What Leaders Need To Know About Managing Repatriates

May 22, 2017

“Re-entry shock is like wearing contact lenses in the wrong eyes: everything looks almost right.”

–  Robyn Pascoe

Whilst it is widely acknowledged that repatriation is one of the most difficult aspects of the global mobility cycle it still remains one of the least managed components of the expat assignment. Often associated with high turnover and low engagement, the issue of how to successfully repatriate employees as highly engaged, confident and productive individuals is one that seems to elude most managers and organisations.

Given the high initial costs associated with expatriate assignments, the prospect of losing the recently acquired knowledge, experience and networks of their expatriate population, as well as any future potential only compounds the issue. Furthermore, when repatriates do leave, they typically walk straight through the door of a competitor who stands to yield all of the benefits without having paid for them.

As the demand for global leadership continues to rise, how organisations position themselves to re-integrate and leverage the experience of their assignees will be critical to their future success. The recent 2016 Brookfield Global Mobility survey suggests that 88% of organisations expect their international population to either increase or stay the same in the coming few years, which means the issue of repatriation is not one that will disappear. 

Fundamentally repatriation is about reconnection. Reconnecting to people, places, ways of life and ways of doing business. It is the most under-estimated component of the assignment, both by individuals and organisations simply because it is assumed that ‘going home’ should be the easy bit. It has been familiar once before, individuals have typically been very successful in the environment and have been able to ‘read the play’ intuitively and accurately.  However it is the very nature of assumption that seems to catch both the individual and the organisation by surprise. Given the rapid rate at with organisations change today, individuals can all too easily find themselves returning to structures, leadership teams and market demands that are completely different. To assume that repatriates can simply ‘slot back into’ an old way of working is both short sighted and dangerous.

Organisations and line managers therefore need to ensure that they are helping individuals reconnect with confidence, clarity and purpose.  Understanding that a relocation has impacted every area of their life and not just work is critical. Families have been moved, homes have been changed, new communities have been navigated; and these all need to be reconnected upon an individual’s return.

The following 3 components of repatriation seek to address the core areas for leaders to consider in helping their employees purposefully re-engage upon their return:

  • Logistics: The relocation of an individual’s physical and financial assets is considered the most primary need. Whilst most organisations are well equipped to handle these primary logistics well-established outsourced partnerships, there often remains a need to ensure that support is extended to help spouses and families fully reintegrate in a timely and efficient manner.
  • Career: Whilst career management needs to be an integral part of the entire expatriate assignment, support should be extended through re-induction programs to update and educate individuals on current structures, leadership styles and market demands. Critical to any program is the ability for individuals to see how their international experience has current relevance to the organisation and what the opportunities are to leverage it. Sponsors and mentors can play a key role to help individuals navigate the nuances of business rhythms and operating preferences.
  • Health & Wellbeing: As with any significant move, the impact on individual lifestyles is enormous. Often lifestyle readjustment and reverse culture shock are the hardest components to overcome. Connecting your employees with networks groups where others are currently navigating a similar transition – or who have recently done so – can offer enormous social and emotional support and help expedite the transition period.