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The Mind / Brain Identity Theory

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In theory, social identity indicates how a person perceive himself as a member of multiple social groups that one belongs to (Smart, J. J. (2007, May 18). In organizational term, the theory means that the more expertize life experience one is, the more tendency they are to modify their behaviors in order to fit in the workplace environment (ref.). People are usually view themselves as members of different social categories at the same time, which is called “multiple role identity” (ref.). For example, at home one is a son but his role at school is student chairman. Interestingly, scientists have found that the issue of repatriate, an employee working in a host country returns his or her home country after international assignments, turnover is associated with different aspects of social identity theory.

As the growth globalization become more significant in today’s world, the number of workers working in international environment is relatively increasing. Having sent their employees abroad is now becoming more common and necessary for firms to understand foreign work environment as well as for the future development of firms globally. However, the results of the research from Brookfield Global Relocation (2010) Trends Report about the rates of repatriates quitting their jobs after foreign assignments were alarming. Of the 13% of annual turnover rates in 120 sample multinational corporation (MNCs) in 2010, 38% were from repatriates (ref.).

It is not always the case that people who have returned their home country from international work assignments will end up quitting their jobs. In fact, some research from Sussman’s (2002) have shown that unless those people change their country culture to adapt to foreign environment, they will experience no or little cultural shock. The reason for that can be explained in a “sense-making” process. Such complicated process will occur when people try to alter their role identity – one’s view of self – in order to close the gap of one’s home culture with the host country culture. However, the real stress have not yet occurred until they return home, in which their body and mind will have to go through re-“sense-making” procedures, or “reverse cultural shock” (ref.). Therefore, those who change their culture a little or not at all will not have to go through such a process twice.

Other than sense-making procedures, the effect of an employee’s role identity also leads to job turnover. The reason for that is people who went abroad for business trips usually value and consider themselves as much more meaningful than those who have no international experience. Thus, they will even consider the case of promotional opportunity or hope to see an increase in their annual salary. Putting too much hope will only lead to more disappointment. After returning home, repatriates will experience the same shock as international employees working in domestic firms, in which they will find that they no longer “fit in” the workplace. This transition is called international role identity because when staying and working in host countries for a while, they realized that the stereotype people in their country used to assume about the host country might be inaccurate. As a result, expatriates have developed tight connections and relationships with the people there, shown their sympathy and respect with those people living in different cultures, and indeed become “their people”.  After they come back their home country, they will suffer from “identity strain”. When it happens, they feel that the organization does not value their work experience in the foreign environment.

There are three stages in the transformation from international role identity to identity strain, which are identity standard, input from the social environment, and comparison process. At the first stage, an actor is assigned an identity and he or she sets up a set of expectations that he or she hope to receive for that role. For instance, repatriates expect a higher income, higher chance to be promoted or appreciation from their colleagues. The second and third stages are indeed associated and related to each other. After finding out how other people look at him or her, he or she will compare that interpretation to their standards at the first stage. An example for that is

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