Int. Journal of Business Science and Applied Management, Volume 16, Issue 1, 2021
I love my career, don’t I? The influence of organisation-based
support on expatriates’ adjustment and occupational withdrawal
Hak Liong Chan*
Faculty of Business, Economics and Accountancy, Universiti Malaysia Sabah
88400, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.
Tel: +6088320000 (ext: 1622)
Pei Sung Toh
Faculty of Business, Economics and Accountancy, Universiti Malaysia Sabah
88400, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.
Tel: +6088320000 (ext: 1580)
Siew Imm Ng
School of Business and Economics, Universiti Putra Malaysia
43400, UPM Serdang, Selangor, Malaysia.
Tel: +60389467573
Dahlia Zawawi
School of Business and Economics, Universiti Putra Malaysia
43400, UPM Serdang, Selangor, Malaysia.
Tel: +60397697729
Employees are encouraged to undergo expatriation to develop cross-cultural competencies that meet global
workforce standards. However, most expatriates struggle to adjust and eventually withdraw from their
assignments. The purpose of this paper is to empirically investigate the role of perceived organisational support
(POS), host country national (HCN) support, and adjustment as antecedents of expatriates’ occupational
withdrawal intention. Drawing from the sampling frame of various foreign chambers of commerce, survey data
were collected from 112 expatriates based in organisations in Malaysia. Partial least squares-structural equation
modelling was used to test the hypotheses. Both POS and HCN support positively influence expatriate
adjustment, while only POS negatively influences occupational withdrawal intention. Further, expatriate
adjustment mediates the effects of POS and HCN support on occupational withdrawal intention. When
expatriates adjust better upon receiving POS and HCN support, their occupational withdrawal intention is lower.
This study enriches the current literature by applying the conservation of resources theory and contributes to the
limited research on the roles of organisation-based support on expatriate success. The findings indicate that
expatriate-hiring firms should provide suitable support mechanisms for expatriates on overseas assignments.
These firms should amplify the role of HCNs to help expatriates adjust to local cultures and complete their
Keywords: perceived organisational support, host country national support, expatriate adjustment, occupational
withdrawal intention, conservation of resources theory, Malaysia
Hak Liong Chan, Pei Sung Toh, Siew Imm Ng and Dahlia Zawawi
In this era of globalisation, expatriates have to undergo international assignments to hone a wide range of
cross-cultural competencies. These assignments are typically contingent on expatriates’ cross-cultural adjustment
(Black & Gregersen, 1991), which is an integral index of expatriate success. Overcoming adjustment challenges
indicates that expatriates have fulfilled an important professional criterion while living and working in a foreign
country (Pinto et al., 2012). However, when culture shock strikes, expatriates’ adjustment process may consume
more time than expected. This stems from the difficulties they face in changing their attitudes and behaviours to
suit local contexts. In particular, expatriates in Southeast Asia are challenged by the local cultural norms of
consensus building, hierarchy, and face’ saving during their assignments (Dosanj, 2015). Consequently,
occupational or career change is pronounced among expatriates in this region, affecting several key stakeholders
(Dosanj, 2015). Despite vast investigation into job performance as an outcome of expatriate adjustment, only one
study, to our knowledge, has looked into occupational withdrawal intention in this regard (Pinto et al., 2012)
Thus, we aim to identify the factors influencing expatriates’ adjustment and occupational withdrawal intention. It
is crucial to distinguish between withdrawal intention and occupational withdrawal intention in the international
arena. Withdrawal intention refers to expatriates’ plans to return home prematurely (Bhaskar-Shrinivas et al.,
2005), while occupational withdrawal intention is understood as expatriates’ plan to look for a new career in the
future (Pinto et al., 2012).
In response to the issues highlighted by Dosanj (2015), Malaysia offers an interesting research avenue for
expatriation. Malaysia is a multicultural country in Southeast Asia, with various cultural and racial backgrounds
comprising Bumiputera Malays, Chinese, Indians, and other minorities (Abdullah & Pedersen, 2003). According
to InterNations (2019), Malaysia is the world’s ninth-best destination for expatriates to work and settle down.
About 73 percent of expatriates even agreed that they were able to easily adjust to the local culture and blend
into the local society. In reality, however, the cultural diversity in this country has broadened the psychological
cultural distance between locals and expatriates. Expatriates find it taxing to adjust to the working conditions and
business culture in Malaysia, which vary in terms of communication, hierarchies, space, and relationships
(HSBC Bank, 2019). Arokiasamy and Kim (2020) further argued that the close distance between Asian countries
does not promise expatriateseffective adjustment to local cultures. For expatriates, the worst experience would
be to fail their international assignment due to maladjustment stemming from their inability to deal with cultural
differences in a multicultural setting like Malaysia.
Drawing upon the conservation of resources (COR) theory (Hobfoll, 1989), four unique resources are
believed to help individuals be productive in any situation, i.e. objects (e.g. money), conditions (e.g. social
support), personal characteristics (e.g. personality), and energy (e.g. knowledge). The theory suggests that
individuals do not just acquire, develop, maintain, and protect their internal resources when they feel stressed but
also strive to minimise the loss of such resources (Hobfoll, 1989). As most expatriates are typically career-
oriented, they require resources in the form of information and support to attain their assignment goals (Linder,
2019). However, since international assignments can be extremely onerous, expatriates are vulnerable to
acculturative stress and could be deterred from receiving local support (McNulty et al., 2019). Specifically,
expatriates become stressed when both their cognitive and somatic systems deteriorate as a result of resource
depletion in relation to personal networks and relationships (Davies et al., 2019). To compensate for this loss,
expatriates may invest their time, emotions, and energy into gaining access to various support mechanisms. The
COR theory is therefore superior in terms of explaining expatriates’ behaviours.
