Job crafting in the vernacular

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Local language proficiency important for expatriates adjusting to working remotely
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Release content has been edited for accuracy. [21 July 2023]

Kyoto, Japan -- When the Covid-19 pandemic arose, many organizations shifted to telework. What happened to expatriates who were sent from the headquarters of multinational corporations? Did their local language proficiency matter in adapting to telework? How did they adapt to the new telework environment?

An international research group, led by Ting Liu and Tomoki Sekiguchi at Kyoto University's Graduate School of Management, conducted a survey of approximately 1,000 expatriates working in eight countries in 2020 when many companies around the world transitioned to telework due to the outbreak of Covid-19. They found that expatriates' local language proficiency affected how they adapted to the telework environment.

Their study focused on job crafting, in which expatriates themselves make changes to the content of their assigned duties as a way to adapt to the telework environment. This study found that expatriates who were fluent in the local language tended to adapt to the new telework environment through approach job crafting, which is oriented toward higher goals and more challenging tasks. In contrast, expatriates not fluent in the local language tended to adapt to their new environment through avoidance job crafting to reduce workload and stress.

Additionally, the study found that when companies provide language support to their expatriates with poor local language proficiency, the tendency to use avoidance job crafting is reduced during telework adaptation.

In today's globalized economy, English proficiency as a default language is arguably important for global talents, including expatriates. But since expatriates also need to communicate with local people and local employees, fluency in the local language is advantageous.

If an expatriate is fluent in the local language, he or she can adapt by making positive attitude changes toward job content when transitioning to a new environment that lacks face-to-face communication, such as telework. On the other hand, if they are not fluent in the local language, they are likely to have a passive attitude toward job content changes when adapting to environments which lack face-to-face communication or situations that require information gathering using local language. However, companies' active support in improving their employees' language proficiency can have a positive effect of reducing the chance of adopting avoidant behavior.

Caption: Expatriates who were fluent in local languages could make changes to the content of their assigned duties; others coped through avoidance job crafting to reduce workload and stress.
Credit: KyotoU/Ting Liu
Publication information



Ting Liu, Ya Xi Shen, Sijia Zhao, Tomoki Sekiguchi (2023). Approaching or avoiding? Mechanisms of host-country language proficiency in affecting virtual work adaptivity during COVID-19. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 34(21), 4046-4073.

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