One of the biggest mistakes a company can make regarding relocation is assuming that an international assignment is complete once the employee returns to the home country. In many ways, it is at this exact moment that HR needs to step in with gusto. A repatriation program is a vital step in the process that should not be taken lightly, but in many cases there is no formal program in place to help expats adjust to their return home. In fact, KPMG reports that only 36 percent of companies have an advance, proactive repatriation process in place, and only 30 percent offer post-assignment career planning. When you consider that companies spend millions of dollars on global assignments, this number is shocking.
Any company with an eye towards the bottom line will need to address this ROI problem. The first step is to understand why so many repatriations fail – and what HR can do to help mitigate the situation. Surely, every transferee is different, but here are a few common links that may be a start towards improving your repatriation program and, consequently, talent retention.
Problem: Culture Shock
Living abroad, regardless of country, means living a different lifestyle. When an assignee returns, they are likely to struggle with readjusting to cultural norms and customs. Additionally, it may be hard for the transferee, and his or her family, to reconnect with family and friends who may have also changed over the course of the assignment.
Solution: Stay Connected and Provide Support
Your assignee will be working hard to reconnect with friends and family as well as get accustomed to life back home. This will be stressful on its own, so it is important to make the transition back into work a simpler one. One way to do this is to not be a stranger. When possible, HR should remain in contact with the transferee throughout the assignment period in order to keep employees updated on company policies, achievements and events. Discuss how the assignment is going and any new skills the transferee may have picked up while abroad.
Further, many companies offer a mentor program throughout the assignment, which aids repatriation. It is helpful to have fellow employees who have already completed an international assignment connect with their colleagues abroad because they can relate and answer questions that others may not be able to address. They will also be able to keep assignees in the loop on events at home and council them through the adjustment period upon return.
Problem: Career Advancement Miscommunication
A lot of employees assume that accepting an international assignment leads to a promotion once it is complete. Of course, this is not always the case. If an assignee is under the impression that they will be moving up the corporate ladder once they come home, they are bound to be discontent when this does not happen. In many cases, this is the factor that causes them to quit shortly after the assignment is complete.
Solution: Communicate Before the Move
If you can guarantee a step up after a successful assignment, great! However, this is unlikely. Over time, things change and issues surface that need immediate attention. The position that was available when your transferee left may not really be there when they return. Instead, talk to your employee before the move. What are their career advancement goals within the company? What do they hope to get out of the assignment?
Be clear about your expectations as well. You can use this conversation to feel out whether the employee is the right fit – and worth the time, effort, and money that goes into an international relocation. Some companies even create a repatriation contract that specifies the employee’s future with the company. While rigid, these steps eliminate confusion and that is a critical for avoiding he said/she said situations down the road.
Problem: No Position Available
Sometimes, an employee is sent abroad to fulfill a need outside of their regular position. Since the original role still needs to be done, positions are often filled by new or other employees. However, if nothing is set up for the employee upon their return, they may feel as though they have been cast aside in an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality.
Solution: Plan Ahead and Discuss the Possibilities
Your employee knows that their original tasks are still expected to be completed in their absence so it is understandable to have somebody fill their shoes during that time. How this is handled can make or break their return to the home office. Assess the skills acquired by the transferee over the course of their relocation. Are they a good fit for a different position? As positions open up and opportunities arise, analyze and then contact the employee. Be open about opportunities that are available, even if the position is a horizontal move. You want your employee to feel appreciated and needed. If it helps, have your employee do a self-analyses that includes a proposal on how he or she can use their experience and new knowledge to help the company.
Did you notice a trend in the three solutions? Communication is vital in all aspects of relocation, including the repatriation phase. Don’t leave repatriation assistance to the day your assignee lands stateside. Successful repatriation programs start six months to a year before the assignee is slated to come home. Talking to your employee before, during, and after the assignment shows you care and that you do have plans for them once they come home. This breeds good will and they will be more likely to work with you to find the best solution, instead of jumping ship.