Salient stakeholders, including organisations and host country nationals (HCNs), function as expatriates’
key resources that provide information on social norms and acceptable behaviours in both work and non-work
domains (Takeuchi, 2010; van der Laken et al., 2019). Social support from organisation-based stakeholders is
thus a major contributor to expatriates’ cultural adjustment, which in turn eliminates their withdrawal (van der
Laken et al., 2016). On the international platform, expatriates are often overwhelmed by challenging work
demands and stress from inadequate support, which consume their existing resources (Davies et al., 2019;
McNulty et al., 2019). As such, it is relevant to understand their coping strategies (Andresen et al., 2018), such
as occupational withdrawal intention. Since social support serves as a condition resource as per the COR theory
(Hobfoll, 1989), our study sheds light on expatriate adjustment by incorporating salient stakeholders’ support as
a deterrent of occupational withdrawal intention.
Although we argue that both POS and HCN support are effective in tackling expatriates’ occupational
withdrawal intention, the underlying process of how support affects occupational withdrawal intention is not
fully understood in the literature. Given that a mediating mechanism would enhance our understanding of the
direct relationships between POS, HCN support, and occupational withdrawal, our research set forth to examine
the mediating effect of expatriate adjustment. From a career management perspective, expatriates need support
from their social networks to improve their perceived career prospects (Linder, 2019). Consistent with the COR
theory, when expatriates receive limited support from stakeholders (i.e. organisations and HCNs) due to cultural
issues like consensus building and hierarchies, the consequent depletion of support-related resources leads to
Int. Journal of Business Science and Applied Management /
feelings of unadaptability and unpleasant attitudes towards their career. In other words, a dearth of POS and
HCN support increases expatriates’ maladjustment, which pushes them to change occupations in the hope of
protecting their existing resources. On the other hand, if expatriates form relationships with organisations and
HCNs, they establish a support system with shared knowledge and personal interest, thereby decreasing their
likelihood of withdrawing from the occupation. Based on these arguments, a research framework including POS,
HCN support, adjustment and occupational withdrawal intention was developed and analysed using a sample of
112 business expatriates in Malaysia. Business expatriates are professional working individuals, either assigned
or self-initiated, who live and work abroad on a temporary basis without citizenship in the country of
employment (McNulty & Brewster, 2017). The terms expatriates and business expatriates are used
interchangeably in this paper.
The present study makes three main contributions. First, we extend the COR theory by applying it to the
relationships between POS, HCN support, expatriate adjustment, and occupational withdrawal intention. van der
Laken et al. (2016) claimed that the effect of organisation-based support on expatriate retention is always
indirect by way of adjustment. Hence, our study contributes to the literature by incorporating expatriate
adjustment as a mediator (Harari et al., 2018; Kraimer et al., 2001) based on the COR theory. Second, we
contribute to the concept of occupational withdrawal intention in a domestic setting (Carmeli, 2005) by
establishing its body of knowledge in an international context. A similar study by Pinto et al. (2017) found that
both home and host organisational cultures have an impact on expatriates’ withdrawal intention from their
organisations and assignments, respectively. Scholars (e.g. van der Laken et al., 2019; Varma et al., 2016) have
further reported that expatriate withdrawal can be predicted by organisation-based support, highlighting the need
to examine withdrawal intention in international human resource (HR) management. Given that occupational
withdrawal intention has been largely neglected in the expatriate literature (Pinto et al., 2012), this particular
concept was assessed to understand its antecedents in terms of support and adjustment. Third, we undertook this
study within Malaysia due to the scarce literature on expatriate adjustment and withdrawal intention in the
Malaysian context. Malaysia is a multicultural country which is home to various ethnic groups with strong
cultural sensitivity (Abdullah & Pedersen, 2003). The country is particularly high in power distance and
collectivism (Abdullah & Pedersen, 2003; Hofstede, 1994). Despite these cultural variances, Malaysia is a
developing country that has continuously attracted expatriates (InterNations, 2019), which calls for further study
in this context.
2.1. Perceived organisational support (POS)
POS is defined as an employee’s global belief that an organisation cherishes its employees’ contributions
and cares about their welfare (Eisenberger et al., 1986). The COR theory assumes that POS is a condition
resource that influences the attitudes and behaviours of employees. The concept of resource caravan
passagewayshighlights how an organisation plays a critical role in creating passageways via suitable working
conditions (e.g. assistance and resources) for employees to function in hostile environments. This implies that
POS embodies both socio-emotional support and tangible support. Hence, POS can protect employees from the
loss of resources and subsequent detachment and withdrawal (Hobfoll et al., 2018).
Since expatriates sacrifice their social contacts with friends and families in their home country, POS is a
prominent source of support to facilitate expatriates’ adjustment and retention (Leiva et al., 2017; van der Laken
et al., 2016). Abdul Malek et al. (2015) suggested that POS can minimise assignment failure rates and the
escalating costs of retaining expatriates. When expatriates are supported with specific policies and practices, they
feel obligated to reciprocate with effort and loyalty (van der Laken et al., 2016). Accordingly, prior studies have
reported that POS has a positive relationship with expatriate adjustment (Chan et al., 2019; Kraimer et al., 2001).
This indicates that organisations can grant expatriates support in various forms, such as cross-cultural training
and language classes, to boost their adjustment level. When organisations implement such support strategies,
expatriates can enhance their cultural adjustment in the host country.
