Multiple Assignments Abroad Can Derail Career Advancement, Study Shows

Posted by: Alison Damast on November 25, 2009

MBA students considering doing successive global stints post B-School might want to think twice before pursuing that route. Employees who take on more than one international assignment for their company may be doing themselves more harm than good, a study of repatriated managers and executives suggests. Associate Professor Maria Kraimer at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business followed the career paths of 84 employees from five Fortune 500 companies sent on international assignments for work who returned home in the last two years. Her finding: employees who had only one overseas experience (73% of the pool) were more likely to be promoted than those who took on multiple stints abroad (27%). Those with two or more international work assignments were eight times more likely to perceive that they were demoted when they returned home, giving new weight to the old adage “out of sight, out of mind,” Kraimer says. On average, the respondents had 14 years experience, with 22% indicating that their assignment was an executive-level position.

Her findings, published in the Human Resources Management journal, mesh with other studies that have shown the longer executives work abroad, the longer it takes them to get to the top. Though companies value global experience and spend $1 million on average per expatriated employee, most high-level positions are in the U.S., so the longer a person is away, the less likely they are to be considered for these roles, Kraimer says. As a result, employees who returns home after multiple assignments “often have to take whatever job they can find,” leading them to feel overqualified and underappreciated, she says. Many choose to leave their jobs shortly after returning to the U.S.; related studies have shown that 44% of repatriated managers leave their employers within two years of returning home. Kraimer’s advice? Those considering successive posts abroad should think seriously about the implications for their career and “if you start taking more than one, you should probably be doing it for your own personal reasons” rather than career advancement, she says.

Reader Comments


December 3, 2009 2:03 AM

Allison - could you let us have the context of the good professor's study as well.. if she has published her paper, a link would work.

Have many many questions. Which companies were tracked? Are all of them HQed in the US? What would an IA location mean - would it be BRICS, would it be Europe, would it be LATAM? What would 'top' mean - is it the CXO office or D level?

Out of sight and out of mind may not be the only reason for the execs quitting their job - it could also have something to do with the lack of enterprise in more established set ups at the HQ.

It could also be that a larger proportion of 50 something executives with more experience and larger investment in the company are working out of the HQ. Who were the sampled career paths compared with?

Usually international assignments (IA) come with more responsibility and visibility than one would have in the parent location. So it is fairly common-sensical to find that that employees who come back feel that they have been demoted (or have positions of lesser responsibility and visibility). Why did they come back?

But other than common sense is there something new in the study.

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