, and by their two-year old son. He picked up a smattering of Arabic in the Middle East, but his key expertise is in the product line and communicating and articulating the business philosophy of his company. After this tour he is assured that his next move will be to a key position in head office and that his globe-trotting days will be over: Caroline would not have agreed otherwise.

Chow Hou is the engineer. He will be away for three months installing the equipment and training the local staff. He has moderate technical English, as no-one seems to speak his native Mandarin, but he can usually carry out the training by showing and doing, or by using figures. It isn’t always as long as three months and he usually spends at least half of the year back at headquarters, bringing himself up to date and being asked by all sorts of people for advice and assistance.

Inge is the occasional parachutist. She’s never been to Taiwan, but usually makes two or three short overseas trips a year for the company because of her highly specialised expertise. The last one was when she had three days in England on a systems query that they could not sort out. It’s the same type of thing this time: a quick trip to sort a problem that ought not to take more than a few days. It keeps you on your toes to have the occasional trip when you are completely on your own without any back-up.

In a different lounge of the same airport, Benedicte, the mobile worker, is waiting for an airplane to London. She spent some time there as a student on an ERASMUS exchange and got on really well although the weather wasn’t quite the same as in her native Lyon, and the food....! Her English mother had warned her that it would not be quite the same. After graduating she worked for a while as a computer specialist and has just finished six months in a job in Hong Kong, but now it is back to England, where she has managed to land a contract with a company in Swindon, who want to use her French and German in developing their new line in software.

Although there are variants on these themes, and there is no particular significance in the nationalities, these are the main types of overseas worker for whom management arrangements have to be made, and it helps to appreciate their different needs.

The demands of working overseas can be considerable, requiring a degree of commitment to the organisation that is greater than that of the executive who agrees to a move from Birmingham to Glasgow, or vice versa. The traditional security of the corporate management career has lessened, so that fewer managers are willing to entrust their futures to a benign employer with the concomitant feature of willing compliance with relocation that is domestically or socially unattractive because “they will look after you”. Relocation has to be considered very carefully, weighing the undoubted attractions with associated risks, that were less noticeable before the 1980s.

“Personal achievement and life satisfaction are probably less likely to be solely equated with promotion within organizational structures; instead, career advancement is seen as a means of enhancing personal lifestyles which are separated from, rather than subordinated to, work roles .... in the context of increased competition for a diminishing number of opportunities at senior managerial levels, they are less prepared to sacrifice their ‘selves’ or make the kind of open-ended commitments that might harm their domestic lifestyles.” (Scase and Goffee, 1989, pp. 82-83)

We need, however, to be cautious with the weight we put on this type of reported opinion. Although people frequently say this sort of thing, it is less often reflected in their executive lifestyles. It is easy to be sucked in to a way of life and then to feel better for saying how intolerable it is.

The International Manager

There is a small, elite group of genuinely international managers in the world of global business, people who are not only familiar with different countries and regions, but who operate internationally, with other similar managers from other companies. This is similar to the diplomatic corps in the world’s embassies, who have their own conventions and who develop their own culture and ways of working together. By becoming international in their thinking and working, these managers and deal-makers acquire the ability to work and negotiate with each other -a separate cultural world, inhabiting identical international hotels instead of embassies.

For a German to “think Arab” one day and “think Korean” the next is simply too demanding at all but the most superficial level. What is necessary is a mode of working where all “think international” all the time, so that they move out of national culture-boundedness in order to operate in an international culture. There is evidence that this common international culture is already developing among this elite group (Everett, et al, 1986).

Pinder (1990) quotes from a survey by an executive search agency about the Euro-Executive. The profile certainly sounds as if only superhuman applicants will do:

“Fluent in at least one other Community language, of greater importance is exposure to a diversity of cultures stemming both from family background - he or she is likely to have a mixed education, multi-cultural marriage and parents of different nationalities— and working experience graduated from an internationally-oriented business school.... line management experience in a foreign culture company.... experience through various career moves of different skills, roles and environments.” (Pinder, 1990, p. 78.)