While previous studies have made some efforts to understand the relationship between POS and withdrawal
intention (Cao et al., 2014; van der Heijden et al., 2009), little has been done to investigate whether an
expatriate’s intention to leave an occupation is associated with lower POS. In line with the COR theory, POS
includes objective and formal resources that enable expatriates to succeed in their career (Andresen et al., 2018;
Leiva et al., 2017). As such, POS fits well as a resource caravan passageway since it prevents expatriates’
withdrawal from an occupation after they have invested a reasonable amount of their talent and energy in it. For
instance, Millennial expatriates are reliant on their organisations to support their career development and provide
a transparent career path (Crowley-Henry & Collins, 2017). If organisations fail to invest in expatriates’
occupational growth, the latter may leave their job as an opportunity cost. Based on this reasoning, POS may
promote the adjustment of expatriates and satisfy their need for resources that elicit their desire to remain in the
career. We thus theorise that expatriates’ global belief that their organisations care about their well-being and
Hak Liong Chan, Pei Sung Toh, Siew Imm Ng and Dahlia Zawawi
contributions would help them reconsider their decision to leave the occupation. Therefore, we proposed the
following hypotheses:
H1: POS has a positive relationship with expatriate adjustment.
H2: POS has a negative relationship with occupational withdrawal intention.
2.2. Host country national (HCN) support
The COR theory acknowledges that expatriates are likely to experience higher levels of stress apart from
resource loss as their personal conditions change in the host country (Bader, 2017). As expatriates are
disengaged from their personal networks and relationships, it is typical for them to feel dejected and isolated in
the host country. Nevertheless, expatriates have to form new networks with HCNs and comprehend new
procedures in the local subsidiary (Bader, 2017). HCNs refer to local employees within the host unit who help
newcomers adjust to the new working conditions (Toh & Denisi, 2007). From the lens of the COR theory, HCNs
can substitute the change or loss of resources related to expatriates’ private relationships.
According to Bader (2017), HCNs are a significant resource for expatriates to master assignment challenges.
Fundamentally, the support provided by HCNs can minimise expatriates’ level of uncertainty in both work and
non-work environments. HCN support entails beneficial information that enables expatriates to observe norms,
values, and behaviours in a new culture (Mahajan & De Silva, 2012; Pustovit, 2020; Varma et al., 2016). HCNs
can also assist them with job tasks and integrate them into the local context to facilitate their adjustment. In fact,
HCNs serve as socialising agents that strengthen expatriates’ adjustment via interaction and socialisation, given
that expatriates cannot undergo a successful social adjustment process on their own (Arman & Aycan, 2013).
Therefore, when expatriates socialise with HCNs, they feel psychologically safe and emotionally stable within
the local society. However, while interactions with HCNs offer expatriates social learning opportunities,
language barriers are likely to lead to misunderstandings (van der Laken et al., 2019). Moreover, as expatriates
and HCNs are from different cultural backgrounds, it is inevitable that they face continuous challenges in forging
positive relationships (Ismail, 2015). To overcome this issue, HCNs must perform dual roles as colleagues and
mentors for expatriates at the workplace.
To our knowledge, no studies have examined the relationship between HCN support and occupational
withdrawal intention. It is thus important to first document why and under what condition this direct relationship
exists. As expatriation is emotionally demanding, HCN support is useful in engendering expatriates’ successful
assignments (Varma et al., 2016). When expatriates face resource loss caused by a lack of support, they strive to
protect their resources in their international career. In congruence with the COR theory, HCNs function as new
resources that offer expatriates objective feedback and affirmation (Bader, 2017), which may include
appreciation and career progression plans. Ismail (2015) posited that an established relationship between
expatriates and HCNs would foster career-related knowledge transfer from HCNs to expatriates. When
expatriates build social ties with HCNs in their given occupation, the former receive useful information and
support from the latter with specialist knowledge, which would reduce their occupational withdrawal. Thus, we
formulated the following hypotheses:
H3: HCN support has a positive relationship with expatriate adjustment.
H4: HCN support has a negative relationship with occupational withdrawal intention.
2.3. Expatriate adjustment and occupational withdrawal intention
Expatriate success with the absence of withdrawal intention is a direct indicator of a well-accomplished
assignment (Bhaskar-Shrinivas et al., 2005). Generally, withdrawal intention is a conventional outcome of poor
expatriate adjustment (Pinto et al., 2012). Different cultural environments impinge on unadjusted expatriates
who are then unable to meet their career goals as a result of having fewer resources to perform their tasks; in this
scenario, termination is their most straightforward option (Black & Stephens, 1989; Shaffer et al., 1999).
However, research on the relationship between expatriate adjustment and occupational withdrawal intention is
relatively sparse. One of the few studies to have considered this is Pinto et al. (2012), who investigated the
relationship between expatriate adjustment (general, work, and interaction) and withdrawal intentions from the
assignment, organisation, and occupation using a sample of 166 expatriates working in the United States, Europe,
Asia, and South America. Carmeli (2005) argued that the multidimensional concept of withdrawal intention is
particularly relevant in the international context. To illustrate, expatriates may leave their present assignment, but
may wish to work in the same organisation. In contrast, they may leave their organisation while staying with the
same assignment and occupation. The scholars’ regression analysis confirmed that only work adjustment
influences expatriates’ withdrawal intention from the assignment (Pinto et al., 2012).
