Businesses of all shapes and sizes will continue to place a monumental focus on talent retention this year as staff and skills shortages keep biting. In such a climate, it’s worrying for those in mobility management to know that the post-repatriation employee attrition rate is estimated to be up to three times higher than the company average.
Recent post-repatriation statistics are very hard to come by as few companies effectively track these employees, which is a big problem in itself! However, our 2018 figures from a client Policy and Practices Survey show that while close to 90% of companies have a repatriation support policy, most of them define it practically covering things like household goods shipments, temporary living arrangements and so on. Only 9% provide support such as assignee repatriation integration briefings.
When you consider the immense cost of international assignments, losing a repatriated employee because they don’t feel adequately supported means your ROI takes a severe hit. With that in mind, we share some ways to enhance your current repatriation policy to retain the valued staff you have. But we’ll first turn to the benefits of such a policy, as well as some of the problems assignees face when coming home.
The benefits of a great repatriation policy
There are many paybacks to providing an optimal repatriation policy. Let’s start with ROI.
As previously mentioned, you outlay a significant amount of time and money into each overseas employee assignment. A successful assignment – and return on investment – is usually defined as the employee hitting their goals or targets. But with the right repatriation policy in place, one that effectively retains these employees, your business will also reap the rewards of their enhanced knowledge.
This knowledge can be then transferred in a number of ways, each bringing you a specific ROI in turn. This knowledge can:
- Improve company processes and procedures to produce greater efficiencies, which has natural positive flow-on effect to your bottom-line.
- Be shared with other staff – while it may help them with their daily workload, it can also assist other overseas assignees by providing them with key cultural, business and client-specific information, easing their transition and allowing them to hit the ground running.
- Enhance your company skillset – it’s natural for overseas assignees to grow personally and professionally from their experience abroad. Some develop their leadership capabilities, others their project management skills and so on. With such skills in high demand in the current business climate, you’ll benefit from them being right at your fingertips.
Current repatriation problems
In mobility management circles, repatriation is often referred to as the ‘forgotten phase’, with most focusing on departure. Sadly, it’s also the phase where the attrition risk is at its highest.
What many don’t realise – including the assignees themselves – is that returning home can be just as challenging as entering the host country.
Here are just a few of the issues assignees face when repatriating:
- Work adjustment problems
Many companies send their assignees back to their old position almost as if the overseas assignment didn’t occur. They’re expected to just ‘get back to it’ with little scope given to capitalise on the international experience they’ve gained. This poses a real attrition risk in these talent short times – assignees well understand the value of their new found knowledge and may be willing to take that to the market, especially if they don’t have a clear progression pathway utilising these skills.
- Lack of connection
Once assignees return back to work in their home country, it’s common for their management to move from global mobility back to internal HR. Sometimes there’s a lack of proper handover, especially if the two teams aren’t well connected.
- Psychological impacts
This category is often where returning employees encounter the most issues. There are many psychological adjustments they need to make, ones that can be confronting as they’re often unexpected. Reverse culture shock is a big one. Things can rapidly change at home, especially if an employee and their family are on a long-term oversees assignment. It could be small things like a new shopping centre popping up to replace their kids’ once-favourite playground, or bigger things like a shift in social groups and family dynamics, severely affecting children and adults alike. Some partners return home but are afraid to re-integrate with their community or even unpack their belongings, not knowing when they might be required to leave again with their spouse. Others go through a period of feeling home sick for their host country.A feeling of not quite belonging is also common. Where they once understood their home culture, they have now adapted to their host culture. On returning, they inherently have a bit of both, which can be confusing and at times, isolating. These feelings can lead to assignees becoming overly critical and exhausted which at the extreme, might lead to withdrawal and depression.
While there appears to be numerous problems with repatriation, there is some good news as the right repatriation policy can stop many of these from occurring in the first place. Here are some suggestions to help you do that.
- Address repatriation before the assignment begins
The best time to talk about repatriation is at the very start of the assignment. It’s key to help assignees understand that planning for their return is just as important as planning for their departure. In conjunction with your internal HR team and mobility management, discuss how you will support them and their families when they return. Set clear and realistic expectations about post-assignment career pathways and compensation, with a caveat that adjustments may need to be made with time. At this same meeting, set up a regular communication schedule between the assignee, the home office, the home HR department and your mobility team.
- Create a culture where global experience and competencies are valued
Your international assignee returns with a goldmine of cultural and company-specific information. Part of your repatriation policy should include ways to leverage that. Not only does it benefit the company at large, but this type of recognition and appreciation goes a long way towards ensuring you retain the repatriated employee. Some examples include them becoming a mentor for, and training others, going on expat assignments, or providing opportunities where they can share learnings about their international experience and organisational insight, particularly in relation to internal relationships. Here at Crown World Mobility, we offer a Virtual Repatriation Program that helps your employees reflect on their experiences abroad, plus learn how to articulate the impact it’s had on their values, behaviours and skills. It also helps them:
– Understand reverse culture shock
– Examine the home country mindset and how to reintegrate successfully
– Develop clear expectations and goals for reintegration
– An optional age-appropriate program for older children in consultation with parents
- Provide them with a ‘home buddy’
While the vast majority of companies ensure their international assignees have a mentor or buddy in their host country, many don’t consider doing the reverse. Making sure your assignees have a home buddy helps them remain connected not just with the dynamics of the home work office, but the home culture as well. It makes re-entry all that easier as they have some familiarity with what has and hasn’t change.
- Encourage home visits
It’s likely you provide your assignees with trips home to see family and friends. Encourage them to not only take these trips (rather than exploring the host country as many tend to do), but to visit the office, whether it’s to attend some important meetings, share their experiences, or just informally catch up with colleagues (or ideally, a little of all!).
- Take a holistic view
It’s important that your repatriation policy also extends to your assignee’s spouse and/or family. What support can you provide to help them all reintegrate successfully at home? It might be temporary accommodation, assistance with getting children back into school, support for their spouse to return to work, counselling services should they need them, and/or a small allowance to compensate them for miscellaneous returning costs.
- Track them
Consider implementing a repatriate tracking system that allows for regular check-ins over a one to two year period after return. This will help you nip any possible problems in the bud before they have a chance to bloom into something bigger. It’s also a great way to understand if you have a repatriation turnover problem.
Further repatriation support?
As you can see, a comprehensive repatriation program is a powerful retention tool that can also serve to greatly enhance your work culture.
Here at Crown World Mobility, we have extensive experience in assisting our clients deal with the challenges of an international posting, both pre and post-assignment. We maintain a deep focus on the repatriation phase as we know how crucial it is to retain your valued staff.
Connect with one of our global mobility specialists to find out how we can support you, whether it’s programs to enhance your repatriation policy, help with formulating a great assignee relocation package, or overseeing the entire assignment process for you.