US Companies: The source of happiness and/or stress for foreign workers…

| February 17, 2017

US Companies: The source of happiness and/or stress for foreign workers…


A growing number of people throughout the world are working in temporary and often insecure positions in other countries.   It seems reasonable to assume that foreign workers experience even more stress than do domestic workers

Foreign workers with an H1B visa are individuals who seek employment in the United States without sponsorship from a firm in their home country and who hold temporary work visas in the United States. These workers have become increasingly important to the U.S. economy. But they are also more likely than permanent residents and citizens to experience workplace stress. Thus they are more subject to the problems that stress brings: physical exhaustion, reduced work performance, job withdrawal, and negative emotional states.
A growing number of people throughout the world are working in temporary and often insecure positions in other countries. It seems reasonable to assume that foreign workers experience even more stress than do domestic workers. Furthermore, it is likely that foreign employees respond to stressors differently than other workers, given that they are newcomers to the local culture and remain at least in part “outsiders.”
Foreign worker status is defined operationally as holding the U.S. H1B visa. This is a non-immigrant visa, which allows a foreign national to be employed by a U.S. company for up to six years. The H1B visa is granted only to those who will be employed temporarily in a “specialty” occupation – one that requires at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent. Examples are architecture, engineering, mathematics, sciences, social sciences, medicine and health, education, and business. H1B status requires a sponsoring U.S. employer who will file a labor condition application (LCA) with the U.S. Department of Labor attesting to payment of prevailing wages for the position and the working conditions offered. Since applying for a non-immigration visa is generally quicker than applying for a U.S. Green Card, professionals required on long-term assignment in the U.S. are often initially brought in using such visas. In 2003, the United States limited the number of aliens who may be issued an H1B visa to 195,000. This decreased to 65,000 workers with college degrees and to in addition to 20,000 workers with graduate degrees in 2004.
Foreign worker status and stress
Foreign workers are subject to stress from the temporary and potentially insecure nature of their visa status. The H1B grants an initial stay of up to three years, but it may be extended for an additional two years, and subsequently for one more, thus a maximum of six. Anyone wishing to stay longer than that may apply for permanent residency (the Green Card). If they do not gain permanent residence when the six year period runs out, they must live outside the U.S. for at least one year before an application can be made to re-enter on a temporary visas. H1B visa holders have the right to remain in the United States only as long as they have a job here. Furthermore, neither they nor the company can be sure if they will be allowed to remain beyond the initial three year period. As a result they will have a temporary and quite likely marginal status within their organization.

Foreign workers are also stressed by the process of acculturating to American culture and the culture of their workplace. While these situations are somewhat different from that of foreign workers, they are alike in that the individual must deal with the problems and contradictions of trying to accommodate to an unfamiliar culture and set of institutions. Stress arises from the difficulty in fitting one’s national self-identity with the needs and expectations of life in the new country. Presumably, acculturation demands learning about and identifying withthe new culture well enough to function well in it. But it also requires retaining a strong enough identification with the former culture to maintain an integrated sense of self.