Due to limited research on the direct relationships among these variables, expatriate adjustment may
mediate the relationship between the antecedents (POS and HCN support) and the outcome (occupational
withdrawal intention); however, this mechanism remains unexplored in the literature. Since the COR theory
Int. Journal of Business Science and Applied Management /
classifies social support as a condition that motivates employees to achieve career goals (Hobfoll et al., 2018),
both POS and HCN support are valuable resources that are expected to help expatriates cope with the
challenging problems of cultural adjustment. In turn, adjusted expatriates are unlikely to withdraw from their
occupation. Indeed, expatriate adjustment has been found to explain how POS minimises assignment withdrawal
intention (van der Laken et al., 2016). Based on the discussion above, the following hypotheses were postulated:
H5a: Expatriate adjustment has a negative relationship with occupational withdrawal intention.
H5b: Expatriate adjustment mediates the negative relationship between POS and occupational withdrawal
H5c: Expatriate adjustment mediates the negative relationship between HCN support and occupational
withdrawal intention.
Figure 1 illustrates the conceptual framework with the proposed hypotheses.
Figure 1. Conceptual framework
3.1. Sample and data collection
Data was collected from business expatriates at all levels (non-managerial to top management) working
across various industries in Malaysia. As noted earlier, business expatriates is a term that refers to assigned or
self-initiated expatriates who reside temporarily in a country without citizenship to attain a career goal (McNulty
& Brewster, 2017). This study specifically targeted expatriates who had stayed in the country for a minimum of
six months. Referring to the U-Curve of adjustment (Black & Mendenhall, 1991), when the initial honeymoon
period of expatriation fades, expatriates feel homesick. Following this, expatriates are likely to experience
‘culture shockas they face reality in the host country, leading them through the challenging process of
adjustment. Once that is over, they learn how to behave appropriately in the new culture, known as ‘mastery’
(Black & Mendenhall, 1991). As per the U-Curve of adjustment (Black & Mendenhall, 1991), passing through
these stages typically takes about six months. Hence, the decision to select expatriates who had resided in
Malaysia for at least six months was necessary to grasp the actual adjustment process.
Expatriates were recruited through our sampling frame generated from different foreign chambers of
commerce in Malaysia. The membership lists in these directories displayed a total of 694 companies, of which
316 local companies were excluded for being local businesses like sole proprietorships and partnerships that do
not hire expatriates. After discarding redundancy and validating the details of each remaining company, 145
suitable companies were identified. The remaining companies were removed from the list due to inaccessible
contact numbers, improper addresses, and permanent closures that had yet to be updated in the directories. Upon
contacting each company’s HR manager, 36 companies agreed to participate in the survey. Cooperation was
Hak Liong Chan, Pei Sung Toh, Siew Imm Ng and Dahlia Zawawi
sought from the HR managers to ascertain that the expatriates fulfilled the employment criteria enforced by the
Immigration Department of Malaysia, such as basic monthly salary of at least RM5,000 and a valid employment
contract for at least one year. Upon confirming the number of expatriates in the selected companies with their
HR managers, 432 questionnaires were disseminated with a range of five to 20 questionnaires per company
through both drop-off and electronic questionnaire methods. The online and offline methods were compared
using an independent t-test, the results of which showed no significant difference between these methods (refer
to Table I in Appendix). Of the 123 returned questionnaires, 112 were usable, yielding a response rate of 25.9
percent. Table 1 depicts data collection details by the expatriates’ industry. Although the response rate was low,
it was acceptable as the main researcher was informed by the companiesHR managers that many expatriates
had left Malaysia due to the uncertainty about the goods and services tax, the plunging value of the Ringgit, and
the rising cost of living.
Out of the 112 expatriates, 70.5 percent were males. The sample consisted of equal proportions of assigned
expatriates (50%) and self-initiated expatriates (50%). Most of them (72.3%) were below 40 years of age: 47.3
percent were 31 to 40 years old and 25 percent were 21 to 30 years old. Most of the expatriates were from Asian
countries (73.3%), including the Philippines, India, Indonesia, China, Thailand, and Japan. Only 18 percent of
the expatriates came from Western regions, while the remaining 8.7 percent were from other regions. The sample
comprised a few top managers (14.3%), some middle-level managers (37.5%), and a majority of low-level
managers or non-managers (48.2%). As for employment duration, 81.2 percent of the respondents had been
working in Malaysia for over a year. More than half of the expatriates (54.5%) had no prior international work
experience, while 50.9 percent could not speak the local language. In terms of occupational background, 60.8
percent of the expatriates worked in service departments, such as information technology, customer services,
financial services, and HR services.
Table 1. Summary of data collection
No. of companies
No. of questionnaires
No. of usable
Oil and gas
Information technology
An additional analysis was carried out to assess the variances in POS, HCN support, expatriate adjustment,
and occupational withdrawal intention across respondent profile characteristics, such as expatriate type and
position. An independent t-test and one-way ANOVA were performed for this purpose. The mean results
revealed no significant differences in the attitudes of assigned expatriates and self-initiated expatriates towards
the main variables (refer to Table II in Appendix). Meanwhile, there was a significant variance in POS between
expatriates in different positions, indicating that those holding a higher position were more likely to perceive
consistent organisational support (refer to Table III in Appendix).
3.2. Power analysis
A power analysis was performed using the G*Power software to calculate the sample size (Faul et
al., 2007). For our model, the results recommended at least 77 respondents to achieve 80 percent statistical
power for a medium effect (0.15) at a significance level of 5 percent. The sample collected for this study (n=112)
was above the minimum sample size.
3.3. Measurement scales
To measure the study variables, we employed well-developed scales that had been effectively applied in
prior studies.