This, however, is only for a few, who think globally and act globally. Most people will have to think globally, but act locally: international awareness for national action.

International managers will be mobile and experienced in a number of overseas locations. George van Houten describes the Philips job rotation approach:

“The job rotation practice leads to a rich exchange of perspectives. When you send a Norwegian to Brazil, a Pakistani to Singapore, or an American to the Netherlands, the cultural influences that are traded are bound to result in an international point of view in the company as a whole.” (van Houten, 1989, p. 110)

It is one thing to draw up the specification of what the international manager should be, but how do you get there? Is there a means whereby potential members of this elite group can be trained? One possibility is to acquire an MBA or similar qualification from a business school with genuine international credentials. Business schools can claim to be international at various levels.

First is the student body. A mixture of nationalities and cultures produces a genuinely cosmopolitan discussion of cases and similar material. If the students also have business experience in different countries, that is a further significant advantage. The full-time MBA programmes at the British business schools in London and Manchester both have half their students from outside Britain, and London has 39 different nationalities represented so that they learn cultural sensitivity “almost by osmosis”. (Arkin, 1991, p. 29).

The next level of development is the internationalisation of the teaching staff. Most academics spend one or more of their early years of academic training in another country, usually the United States, although there is a growing amount of European interchange and this gives them a broader perspective than that of working in a single country. A business school will enrich the internationalism of its faculty much more if it is able to recruit foreign nationals on temporary or long-term contracts. British and American schools have the considerable advantage of having their native tongue either already mastered by many overseas academics, or of the opportunity to achieve such mastery which is much wanted. Most have at least 10% of their faculty who are foreign nationals. It is harder for schools in other countries that do not teach in English, but the leading European schools all have a significant foreign faculty. The Faculty of Business Administration in the National University of Singapore has 89 of its faculty who are from Singapore, but a further 51 from across a number of other countries:

Malaysia 13
United States 8
Canada 6
Hong Kong 5
Australia, India, Philippines, Taiwan 3
Sri Lanka, United Kingdom 2
Bangladesh, Ghana, Indonesia 1

The third level of development is in the nature of the learning experiences that the students undergo. Increasingly MBA students carry out group projects. The multinational nature of the student groups means that companies are often very interested in them carrying out international assignments, which provide invaluable experience and learning. In some schools there is also the opportunity for exchanges with MBA students in other countries as part of the course.

The MBA experience in an international business school is valuable for all managers, but a carefully-selected programme can be an invaluable part of the international manager’s preparation.

Apart from academic preparation, there is the value of language proficiency. It is not simply the ability to communicate in a second or third language that is important, it is the confidence and ease at dealing with people of different nationalities that accompanies language proficiency. The Scandinavians and the Dutch have long enjoyed the benefit of multilingualism because of the inaccessibility of their own languages. For most Malaysians, Singaporeans and Hong Kong Chinese there is a similar benefit as a result of having been British colonies.

International managers must have fluent English, whether it is their native tongue or not, but their competence will be greatly extended by some degree of proficiency in one or two other languages with wide currency, such as Arabic, Cantonese, French, German, Japanese or Russian.

The international management lifestyle is specialised and demanding. In a material sense there are likely to be substantial benefits, but the physical and emotional demands of constant relocation are considerable. Business Class travel is comfortable enough, but the time between the airport and the hotel, the delays in the departure lounge, the change of climate, time zone, medical facilities and culture can tax even the most robust physique and the most resilient nervous system.

From a social and emotional point of view international managers probably have to sacrifice some or all of the humdrum pleasures of life that many people value. Constantly on the move and constantly away from home is a way of working that is more attractive to, and feasible for, the independent individual without significant domestic responsibilities or on-going social commitments. They need to have ready access to information and they need to be quick and perceptive in their dealings with people, where much of the contact is superficial and potentially confrontational. The independence, referred to above, can make them vulnerable if they lack the normal forms of social support that come from work, as well as those that come from the domestic situation of home and family.

