Managing employee repatriation

There are a number of support practices that HR professionals can consider to help managers develop realistic expectations about their work and non-work lives before repatriation, making the experience more positive and rewarding for all parties involved.

Maintain contact with the ‘home’ office

Ensuring contact is maintained between the expatriate and their home unit decreases the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ risk for both parties, as well as making the eventual transition from expat to repat smoother. Many expatriates are often ‘tapped up’ by the competition well before their own company starts to talk with them about repatriation.

There are a variety of ways to maintain this contact, for example, inviting expatriate managers to ‘dial in’ periodically to staff or team meetings on a conference call facility that enables them to update their colleagues on their plans and activities; arranging return visits to the home office; or having a named contact in the home country to ensure that both parties are kept informed and up-to-date on progress and plans.

Agree what will happen after the repatriation

Pre-departure career discussions are a positive way for HR professionals to begin managing repatriate expectations. By defining an individual’s repatriation job status early, they are less likely to worry about their situation and more likely to concentrate on the job in hand. As a result, they can better prepare for the repatriation when it eventually occurs.

Following repatriation, many employees find themselves in a holding post, with no serious job to do, or in a new position with clearly less authority than they had while abroad. Not only does this situation prevent individuals from using the skills they acquired overseas, but it has a significant negative impact on employee morale and motivation, with the prospect of driving valuable employees out of the business.

Manage the additional knowledge coming in to the business

The organisation needs to consider how it will use the additional knowledge and experience individual managers have gained through the expatriate experience.

This process needs to be considered and managed from the beginning of the managers’ relocation – development and strategic goals need to be agreed from the outset to ensure there are valuable outcomes for the individual and the organisation. ‘Debriefing sessions’ with senior managers are also a good way for the organisation to learn more about its international environment and to make the repatriates feel valued.

Consider the impact on work and personal relationships

The change in interpersonal relationships between repatriates, their colleagues and friends must also be a significant consideration. Reintegration, particularly where there may be jealousy about the time abroad or changes within departments, can cause problems for repatriates. Maintaining communications between the expatriate manager and the ‘home’ office will minimise the effect of this situation.

Family members and dependants also have a huge impact on the success of the repatriation – if they are unable to adjust to the move ‘home’, this is likely to become the focus of the employee’s attention, distracting them from their work and, as the employee becomes less productive and less motivated, their levels of satisfaction and their value to the business are diminished.

HR needs to consider strategies such as re-entry counselling for all those involved in the move, as well as building in the needs of the family and dependants into repatriation programmes.

Is it worth it?

Although it is a complicated process to implement, generally it is accepted that foreign experience is good for career development. It is only when there is no careful management of the repatriation process that the value of overseas experience may be lost to the organisation and to the individual manager.

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