Expatriate adjustment was measured with a 15-item scale which was developed by Black and Stephens
(1989) and subsequently updated by Shaffer et al. (1999). In this section, expatriates indicated their level of
adjustability on a five-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly unadjusted) to 5 (strongly adjusted). Sample
items comprised ‘housing’, ‘working conditions’, and ‘socialising with HCNs outside of work’.
Int. Journal of Business Science and Applied Management /
Next, POS was measured using a 16-item global scale developed by Eisenberger et al. (1986). It captured
expatriates’ evaluative judgments of their organisations. The items were based on a five-point Likert scale
ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). A sample item was ‘My organisation considers my
goals and values.’ The scale included seven reverse-scored items, such as ‘My organisation shows very little
concern for me.’
HCN support was measured on a 16-item scale introduced by Abdul Malek et al. (2015). The responses
were rated on a five-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). A sample item
was ‘My co-workers/friends in the host country provided me information about activities’.
Occupational withdrawal intention was determined through a three-item measure built by Carmeli (2005)
on a five-point Likert scale that ranged from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). The items were ‘I often
think about leaving the present occupation’, ‘I intend to search for an alternative to the present occupation’, and
‘I plan to leave the present occupation.
Control variables. In accordance with prior studies (Abdul Malek et al., 2015; Bhaskar-Shrinivas et al.,
2005; Shaffer et al., 1999), the effects of three demographic variables, i.e. international work experience (1= Yes;
2= No), host language fluency (1= Yes, fluent; 2= Yes, partly; 3= No), and time in Malaysia (in years), on
expatriates’ adjustment and occupational withdrawal intention were controlled. The items to measure these
variables were presented as open-ended questions.
For data analysis, we employed partial least squares structural equation modelling (PLS-SEM), a widely
applied technique in business management research. Unlike covariance-based (CB) SEM, PLS-SEM does not
impose strict requirements on measurement scales and sample size (Henseler et al., 2015). It has the ability to
handle a small sample size (Hair et al., 2018), so long as the size is 10-fold the number of indicators for the most
predicted construct (Barclay et al., 1995). In this study, the sample size (n=112) met this requirement. PLS-SEM
is also a powerful analytical tool to analyse a complex framework with a mediator (Hair et al., 2018). For these
reasons, PLS-SEM was preferred to CB-SEM, since the available sample of 112 was not sufficient to analyse the
proposed framework with a mediator using CB-SEM. Using SmartPLS 3.0 software, the maximum number of
iterations was limited to 300. For the bootstrapping analysis, individual sign changes and 5,000 bootstrap
samples were used. All control variables were included in the analysis.
4.1. Measurement model
The measurement model is used to evaluate the consistency and validity of the constructs. In this study,
consistency was assessed using factor loadings, composite reliability (CR), and Cronbach’s alpha. According to
Byrne (2016)
, the value of an outer loading should be greater than 0.50 to be considered adequate. The
acceptable values of CR and Cronbach’s alpha are above 0.70 (Hair et al., 2017). The validity of the constructs
was determined based on convergent and discriminant validity (Hair et al., 2017). Convergent validity was
assessed using average variance extracted (AVE), where the value for each construct should exceed 0.50 (Hair et
al., 2017). Table 2 shows that the outer loading of each indicator was above the threshold value of 0.50 (Byrne,
2016), except for five items (EXP14, POS02, POS03, POS012, and HCN11), which were deleted due to low
outer loadings. Both the CR and Cronbach’s alpha values of all the constructs were above 0.70, while the AVE
values of all latent indicators exceeded 0.50.
Table 2. Measurement model results
Expatriate adjustment
Hak Liong Chan, Pei Sung Toh, Siew Imm Ng and Dahlia Zawawi
HCN support
Occupational withdrawal
Note: EXP14, POS02, POS03, POS012, and HCN11 were deleted due to low outer loadings.
Discriminant validity can be measured using the Fornell and Larcker criterion or the Heterotrait-Monotrait
ratio of correlations (HTMT). The square root of AVE for a construct should be greater than its correlations with
other latent constructs, as per Fornell and Larcker (Hair et al., 2017). Table 3 shows that the study constructs
fulfilled this criterion.
Table 3. Fornell and Larcker criterion results
1. Expatriate adjustment
2. HCN support
3. POS
4. Occupational withdrawal intention
Notes: Diagonal and bold elements are the square roots of AVE; below the diagonal elements are the correlations between
Henseler et al. (2015) recommended the HTMT ratio of correlations as a new method to assess discriminant
validity in variance-based SEM. Scholars have suggested that the threshold value should be HTMT.
2011) or HTMT
(Gold et al., 2001). HTMT scores exceeding either of these two values implies a lack of
discriminant validity. As shown in Table 4, all the values were lower than the benchmarks of HTMT.
. The results thus established discriminant validity for our study.
Int. Journal of Business Science and Applied Management /
Table 4. HTMT results
1. Expatriate adjustment
2. HCN support
3. POS
4. Occupational withdrawal intention
4.2. Structural model
The structural model assessment began with the assessment of collinearity. Table 5 presents the values of
the variance inflation factor (VIF) for all exogenous constructs, which ranged from 1.463 to 1.876 (<3.33),
indicating no major lateral collinearity issue (Diamantopoulos & Siguaw, 2006).
To investigate the hypothesised relationships, the bootstrapping resampling approach (5,000 re-samples)
was applied. As displayed in Table 5, the structural model showed that most of the hypotheses were supported.
The results revealed that POS had a positive relationship with expatriate adjustment (β= 0.249, p= 0.011) and a
negative relationship with occupational withdrawal intention (β= -0.331, p= 0.004), confirming both H1 and H2.
