October 7, 2014

Expat Exodus: Why Employees Returning from Assignments Abroad Often Choose to Resign

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Expat Exodus: Why Employees Returning from Assignments Abroad Often Choose to Resign

As the final stage in the overseas relocation process, repatriation is a critical, yet often forgotten, stage of the assignment cycle. With potentially high attrition rates among repatriated employees, a comprehensive repatriation policy is a vital tool in retaining key talent and maximizing valuable skills gained while on assignment.

Considering the high cost of assignments, it’s surprising that few companies have made progress in formalizing steps to improve repatriation policies and benefits. According to the Cartus 2014 Global Policy and Practices survey, 66% of responding companies do not offer formal Repatriation Integration programs. Ironically, respondents in the same survey rated repatriation highest among aspects of their relocation programs they most want to improve.

Many companies choose to deal with repatriation services on an ad hoc basis instead of implementing a firm policy. The length and location of assignments are often correlated to the extent of repatriation services offered. This approach is less than optimal since it’s always in an employer’s best interest to retain its most talented employees regardless of where they are returning home from. Recognizing that there is potential for reverse culture shock—regardless of regions—must without exception be taken into consideration, and repatriation services should always be offered, no matter the length of time away or the location.

Repatriation Challenges
Repatriation is more than simply “bringing someone back” to the same department or location as they were in previously. The expatriate assignment itself fundamentally changes the assignee and their family. The entire experience will have affected their quality of life, their aspirations, their motivations for working, and their overall psychology. Assignees return as more developed individuals and may not fit easily into their previous role. Repatriation, therefore, is more than placing assignees back into their former roles. Instead, it requires recognition that the employee’s profile has changed, and this new identity must be supported.

Many families struggle with reverse culture shock, especially when they’ve been abroad for a long time. Returning to a lifestyle that has become increasingly “foreign” because they’ve been away so long can result in considerable reverse culture shock for the whole family. It’s also increasingly common for companies to repatriate assignees to their home country, but not necessarily to their original location. This can cause considerable stress for all family members, since the country is familiar but their original location’s support infrastructure no longer exists for them. Setting up a household in a new city can be very challenging for all family members who are trying to re-establish themselves in their home country, without the familiarity of friends, extended family, former schools, or a return to the family’s former home.

Strengthening Links to Talent Management
For both employees and organizations to realize a positive result from global assignments, companies must take additional steps to develop, reward, and retain their talent. On the back end of the assignment, retention and tracking advancement are high on the list of strategies being considered.

According to the results of the Cartus 2013 Talent Management and the Changing Assignee Profile survey, the top three tasks considered for measuring the connections among the success of the assignment, the repatriation, and the employee’s advancement thereafter, were:

•  Tracking post-assignment employee advancement (63%)

•  Tracking post-assignment employee retention (57%)

•  Developing a global talent pool for future assignments (56%)

To increase the ROI of global assignments, nearly half (49%) of survey respondents noted they are looking at repatriation approaches earlier in the process. Thirty-one percent are taking steps to focus on ensuring a suitable position for the employee post-assignment. If both the employee and the organization are to realize a positive impact from global assignments, companies must take additional steps to develop, reward, and retain their talent.

Best Practices in Repatriation
Recommendations for successful repatriation that many companies are putting into practice include:

•  Mentors/sponsors at home location during duration of the assignment

•  Career discussion—including repatriation—at the onset of the assignment

•  More focused career discussions within 12 months of the end of the assignment. Repatriation discussions should happen within six months.

•  Focused networking and HR/business conversations during home-leave trips

•  Assistance for spouse/partner to find employment at home (providing they want to work on return)

•  Repatriation assistance programs for family members

We’re also starting to see discussion on innovative approaches, such as retention bonuses rather than clawback repayment agreements.

Our Cartus Mobility Insights video on Repatriation—featuring Cartus Director of Intercultural, APAC, Jenny Castelino—may also be helpful to both employers and employees. Jenny is also the author of Family Keys to Expat Success, an article recently published in the October issue of MOBILITY Magazine.

Picture of Patrice  Heinzer

Posted By

Patrice Heinzer

About Patrice

Patrice is vice president, Intercultural & Language Solutions and Consulting. She has held a wide variety of leadership posts at Cartus since 1989. She also successfully completed extended business assignments in Singapore and Australia.

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