Managing the international manager therefore requires careful selection, so that those who move into these demanding roles are emotionally and physically equipped for the challenges involved. It requires extensive and specialised preparation probably through a well-chosen MBA - to acquire international competence and expertise. It requires people with language proficiency and the inter-cultural self-confidence that such proficiency develops.

The following quote about the international manager indicates the small number of people falling in this category:

“The number of executives falling into this category is extremely small, with each firm counting them in tens rather than hundreds, and even in the largest firm in our study, this group was said to number about 200. It is therefore as numerically insignificant as it is qualitatively vital.” (Atkinson, 1992, p. 74)

The Expatriates

International managers pass through foreign countries; expatriates go and live in them. This requires thorough management of the process, before they go, while they are away and — crucially — when they come back:

“UK multinationals are becoming increasingly conscious of the importance of a successful repatriation process…preparing for expatriation and developing an adequate support system for expatriates while overseas… are now well established and are generally well done. Attention must increasingly turn to repatriation as the third element in the process.” (Johnston, 1991, p. 108)

Many western countries have had a long history with expatriates, but mainly in the colonial mode. After administrators in India, tea-planters in Sri Lanka, rubber planters in Malaysia and mining engineers in Africa, Scots doctors in Russia and Italian architects everywhere, there has been a continuing tradition of organisations despatching young managers to manage local workforces. That is now in decline and expatriation is no longer one-way. In the most international of companies, an increasing proportion of expatriates come from nationalities other than British or Dutch.

Of the five examples at the beginning of this article, the expatriate is increasing in numbers, but the stereotype is altering. There are fewer people who spend their whole career overseas and more who include one or two spells of up to three years on overseas assignment as part of the process of acquiring the necessary breadth of experience and vision to operate at senior level in an international organisation.

Expatriation usually enhances career prospects, but that can not be guaranteed, and the impact on the expatriate personally and on the expatriate’s family is likely to be considerable. The great majority of expatriates are men, usually married men, leading to the “army wife” syndrome. Whether male or female the expatriate’s spouse is nearly always placed in a position of total or partial dependency by corporate expatriation: one career is subordinated to another. This dependency is not only economic.

Charles will have all the preoccupations and social networks of his job to absorb him, as well as a position and social status that is likely to be attractive. Caroline may well have a pleasant house and plenty of money, and may be lucky enough to enjoy an agreeable climate, but her social position will be that of wife and mother and the social activities may well be limited to coffee mornings with other expatriate wives. For the increasing proportion of expatriate wives with a professional career in suspension, this can require considerable ingenuity to adapt.

Susan Harris was a British expatriate wife and mother in Malaysia, who had readily suspended a career in management consultancy so that her husband could take the career opportunity that three years in Kuala Lumpur offered. Provided with a house and servants in Kuala Lumpur, she dealt with the problem of enforced idleness by working voluntarily as a tutor with students taking management qualifications.

Selection for Expatriation

In some organisations the preparedness to work as an expatriate is determined on initial recruitment, as virtually a condition of employment. In others the possibility of an extended overseas assignment can come as a shock, which may or may not be welcome, presenting all the problems of considering the potential career handicap of turning down the opportunity and the potential domestic problems of accepting it. Employers seldom have the luxury of a large number of appropriately qualified people readily available to fill any vacancy, so that situations in which one person “really has to go” can not always be avoided, but the most satisfactory general approach to selection for expatriation is through the combination of annual appraisal and career planning.

A feature of annual appraisal can be a discussion of whether people are interested in working overseas at all, the degree of technical expertise and managerial experience they possess and the domestic/social constraints that would affect the timing of such a move. That can then be developed by identifying timings that would be appropriate for such a move, preferred locations and even some language training. As with all career management initiatives, this sets up expectations of the future that the management may not be able to deliver because of changes in business activity, but it provides a cadre of people who would welcome an overseas move.

In matching the person to the job, the question of whether or not to expatriate must first be answered. The next most important question then is the actual location to which the person is expatriated. Among the most important issues to consider are:

Culture. How different from home is the culture of the country — religion, the social position of women, the degree of political stability/instability, personal security and petty crime, local press and television, cable television, availability of foreign newspapers, health hazards.