Next, HCN support exerted a positive influence on expatriate adjustment (β= 0.347, p= 0.001), which supported
H3. However, HCN support did not display a significant relationship with occupational withdrawal intention (β=
0.038, p= 0.389), thus rejecting H4. In support of H5a, a negative relationship was noted between expatriate
adjustment and occupational withdrawal intention (β= -0.356, p= 0.000). Turning to the mediating role of
expatriate adjustment, it was found to mediate the effects of POS (β= -0.089, p= 0.023) and HCN support (β= -
0.124, p= 0.015) on occupational withdrawal intention, accepting both H5b and H5c.
The effect size (f
) analysis results were in line with the guideline provided by Cohen (1988). The values of
0.02, 0.15, and 0.35 indicate small, medium, and large effect sizes, respectively, of an exogenous variable on an
endogenous variable. Table 5 shows that POS (f
= 0.052) and HCN support (f
= 0.107) had a small effect size on
expatriate adjustment. Similarly, POS (f
= 0.090) and expatriate adjustment (0.127) demonstrated a small effect
size on occupational withdrawal intention. In contrast, the effect size of HCN support on occupational
withdrawal intention was trivial. Overall, both POS and HCN support explained 31.7 percent of the variance in
expatriate adjustment (R
= 0.317). Meanwhile, POS, HCN support, and expatriate adjustment explained 32
percent of the variance in occupational withdrawal intention (R
= 0.320). None of the control variables (i.e.
international work experience, host language fluency, and time in Malaysia) exhibited a significant relationship
with expatriate adjustment and occupational withdrawal intention.
Finally, the predictive relevance of the model was assessed based on the Stone-Geisser Q
method (Geisser,
1975). Hair et al. (2017) stated that a Q
value greater than zero implies that exogenous variables have predictive
relevance for endogenous variables in a model. Referring to the blindfolding procedure, the Q
values for both
endogenous variables exceeded the threshold value of zero (expatriate adjustment= 0.149; occupational
withdrawal intention= 0.268), indicating the predictive accuracy of the model.
4.3. Model fit
The standardised root mean residual (SRMR) was applied to calculate the model’s overall goodness of fit.
The SRMR refers to a measure of the estimated fitness of a model (Henseler et al., 2015). When the SRMR is
below 0.10, the model is deemed to have a good fit in a conservative manner (Hu & Bentler, 1998). In our study,
the SRMR of 0.099 indicated that the model had a good fit.
Figure 2 illustrates the conceptual framework with supported hypotheses.
Hak Liong Chan, Pei Sung Toh, Siew Imm Ng and Dahlia Zawawi
Figure 2. Results of PLS analysis (t-values in parentheses)
Int. Journal of Business Science and Applied Management /
Table 5. Summary of path relationships
Notes: **p < 0.001; *p < 0.05
Confidence interval
H1: POS → Expatriate adjustment
(0.085, 0.444)
H2: POS → Occupational withdrawal intention
(-0.536, -0.131)
H3: HCN support → Expatriate adjustment
(0.167, 0.527)
H4: HCN support Occupational withdrawal
(-0.179, 0.266)
H5a: Expatriate adjustment Occupational
withdrawal intention
(-0.512, -0.202)
H5b: POS Expatriate adjustment
Occupational withdrawal intention
(-0.191, -0.019)
H5c: HCN support Expatriate adjustment
Occupational withdrawal intention
(-0.253, -0.033)
Hak Liong Chan, Pei Sung Toh, Siew Imm Ng and Dahlia Zawawi
The present study contributes to the expatriate literature by examining POS and HCN support as the
antecedents of occupational withdrawal intention and expatriate adjustment as the mediator of these relationships.
Apart from extending the COR theory, we uphold the notion that resource loss in the form of social support loss,
especially in a culturally demanding setting, activates expatriates’ negative adjustment experiences and
subsequently affects their occupational decisions. The extension of the COR theory here encompasses a wide
range of contexts, including career change, withdrawal, and mobility decisions (Singh et al., 2018).
In line with the tenets of the COR theory, POS appears to be a credible resource that expatriates can
accumulate to facilitate assignment success (Chan et al., 2019; Leiva et al., 2017). By alleviating expatriates’
stress during their assignments, POS symbolises a resource caravan passageway that bolsters expatriate
outcomes, which include cultural adjustment and occupational commitment. POS emerged as a significant
predictor of adjustment in this study, and has been consistently reinforced in the literature (Abdul Malek et al.,
2015; Kraimer et al., 2001). Indisputably, expatriates make substantial sacrifices for their assignments and
expect benefits from their organisations in return. When organisations take care of expatriates’ well-being and
support their overseas experiences, these individuals are driven to improve their cultural adjustment. As
predicted, POS appears to be influential in minimising occupational withdrawal intention as well. Specifically, a
lack of POS induces a greater consideration for leaving one’s career. We further found that 85 percent of the
respondents in this study, who were middle-level managers and below, required regular POS for their
occupational advancement. Conversely, expatriates who are unhappy with unfair treatment by their organisations
would withdraw as they are not given opportunities to learn new tasks or to be promoted.
Although leaving an occupation is a difficult decision for expatriates, we stumbled upon an interesting fact.
