Repatriation – Retaining Globally Experienced Employees In a world that is more connected and globalised than ever before, the prospect of living and working abroad continues to remain a valuable opportunity for businesses and individuals alike. However, when the time inevitably arrives for individuals to repatriate home after an overseas assignment, there is a need to implement strategies to engage, develop and retain globally experienced employees throughout each phase of the mobility lifecycle. The need for Australian businesses to build a greater international presence off shore has never been more pronounced, particularly at a time when we are seeing increased business impact coming through the Asia Pacific region and beyond. Global workforces are continuing to grow, many of which will ultimately make the return journey home.
GETTING TO THE HEART OF THE MATTER
A wealth of support is often provided by businesses to assist with navigating the outbound journey, however repatriating employees is an often overlooked, but critical aspect of managing global workforces. Assumptions are often made about ease of the re-integration process both personally and professionally, particularly when employees are returning to cities and work environments that are already familiar to them. At the heart of the issue, is disconnection. Individuals often experience a sense of isolation upon their return home, where they are unable to see how their international experience, knowledge and networks can be applied in their home country, and the value their global experience brings to their work. The impact this has on businesses in detrimental both culturally and commercially. A recent Brookfield report on global talent mobility trends found that up to 24% of individuals leave their organisation within 12 months of arriving home, and up to 35% in two years. Overlooking the repatriation process in the talent mobility lifecycle can mean that businesses also fail to reap the value of their investment and miss opportunities to capture knowledge, relationships and experience. Failing to retain global talent can then impede succession plans and embed cultural issues, not to mention the cost of losing repatriate talent, when there has been considerable investment to take them offshore in the first place.
THE POWER OF SHIFTING THE DISCUSSION
A key purpose of repatriation programs is to shift returning employees from feeling like their experience is irrelevant or undervalued, to feeling they can connect and contribute. There is a need for businesses to understand that returning employees have, as a result of their international experience, changed on both a professional and personal level, and that the repatriation journey impacts both these aspects of their life. These often fall in to six key categories, or ‘zones’, which range from the physical move and associated logistics to the emotional journey and stress factors of relocating internationally. Repatriation programs are an essential part of international careers and should ultimately reiterate the value of international experience. The most successful programs, and many that I have designed, demonstrate a commitment to the individual and creates a strong internal cultural message that their global experience is valued and is useful, which ultimately helps them to reconnect and apply their learnings in a tangible way that is also recognised. Designing programs to assist employees with their return journey will not only assist with staff retention but will also help to capture their invaluable international knowledge, which can strengthen your organisational competitive advantage and build a stronger, more engaged workforce. It’s about helping individuals to reconnect with confidence, clarity and purpose by empowering those who have lived and worked abroad to effectively leverage their international experience upon their return.
SUCCESSFUL REPATRIATION STRATEGIES
To successfully re-integrate your globally mobile workforce in their home country, consider the following strategies:
- Educate them on what has changed at an industry more broadly and at a company level. In even as little as six months abroad, there can be changes to the competitive and internal landscape, and international assignments often last considerably longer. Time should be allocated to a re-onboarding process to cover legal, compliance changes, strategy direction, new leadership or other structural changes.
- Connect them to ‘who’s who in the zoo’, to facilitate an appreciation for various roles within the business. The knowledge of the delineation of roles and responsibilities helps your repatriate workforce to understand, at a foundational level, what is being done and who is working on it.
- Empower them to ‘own’ elements of their return journey by facilitating opportunities for them to connect with others in the business who have also undertaken international assignments, as well as those who may like to have the opportunity to work abroad. Since returning home is all about reconnection, this ensures their work environment is not only receptive to sharing knowledge, but actively encourages it.
The combination of knowledge acquired from foreign markets, cultures and ways of working and the skills that individuals rapidly develop as a result of taking an overseas assignment creates a strong value proposition that both the employee and employer can benefit from. There is a great opportunity for businesses to create meaningful and engaging repatriation strategies to re-onboard talent, which is critical if organisations are to maximise the return on investment, generate future growth and create lasting impact.
Published by: The Employee Mobility Institute (TEMI), September 2019
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