Economic development. How well developed is the economy of the country - standard/cost of living, availability of familiar foods and domestic equipment, transport, post and telephone, local poverty, health and education facilities, availability of international schools.

Geographical location. How far away is it and where is it — climate, in a cosmopolitan city or more remote, the importance/unimportance of language proficiency, the size of the local expatriate community, employment prospects of spouse.

The job. What has to be done and what is the situation—nature of the organisation, proportion of expatriates, technical, commercial and managerial demands of the job, staffing and support, the extent of role in managing local nationals.

Determining whether the person can be considered for appointment to the post is a process that does not differ from determining the suitability of the person for any demanding assignment, and the most important feature is making sure that the potential appointee and members of the family have a full understanding of what would be involved.

It is essential, however, that those proceeding on an overseas posting should be selected for it. If there is not an appropriate person in the organisation, then recruitment from outside is preferable to assigning someone whose suitability there are doubts. There is no profile of the ideal expatriate, but here are some selection issues arranged under the four headings used already:

Culture. How well prepared is the expatriate family for an unfamiliar culture? In many ways the developed countries of Western Europe present fewer problems than those of further afield, although there are some exceptions. For example, English is spoken more widely in Singapore than, for instance, in France. Malaysia is a multi-ethnic society, but with a Muslim majority in the population. The Muslim dominance of life in most Middle Eastern countries has profound implications for non-Islamic expatriates, requiring a degree of puritanism that would be unfamiliar and a social role for women that is quite unlike that which western women experience in their home countries. In the developing countries of the East there may be superb hotels, but little else to do in the evening. Manila and Bangkok have plenty of after-dark facilities for men on their own, but little for couples and even less for women on their own. Whatever the culture is, open-mindedness and tolerance are essential qualities for the expatriates to develop.

Economic development. Some Eastern countries now enjoy a standard of living and material convenience that matches or surpasses that of the West, so that the European and American expatriate will find excellent systems of transportation, postal and telephone services that will be similar to those of the home country. In other Eastern countries the situation could be very different and everyday life would require a great deal more adjustment once one is outside the air-conditioned cocoon of the multi-national company’s offices. Medical and dental facilities may be sparse and few expatriate families can avoid being affected by the conditions of those among whom they live. Not only may they be distressed by the living conditions they see in most parts of the Indian sub-continent and South America, for instance, they will also have to contend with very high urban crime rates in some places. The employment prospects of the spouse — especially of a wife — may be very poor.

Geographical location. This is a further twist to the economic development question. The heat and humidity of tropical climates is supportable when moving from air-conditioned home, via air-conditioned car to air-conditioned office or shopping mall. Those moving to more remote areas have greater problems in coping with the climate and the relative isolation, so they need to be emotionally self-sufficient and not too dependent on outside stimulation. The distance from home is another determinant of personal suitability to the posting. The Parisian working in Bruxelles or the Singaporean working in Penang could easily contemplate weekly commuting: the Bruxellois working in Madagascar could not. There will be a smaller expatriate community in most Italian cities than in Hong Kong, so that the expatriate family may have to work harder at establishing social contacts, and will therefore require considerable social skill and self-confidence. The geographical location will also determine the importance of local language proficiency for all members of the expatriate family.

The job. In world-wide companies, questions about the job may initially seem unproblematic. Many expatriates are simply moving to exercise their well-developed company expertise in a different location. The situation will, however, always be different no matter how similar the conventions and procedures. The various demands of the job need to be thoroughly considered, especially what may be involved in managing local nationals, where the subtleties of response to leadership and expectations of authority will probably still baffle the expatriate when finally on the way home from the tour of duty.

Preparing for Expatriation

“Ideally, preparation for an international assignment should begin a year or more in advance so that global awareness and thinking internationally about the business become part of a continuous process .... All too often everything is condensed into a flurry of international briefings just before departure.” (Rothwell, 1991, p. 35)

If there is the relative luxury of a twelve month period of preparation, language training can make real progress. This comes to life most effectively when there is a strong flavour of cultural orientation and familiarisation as well, so that two of the basic requirements of preparation are dealt with simultaneously. The nature of the language training provided is usually slightly different for the expatriate employee and for the expatriate spouse. Training for the employee will concentrate on technical and business terms, while that for the spouse concentrates on those aspects of the language that will be useful in everyday matters like shopping and trying to get the washing machine repaired, or in local social contacts.