According to research, greater linguistic and associational acculturation reduces stress and negative emotions, but they also tended to encourage abandoning one’s national identity, and this may contribute to depression. Further, one of the major effects of excessive stress is reduced job performance. For a foreign worker, poor performance can be a reason for job loss and fear of job loss is likely to generate more stress. Thus there is the possibility of foreign workers becoming involved in a downward spiral that could end in job loss and possibly an unwanted departure from this country.
Residential insecurity
The effect of residential uncertainty on employees has not been researched, but it seems likely to be a source of stress. Insecurity constantly threatens the ability to remain in one’s position and require constant vigilance to deal with them. Foreign workers will be hyper-attuned to the possibility of a poor performance evaluation that might lead to relocation or dismissal. Maintaining residency requires keeping abreast of paperwork and avoiding infractions that could threaten one’s visa status. Constant vigilance and worry about threat’s to one’s status drain energy. This eventually leads to stress reactions.
Job insecurity
Given their uncertain job tenure and probable unfamiliarity with company politics, foreign employees are likely to experience insecurity in the broad sense. They may face job restructuring done without their input, or they may be reassigned to positions or units that other employees seek to avoid. They will not be plugged into informal communication networks and thus are less likely to hear in advance about possible changes and threats. Indeed, it seems likely that a cloud of uncertainty will hang over their position in their company.
Employees normally attempt to deal with employment uncertainty by working harder and gaining the favor of their managers. Or they may become resigned and repress the feelings of insecurity. Either response requires time and energy and if kept up long enough will generate fatigue and psychological distress.
Separation from social and family networks
Another reason that foreign workers will experience greater stress is separation from familiar interpersonal contacts with families, friends, and communities. Family and social networks of foreign employees will be less extensive and established than those of permanent residents and citizens.
Close social ties are a source of emotional support, useful information, referrals, recommendations, loans, and services such as child care, transportation, loan of household implements, etc. The evidence shows that social support helps reduce stress. Foreign employees will be torn from their accustomed support networks when they move to the host country. They will likely have less extensive social networks available to them in their new location, and thus they are more likely to experience stress.
Foreign employees will tend to have less power and control in the work place given their status as newcomers and outsiders. They will have fewer resources to wage political struggles with their supervisors or other employees. They are less aware of the appropriate “rules” for politicking, have less knowledge of the organization’s culture, and have limited access to communication and friendship networks. Collectivist cultures tend to value harmony more than conflict. Thus collectivists may find it more difficult to engage in the rough-and-tumble of political negotiation. Furthermore, acquiring influence depends on have well-developed network ties with the right people. Collectivists are used to forming networks based on familial and community ties, and may be less ready to make contacts merely to promote their political position in the organization.
Role Ambiguity
Foreign workers will experience role ambiguity for several reasons. First, they are less familiar with host country culture and workplace practices. Thus they are less able to understand the informal or cultural rules that guide work. Many of these rules are tacit and therefore not formulated. Because foreigners are unfamiliar with the culture, they will be less able to pick up these tacit cues. Because they may be less competent with the national language they may not fully understand directives regarding work duties and expectations. As newcomers they will tend to be less included in informal workgroups where work practices and values are often learned. Thus, foreign employees will tend to experience greater role ambiguity than do their host country counterparts.
The option of quitting and going to another company is slim. Thus neither fight nor flight fully resolves the problem, and either response is likely to bring further consequences that drain energy and create new problems.
It seems likely that foreign workers will have similar experiences. Many come from non-European countries and thus have racial or religious characteristics that fit one or more of the “protected” classes recognized as potential targets of discriminatory actions. Their different nationality will be obvious. They may also experience discrimination aimed at their marginal status in the organization.
For instance, strong self-esteem or extensive social support may reduce or eliminate the harmful consequences of an objectively stressful situation. We suggest that residential status moderates the relationship between potential stressors and their outcomes. As outsiders and newcomers both to American culture and to their companies, foreign employees will, in general, have less knowledge of how to respond to demands and less access to resources needed. Therefore the same stressful situations will cause greater stress to them than to permanent residents or U.S. citizens.
Employees may respond to job insecurity by trying to appear indispensable the organization. This involves knowing what managers see as important and understanding how to present oneself to them. Foreigners are less likely to have this kind of knowledge. When faced with actual or potential job loss, American employees can come to accept it and to begin efforts to find a new job. Job loss for foreign employees is more distressful because it threatens the employee’s ability to remain in the country.
Role ambiguity increases stress because it makes it unclear what the job requires and therefore what is needed for adequate or superior performance. Not only does this decrease intrinsic job satisfaction, but it means workers are never sure if they have performed adequately. This is especially disturbing to foreign employees because poor evaluations can impact their job tenure and thus residency status. American citizens can respond to work role ambiguity in several ways. Their more secure status may mean that they are less averse to admitting to a supervisor that they need guidance. They have more developed collegial networks, which can be used to seek advice on what the job “really” requires. They may have better knowledge of written documents that clarify job requirements. Thus ambiguous role expectations will tend to create more problems for foreign than for host-country employees.
National culture may have a direct effect on experienced stress; that is, aggregate levels of stress may vary by country. National culture may also be a moderator of the relationship between potential “stressors” and experienced stress. That is, looking across cultures, what is stressful in one culture might not be stressful in another one. Europeans may cope with stressful situations in different ways than Americans do.
It is likely they will retain their national cultural values while working here during the relatively small time allowed by the H1B visa. Collectivist cultures put great emphasis on inclusion in larger entities such as families, organizations, and communities. These attachments entail obligations, mutual dependence, and support. People in collectivist cultures are imbued with the sense that they owe allegiance to these groups and that their personal goals should be based on what is good for the group.

People from individualist and collectivist cultures should experience stress differently. Collectivist cultures tend to value long-term security. Thus collectivists will find the residential and job insecurity associated with foreign worker status to be unfamiliar, out of balance, and thus upsetting. They measured one dimension of the individualism-collectivism construct and found that the impact of job insecurity on stress was significantly stronger among those with collectivist values. Given this orientation, it is likely that foreign employees from collectivist cultures are more likely to feel distress when separated from their familiar groups, and more bereft when encountering demands and problems in new locations, since their appropriate sources of support are not easily available. Individualists, on the other hand, will see insecurity as mildly upsetting, but will immediately set to work dealing with the causes of this insecurity.

Collectivists are more likely to be upset by their exclusion from influence networks. They may come from a situation in which their status and prerogatives in an organization or a professional school were well known and accepted. In their new organization they will be relatively powerless and may find it demeaning to have to compete to find a role.
Collectivists are more likely to be distressed by role ambiguity. Collectivist cultures tend to derive operative rules from tradition and long-standing networks of interpersonal relationships. One knows how to perform one’s job because of great familiarity both with the job and with managers and fellow workers who can give directions and feedback. The collectivist will thus attempt to respond to work role ambiguity by attempting to become familiar with the traditional culture of the organization and work unit. This requires a great deal of communication with managers and other employees, during which the foreign worker displays uncertainty and a certain lack of knowledge, which can be upsetting in collectivist cultures that value “face.” The individualist will also be bothered by work role ambiguity, but her reaction will typically be that it is an expected problem for a newcomer and that it is entirely appropriate to seek direction and clarification. Furthermore, individualist cultures tend also to be more universalistic, meaning that work role instructions are more likely to be codified in job descriptions and instructions. Individualists are more used to using written sources to clarify their work expectations.

Finally, collectivists are more likely to be distressed by the experience of discrimination. Their response to such problems in their home countries would be to go to established networks for support, but they will be less able to do so. They may be less likely to challenge discrimination since they see it as part of the accepted informal rules of the organization. They will feel more defenseless and thus more likely to experience a stress response. Individualists, on the other hand, will be upset by discrimination, but will have more tendencies to see it as a problem of one or a few individuals.
These effects of stress are stronger for foreign employees than for residents or citizens. Stress itself is difficult to deal with, but foreign workers are less likely to have the tools and resources to do so for the reasons mentioned above.

Ali Soylu, PhD.
Assistant Professor,
Cameron University Lawton, OK



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