Employers failing to keep top talent as increasing numbers of expats walk out after return to UK

Companies that send employees on international assignments are failing to capitalise on this investment and losing talented staff through inadequate arrangements for repatriation and professional development

A study of 3,450 expatriates – by professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and Cranfield School of Management – looked at return on investment in this area and found that, on average, 15% of international assignees (often an organisation’s top performers) resigned within 12 months of completing their posting.

As the trend for international assignments increases, organisations are placing more emphasis on selection. On average, a third of new expatriates are in the top performance category as assessed by their company.

Surprisingly, the report finds no correlation between higher pay for expatriates and improved performance. In fact, the higher the pay, the longer assignments tend to last, with some employees happy to prolong an enhanced financial existence abroad, with little incentive to return.

Among the report’s recommendations are that home country managers need to retain a stake in performance assessment, establish clear finish dates at the beginning of the assignment and spend more time on planning for the employee’s return.

The resources committed to international assignments were found to be substantial.

International assignees are supported by twice as many HR professionals (one to 37) than other staff (one to 70). One participating organisation had one HR professional for every 15 expatriate workers.

George Yeandle, a partner at PwC, said: “One of the worst pieces of news a HR manager can get is that a high performing, newly returned employee is leaving, but this is worryingly common.

“Companies need to plan assignments, be clear about objectives and timescales and remain involved in performance management as much as possible, not just hand it over wholesale to the host country.”

But it is the final stage of the reintegration of employees that remained the weakest link, Yeandle warned.

“People who have spent two years working in different ways across varied markets and cultures are not always happy to return to the same desk and the same prospects. In this vacuum of direction, many have a career ‘wobble’ then leave via a recruitment market in which their experience is seen as increasingly valuable.

“By taking steps to plan the repatriation phase, companies will be able to halt the exodus, retain talent and benefit from the substantial investment they have made.”

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