An example of an interesting combination of linguistic expertise is the expatriate couple in Japan, where he speaks Japanese and she reads it, so he deals with waiters and taxi drivers, while she navigates and copes with restaurant menus.

More general aspects of cultural familiarisation can be achieved by various means, often depending on the individual. Some will read avariciously, both travel books and the range of novels that have been written about most parts of the world. Others prefer film and video. Can there be any better preparation for Australian suburban life than watching several episodes of “Neighbours”?

The Japanese company NEC uses returned expatriates to write and present case histories about the country. This has the obvious advantage of being able to discuss with someone face to face their experiences in a situation which you are about to undergo. It should also be automatic for the potential expatriate to meet socially with any nationals from the country of expatriation who may be visiting the host company during the predeparture stage.

It should not be assumed that a similar cultural heritage obviates the need for cultural familiarisation. The British and the Americans share a common language and considerable common feeling, and most Britons believe that their televiewing and cinema-going has provided them with a detailed knowledge of downtown Los Angeles and middle American family life, but there are, in fact, a host of differences and the common language can actually make things difficult, as one makes fewer allowances when dealing with someone who speaks your language fluently.

Physical proximity makes the British believe they know how to handle the French, but the detailed account of adjustment over twelve months by Peter Mayle (1989) shows just how different everyday domestic and business arrangements are.

The success of an overseas assignment will be enhanced by some previous experience overseas and some experience of the location, but brief business trips scarcely qualify as previous experience. A holiday could be better, as people on holiday usually go at least partly to see the country and the people. Much better is a visit before the move, which is made to prepare for the move. By this method it is possible to deal with such crucial issues as housing. Nothing reassures one about impending relocation so much as knowing where one is going to live. If there are children, arrangements for their schooling can also be made.

The prospective expatriate will need support and advice during this preliminary visit. If there is no local organisation already existing, it may be possible to arrange support through a relocation agency or the local embassy. If there is a local branch of the company, it is helpful if a member of staff can be assigned at least on a part-time basis to make preliminary arrangements and then to act as guide and helpmate in dealings with property agencies, schools, legal bodies and any other organisations. Social contacts can be made also, so that the prospective expatriates can get to know the social, economic and business ambience of the country.

Continuing back-home arrangements while abroad can be extensive. In addition to renting the family home, there may be children remaining in boarding schools, or elderly relatives to be catered for and pets to worry about. There may be a need for some company help, especially with financial and similar arrangements.

Travel arrangements themselves are relatively straightforward, but still have to be organised. There may be a need for family visas and one or more work permits, removal of household effects as well as personal baggage, health checks and whatever range of “jabs” and medication.


Coming back from an overseas assignment seldom receives the attention it needs. It is not expected to be problematic and therefore receives little attention: all the problems are expected to be in the getting out and getting settled. Why should there be problems about coming home?

The first potential problem is the nature of the overseas experience. If it had been thoroughly satisfactory for all members of the family — enhanced life style, plenty of career development and scope for the employee, plenty of money, agreeable climate - then there may not be much initial enthusiasm for returning, so that it would be like coming back from an extended holiday, with all the reluctance about leaving good friends and stimulating experiences to return to dreary old Basildon, or Bremen or Baton Rouge.

On the other hand the overseas experience may have been difficult, with a loss of social life, disagreeable climate, frustrations and disappointment at work and all sorts of petty inconveniences. Then the prospect of returning home can become an obsession, with the days ticked off on the calendar and a great build-up of anticipation. Home is surrounded by a norm, nostalgic glow as the nice things are remembered and the nasty things are forgotten. When the day of return to hearth and home at last comes, Basildon (or Bremen or Baton Rouge) may soon seem just a little ordinary compared with the wonderful picture that had been built up in expectation.

