Multinational organizations invest in their high potentials by sending them on international assignments. Expatriates are expected to acquire global leadership skills, to bring home new market knowledge, and to become ready for the next career step in the organization.
But what if the next step for these motivated, high-value employees is leaving?
It’s a retention nightmare for receiving managers and HR’s talent development strategy. A costly one, too, with 17% of companies reporting an increase in attrition rate, while the overall average is reported to be 12% in 2014 (Brookfield Global Mobility Report, 2015). Repatriate attrition is particularly challenging, as most do not leave straight after the assignment, but within a few years after returning. (20% leave their organizations while on assignment, 25% within first year, 26% within two years). Is this a problem of growing frustrations and lacking challenges in a less international environment? Underused new skills and knowledge make these high -potentials a gold mine for headhunting companies.
In order to address the retention challenge, the receiving manager and the repat have to work hand in hand to find a successful re-integration process while following a global career management guideline. It is therefore surprising to find that 86% of companies do not have a formal repatriation strategy linked to career management and retention (BBC, 2014). Even if there is no formal strategy in place, receiving managers of repatriates can contribute to a successful, global talent development structure in three ways. After all, what is the ROI of an international assignment without the re-integration of the new skills and expertise into the organization?
1. Uncover Lessons Learned
More than 50% of organizations report not having a specific process for utilizing the skills and experience of their repatriates (Brookfield, 2015). Would an employee that just returned from a 2-3 year assignment abroad, with many learning moments and new insights into the region, not have an urge to share his or her experience if he/she was loyal and engaged? Providing an outlet to present key learnings, expertise, and suggestions – not only for the region but also the mobility process – should not just be seen as ticking a box, but as a key opportunity to improve the organization.
2. Align the repatriates’ competencies
Following from the first step of acknowledging the acquired skills and expertise, it is then important to find a position where those competencies can be utilized. Nothing is more frustrating for repatriates than spending a considerable amount of their careers stretching their comfort zones, learning by immersing themselves in a new culture and context, only to then go back to the same old. If the organizational needs do not allow matching those new skills to a job, it is a good idea for the receiving manager and the department to suggest alternative outlets such as lunch & learns, involvement in mentoring or leadership programs, supporting future assignees, etc.
3. Balance the workload
Receiving managers should not forget that re-integration and alignment after an international assignment do not stop outside the company’s door. Repats are faced with personal challenges of the international relocation, re-adjusting to their home culture, and many small, additive administrative burdens that can make the initial start period a stressful one. Communicating clearly about the new position’s travel and availability expectations in the beginning of the repatriation is essential to finding a solution that helps the repat overcome the re-adjustment phase, while providing value and support to the organization. Think of it like moving away from the term “hitting the ground running,” but rather properly (re-)onboarding the repatriating employee.
If you are receiving a returning expat in the next months, our Managing Repatriates Learning Path provides additional valuable strategies and advice for successfully managing repatriates.