Given that 72.3 percent of the respondents were between 21 and 40 years old (born between 1980 and 1999),
they fall into the category of Millennials. Crowley-Henry and Collins (2017) revealed that Millennial expatriates
would change careers multiple times if not given effective POS. In other words, when organisations fail to
effectively support this group of expatriates, they find a new path elsewhere to flourish. The authors added that
this generational cohort prioritises high levels of organisational support that offers structured expatriation as well
as compelling work experiences and opportunities. Torsello (2019) concurred that Millennials are easily bored
with their tasks and display lower commitment to their careers, especially within the service sector. As 60.8
percent of our respondents worked in service departments, their intention to withdraw from their occupation was
frequent, as expected. Thus, rotation programmes are a predominant aspect of organisational support that could
potentially minimise such intention among Millennial expatriates (Crowley-Henry & Collins, 2017). Moreover,
the results indicated that expatriate adjustment is a significant mediator through which POS affects occupational
withdrawal intention. Considering that 81.2 percent of the respondents had worked in Malaysia for more than a
year, POS generated a stronger reciprocation effect on these expatriates, and enhanced their cultural adjustment
and, consequently, made them feel attached to their career over time. This implies that a higher level of POS
enables well-adjusted expatriates to strengthen their loyalty towards their occupation as they stay longer in the
host country. Overall, these findings contribute to the literature on Millennial expatriates and suggest that
customising HR policies and practices will beget Millennial employees positive reciprocal actions, such as
forming an attachment to their jobs.
HCN support proved to be another significant predictor of expatriate adjustment, which is in agreement
with several past studies (e.g. Bader, 2017; Mahajan & De Silva, 2012; Varma et al., 2016). According to Toh
and Denisi (2007), HCN offers expatriates two key socialising cues, i.e. role information and social support, to
explore various stimuli and behave aptly in their new work role. Referring to the COR theory, HCN support may
help expatriates replace their temporary loss of personal relationships and networks from their home country,
which is crucial in ensuring a smooth adjustment process. If HCNs refuse to initiate socialising behaviour, they
will fail to contribute to expatriate adjustment. Nevertheless, HCN support did not establish a significant impact
on occupational withdrawal intention. It is plausible that HCNs provide only adjustment-related support to
expatriates (Toh & Denisi, 2007; van der Laken et al., 2019), given that their support relates more to non-work
matters such as social activities and local community interaction.
Anchored by the COR theory, our mediation analysis revealed that the effect of HCN support on
occupational withdrawal intention is mediated by expatriate adjustment. That is, if expatriates can manage their
adjustment, HCN support will indirectly attenuate their occupational withdrawal. This notable finding can be
explained by the collectivism of the expatriate respondents in this study, who were mostly (73.3%) Asians and
therefore collectivist in nature. A collectivist society encourages in-group members to maintain social harmony
by behaving appropriately according to their norms and obligations (Hofstede, 1994), suggesting that Asian
expatriates would enjoy socialising with others in the host country. Expatriates who developed suitable
behavioural repertoires in collectivist cultures would therefore form strong support networks that positively
affect their cultural adjustment (Harari et al., 2018). In an Asian country like Malaysia, it is interesting to note
that HCNs who demonstrate varying types of collectivism may include expatriates with demographically
Int. Journal of Business Science and Applied Management /
dissimilar backgrounds in their groups (Varma et al., 2016). When HCNs provide adjustment-related support,
expatriates make their employment decisions based on the influence from colleagues and friends rather than their
personal values and disposition. This implies that expatriates may choose to remain in their occupations because
they place greater importance on their shared values with HCNs. As a result, these HCNs are likely to affect the
occupational decisions of their expatriate peers by aiding expatriates’ adjustment.
Finally, a negative relationship was noted between expatriate adjustment and occupational withdrawal
intention. van der Laken et al. (2019) claimed that insufficient resources impede expatriates effective
adjustment, which then results in withdrawal intention. With POS and HCN support, expatriates would adapt to
Malaysia’s various cultural elements and increase their adjustment in the country. In particular, interesting
cultural elements may fascinate expatriates, keeping them absorbed and invested in the successful
accomplishment of their occupational goals in their assignments.
5.1. Theoretical implications
This paper makes the following contributions to theory. First, drawing upon the COR theory (Hobfoll,
1989), this study enriches the existing knowledge about organisation-based social support as a key resource for
expatriates to function effectively in a stressful foreign environment. Specifically, we emphasise the role of POS
and HCN support in improving expatriates’ adjustment, illustrated by the case of Malaysia, a culturally
challenging destination for expatriates (HSBC Bank, 2019). Furthermore, this study confirms that expatriate
adjustment is an intermediary variable that transmits the effect of POS and HCN support to occupational
withdrawal intention. Thus, we contribute to the understanding of the mechanisms that elucidate the influence of
POS and HCN support. With respect to this, our research offers new insights to van der Laken et al.’s (2016)
systematic review, which found that both organisations and HCNs foster expatriates adjustment, which
translates to retention.
Second, this study links the occupational withdrawal intention literature to the expatriate literature. Despite
extensive research on withdrawal intention in cross-cultural and expatriate management (Cao et al., 2014; Pinto
et al., 2017), little is known about occupational withdrawal intention as an important element of expatriate failure
(e.g., Pinto et al., 2012). Against this background, it is imperative to differentiate between expatriates’
withdrawal intention and occupational withdrawal intention to progressively develop their careers overseas.
Hence, we enhance the understanding of the latter by incorporating POS and HCN support as its antecedents.
Our findings further highlight the point that expatriates’ occupational withdrawal intention becomes weaker
when they have a strong perception of organisational support. In this manner, our study extends
Pinto et al.’s
(2017) work on the effect of organisational culture on expatriates’ withdrawal intention by shifting the attention
to POS as a contributing factor in lower occupational withdrawal intention.