The second major problem is the career situation of the returning expatriate. Johnston (1991) found that virtually all repatriated personnel experienced some personal difficulty in reintegrating on return to a United Kingdom organisation. The main complaints were loss of status, loss of autonomy, lack of career direction and lack of recognition of the value of overseas experience (p. 103). These findings reflect very closely those of American studies a decade earlier (eg Harvey, 1982), perhaps suggesting that both nations have a degree of cultural insularity that makes “abroad” a strange place and therefore tend to undervalue experience gained there. Furthermore even the most sophisticated companies did not always recognise the difficulty:

“…little appears to be done at a personal level for the returning managers who are expected in the main to work things out for themselves. No companies within the Chemicals, Manufacturing and Services sectors sample had a formal company reorientation for repatriates to aid their social and professional integration into what will inevitably be a substantially different organisation from that which they left.” (Johnston, 1991, p. 106)

It may be considered not a management responsibility to fuss over a manager’s personal readjustment, but an American study (Adler, 1991, p. 238) showed that the effectiveness of expatriates took between six arid twelve months to return to an acceptable level on repatriation, so there are some hard-headed reasons for taking it seriously.

The Engineer

The term “engineer” is used here broadly to cover all those technical specialists who spend spells of a few weeks or months at a time in an overseas location to carry out a particular job. Most often it is commissioning new plant and training local personnel in its use. The period overseas is not as long and the role is much more specific than that of the expatriate, so that the level of preparation is less. It is similar to seafarers, airline crew, travel couriers and the increasing number of academics who spend a few weeks or months abroad. They are not living abroad: simply away from home for a spell, but with all the frustrations of air travel.

The selection criteria need to be strict, as the engineer needs complete technical expertise and the ability to cope with unforeseen technical problems without recourse to colleagues or specialised equipment, as both are probably lacking. There will also be a need for personal resourcefulness and the ability to handle a wide variety of social situations. For this reason some level of cultural awareness training will probably be needed.

Compared with international managers and expatriates, engineers are more likely to be assigned to remote locations, with all the social isolation and possible climatic problems that go with such a location, even though they are usually accommodated in an international hotel. It can be a monotonous life, with little scope for social activity apart from the hotel bar and pool. Some extrovert and gregarious engineers cope successfully with people in different countries, striking up friendships and taking a keen interest in their surroundings, but most simply settle down to getting the job done through long working days followed by a couple of drinks in the bar after a shower and a relaxed meal.

Regular health checks and efficient administrative arrangements for travel, accommodation and contact with base during assignment are essential. Some engineers find it very difficult to settle back into the more routine tasks that often await them when the days of travelling are over.

The Occasional Parachutist

Occasional parachutists also need efficient administrative arrangements for travel and accommodation. Like the engineer, they are representatives of the company and will be able to act as an invaluable communication link in both a formal and informal way during and after the visit. Large numbers of employees move between countries only in this mode and the exchanges can be very important in developing mutual understanding between the nationalities and compatibility of the systems and procedures of the two organisations.

The potential for doing harm should not be underestimated. Someone visiting for only a few days has little incentive for taking the trouble to “learn about the country and the people, and may therefore carry stereotyped assumptions that could be very damaging to the relationships within the company. It can be helpful if novices travel together with an experienced person and talk, before travelling, with an expatriate or someone else familiar with the culture.

The Mobile Worker

With the four types of overseas worker we have considered so far, they have all been company employees and there has been the assumption of considerable support and facilitation by the company. It has also been indicated, particularly in the section about expatriates, that the level of support must be considerable. The example of Benedicte is of that growing band of people who move themselves, with very little support from anyone else. Even the most xenophobic Briton will consider moving to another country. Results of a survey of 26,800 readers of “The Guardian” in October 1988 demonstrated this.

“Over one in five stated that they would actually prefer to work in other EEC countries and nearly half would consider working in France or in Australasia .... Interest is even stronger among the young, among Londoners and among those at director level in their companies.” (Beaumont, 1989, p. 43.)

