How do you fear? Examining expatriates’ perception of danger and its consequences

Pia Charlotte Faeth, Markus G. Kittler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)
208 Downloads (Pure)


The purpose of this paper is to investigate the differing perceptions of fear of expatriates operating in terror-exposed Nairobi and the high-crime environment of Johannesburg and its impact on stress and well-being. It illustrates how expatriates cope with the challenges associated with these two regions.

Following an interpretative and inductive research approach, qualitative content analyses were conducted using evidence from in-depth interviews with 12 expatriates in senior management or officer positions within a large global organisation, with respondents based in South Africa and Kenya.

Data suggest that expatriates in the more terrorism-exposed context perceive fear less strongly than expatriates in environments categorised by high degrees of conventional crime. Fear seems to relate to physical well-being via restricted freedom of movement, but there is little evidence that fear affects mental well-being. The study finds that respondents in terror-exposed Nairobi tend to engage more in avoidance-oriented coping strategies, whereas their counterparts in the high-crime environment of Johannesburg predominantly rely on problem-focused coping.

Practical implications:
The qualitative design allows practitioners to better understand expatriates’ perceptions of fear, its consequences for stress, and well-being and potential coping strategies expatriates employ. It discusses a set of practical recommendations focussing on the deployment of expatriates assigned to dangerous locations.

This study develops a distinction between terror and conventional crime and contributes with practical insights for assignments into dangerous work environments. The geographic lens of the study provides an in-depth look at expatriation challenges in an arguably neglected regional context.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)391-417
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Global Mobility
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 11 Dec 2017


  • well-being
  • terrorism
  • stress
  • coping
  • fear
  • crime
  • expatriate management


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