5.2. Practical implications
Malaysia has active interactions with many foreign countries, making Malaysians more open to diversity
(Arokiasamy & Kim, 2020). However, regional proximity between Asian countries does not promise expatriates
a high level of cultural adjustment abroad. Maladjustment of expatriates and their consequent occupational
turnover is indeed costly as more funding is invested in their career development. The findings from this study
thus offer several practical implications for both expatriate-hiring firms and HR managers in collectivist
countries (e.g. Singapore and Thailand) and Muslim-majority nations (e.g. Indonesia and Pakistan) that share
similar cultural values with Malaysia. Specifically, we highlight the fact that both POS and HCN support can
help expatriates adjust to the local culture and prevent their occupational turnover.
First, since poor cultural adjustment is the reason POS affects expatriates’ intention to leave their
occupation, organisations should consider offering appealing HR programmes and policies. For instance, the
provision of organisational support should encompass cultural awareness programmes or cross-cultural training,
which can be beneficial in intensifying expatriates’ adjustment. Furthermore, it is crucial that HR policies be
tailored to the career prospects of Millennial expatriates in different positions. These younger expatriates are
predicted to make several career changes in their lifetime, and are attracted to organisations that offer personal
training by international coaches or mentors (Crowley-Henry & Collins, 2017). With the expanding Millennial
workforce, HR managers should improve this cohort’s career path by providing supportive rotation programmes
and career options that help them meet current global demands. Overall, viewing POS as a resource caravan
passageway (Singh et al., 2018), expatriates who are appreciated and cherished by their organisations are likely
to reciprocate with better adjustment. Therefore, the aforementioned efforts would be translated into expatriates
cultural adjustment and occupational retention during assignments.
Next, our findings clearly indicate that HCNs can motivate culturally similar expatriates to stay in their
occupation by facilitating their cultural adjustment. Based on the COR theory, expatriates endure high stress
from the loss of personal networks when they work abroad, preventing them from handling their assignments
well (Bader, 2017). However, expatriates who establish quality personal networks with HCNs can experience
better adjustment and retention (Pustovit, 2020). When interactions with HCNs are informal, expatriates are
Hak Liong Chan, Pei Sung Toh, Siew Imm Ng and Dahlia Zawawi
more comfortable sharing their problems in work (e.g. occupational) and non-work (e.g. local customers)
domains. Therefore, HR managers should focus on the HCN-expatriate relationship (Ismail, 2015), as this is
likely to create positive impacts on expatriate success. For instance, a buddy programme may be introduced
between HCNs and expatriates at the same levels in the department (Bader, 2017). This encourages regular
interactions and social activities between both parties, gradually opening their minds to accept each other’s
differences. The buddy system can also aid expatriatesunderstanding of the local culture and the unwritten rules
at the workplace.
5.3. Limitations and future research directions
Notwithstanding the above implications, the present study suffers from some drawbacks. The first limitation
is that the data collection process was hampered by rejection from a number of companies due to the sensitive
nature of the questions on POS and occupational withdrawal intention. This issue was raised by Brewster et al.
(2014) as well, who stated that collecting expatriate data is an arduous task for researchers. To deepen the
understanding of expatriate adjustment, future research may adopt a longitudinal study design to better examine
its mechanisms associated with social support.
The second limitation is that our findings are restricted to self-reported data, which may be affected by
common method variance. After performing Harman’s single-factor test, the value of the first factor accounted
for 31.83 percent of the total variance, which was below the threshold value of 50 percent (Podsakoff et al.,
2003). Therefore, we concluded that the data was free of common method bias. Nevertheless, future research
should collect data from multiple sources (e.g. HCN colleagues, spouses) to determine occupational withdrawal
intention among expatriates (Podsakoff et al., 2003). A longitudinal method would also be advantageous to study
different stages of expatriates’ assignments to capture the development of adjustment and withdrawal intention
over time.
The last limitation is that we focused on organisation-based support for expatriates while neglecting support
sources outside the workplace, such as spouses and friends. van der Laken et al. (2016) argued that social
support from a multi-stakeholder perspective is imperative in predicting expatriate success. Hence, future studies
should assess the influences of salient stakeholders (e.g. organisations, HCNs, family members) from both work
and non-work domains on expatriates’ adjustment and withdrawal intention across a range of cultural and
occupational settings (e.g. low-level or professional expatriates).
This study has extended the COR theory by demonstrating that expatriate adjustment explains the effects of
POS and HCN support on occupational withdrawal intention. Given the mediating effect of expatriate
adjustment, we draw the conclusion that without POS and HCN support, expatriates may face difficulties in
dealing with adjustment-related stress, which may lead to the intention to withdraw from their occupation. The
practical implications of this study serve as guidelines for HR managers of expatriate-hiring firms across
developing countries like Malaysia.
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Table I. Independent T-test on Paper-based and Electronic Questionnaire Methods
Levene’s Test for Equality of Variance
Sig. (2-tailed)
Equal variance assumed
Equal variance not assumed
HCN support
Equal variance assumed
Equal variance not assumed
Expatriate adjustment
Equal variance assumed
Equal variance not assumed
Occupational withdrawal intention
Equal variance assumed
Equal variance not assumed
Table II. Independent T-test on Assigned Expatriates and Self-Initiated Expatriates
Levene’s Test for Equality of Variance
Sig. (2-tailed)
Equal variance assumed
Equal variance not assumed
HCN support
Equal variance assumed
Equal variance not assumed
Expatriate adjustment
Equal variance assumed
Equal variance not assumed
Occupational withdrawal intention
Equal variance assumed
Equal variance not assumed
Table III. One-way ANOVA between Main Variables and Positions
Top management
Middle management
HCN support
Top management
Middle management
Expatriate adjustment
Top management
Middle management
Occupational withdrawal intention
Top management
Middle management