In the opposite direction Britain remains a work destination of enormous appeal to almost all other nationalities. European universities have increased considerably their programmes for student exchanges, as the number of courses that require or permit a period overseas has grown rapidly.

The European Community has introduced the ERASMUS programme to enable students in higher education to carry out part of their study in countries of the EC other than their own, for between three and twelve months. Over one fifth of the annual exchanges involve the British, with 2,500 or more students spending time abroad each year.

COMETT is a programme that provides experienced managers and professionals, as well as students, with the opportunity to undertake technological training in another member state of the Community. The objective is to develop joint ventures between companies and universities. The development of a common pattern of national vocational qualifications would aid still further the movement of people between Community countries.

There remains, however, uncertainty about the degree to which people will actually seek employment in a different country, despite the professed interest and the apparent opportunities. Atkinson (1992) demonstrates that there is some increase in the number of foreign nationals working in the United Kingdom, exceeding 1 million by 1988. However, half of these are what he calls corporate transferees (or expatriates in the language of this article) mainly as a result of companies expanding through acquisition of foreign subsidiaries:

“...entry by acquisition, followed by expansion through organic growth seemed to be the preferred mode... intensifying the internationalisation of the internal labour market (as key staff are placed in senior positions in the acquired company) while reducing or postponing it externally, as the acquired company continues to recruit locally as before.” (op cit p. 73)

Managing the mobile workers is a process that companies do not yet seem to have worked out, presumably because it is not yet generally regarded as worth encouraging. If a foreign national wants to come and work for the organisation, they are seldom short-listed unless there is a clear need, such as domestic shortage. This was the situation that brought large numbers of Gastarbeiter to Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. More recently it brought significant numbers of Dutch and German teachers into London schools during the 1980s. Rarely, however, does a company have the need for a cohort of people like that, which will justify the investment in a specific initiative of dedicated recruitment staff, advertising and arrangements for assistance with transport, housing and resettlement. In the London case the recruitment was thorough and successful. When people are recruited singly, there is rarely the same degree of assistance.

An interesting, but unusual, case was the staffing of Eurodisney in 1992. This is a massive international enterprise, with the assumption of a polyglot clientele, so that there had to be widespread international recruitment.

Recruiting across national boundaries requires detailed specialist knowledge of the local employment law and labour market conventions. For this reason it is usual to use consultants to assist with the process, but an excellent introduction to varying practices within the EC is to be found in the IDS/IPM European Management Guide to Recruitment (1990).

Human Resource Management and the Cosmopolitans

As with so many aspects of human resource management, managing the cosmopolitans operates at two distinct levels: the regional and the global. There are regional groupings of countries, for largely economic and trade purposes, like the United States Of America and Canada, ASEAN and the European Community. For all EC countries the creation of the single market, bringing together so many different languages, cultures and conventions, is a significant step in internationalisation. However, Europe: enjoys a common heritage and the coming together of Europe is perhaps no more dramatic than the forging of: international communities among the Commonwealth of Independent States or the United States of America.

Although it broke up so cataclysmically in 1991, the USSR had been a single economic and political entity for 70 years despite ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural differences quite as great as those in western Europe. The United States has been made up largely of European emigrants, some of whom retain strong affiliations with the lands from which their grandparents or great grandparents came. The proximity to South America now threatens the dominance of English as the universal language of the country.

To all EC nationals the development of the European Community presents huge challenge and opportunity, and there is the tendency to think that international management means managing in a European context. That, however, is only a beginning to the more complex processes of global thinking for local action.

The genuine international managers will increase in number as a result of programmes like ERASMUS and international MBAs, although more of them will operate regionally rather than globally. The elaborate support facilities for expatriates will probably reduce when applied to relocation within the region, but will remain important for global relocation.

Managing the mobile worker remains on the managerial back burner. There are examples of considerable efforts being made (for example, Neale and Mindel, 1992), but the attention that was being devoted to the issue in the late 1980s has waned as skill shortages and demographic decline have not presented the problems that were anticipated, due to a rise in levels of unemployment in most countries of the EC as well as most other countries of the world.


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