In today’s economy the need for businesses to develop a global mindset in their leaders is no longer a luxury but rather a competitive necessity. As a result the percentage of Australian companies offering their employees the opportunity to live and work overseas continues to increase even within these volatile and uncertain times.
However expatriate assignments don’t come cheap. With the average assignment costing three to four times more than an employee’s salary back home, the cost incurred by businesses today can very quickly exceed the $1 million dollar mark. Often this is the single largest expenditure companies make on any one individual outside of the CEO.
When industry statistics suggest that on average 20% of returning employees leave their organisation within their first year ‘home’ and up to 30% leave by the end of second year is it little wonder that the issue of repatriation management concerns many business leaders. Coupled with the fact that those who do remain with the business often struggle to re-engage and meaningfully apply – let alone leverage – their experience and knowledge, this loss of ROI, IP, relationships and future business opportunities is both detrimental and alarming.
So why are so many repatriates leaving?
In talking to many repatriates almost all rate the lack of meaningful opportunity to use the knowledge, experience and skills acquired during their overseas experience as their key frustration.
No longer able to leverage these experiences leave many feeling unchallenged and unfulfilled in what they are doing. For many their experience can easily be likened to flying out in business class and returning home on the equivalent of a red eye flight…. in economy!
As they embarked upon their new assignment they were excited about what lay ahead, felt well supported and well positioned to succeed. Conversely upon their return, many repatriates associated ‘going back’ with going backwards and were left feeling disconnected from not only the day-to-day operations of their organisation but also from every other area of their former life.
Maximising the repatriation journey
At the heart of repatriation is reconnection. Reconnecting to people, places, ways of life and for many ways of doing business. To effectively facilitate reconnection we need to ensure we don’t sever it in the first place. If we do the repatriation process is not only jeopardised through a lack of genuine knowledge about the individual’s career, achievements and ambitions but also by the way the expat feels about returning home. Worryingly current research suggests that more than 50% of organisations only commence discussions a few months prior to an expat’s return. It is this reactive rather than proactive approach that is hurting both leaders and the businesses they work for.
Just as we appreciate that there is an adjustment period that comes with crossing time zones and most will experience some sort of jetlag we need to consider how repatriates cross other ‘zones’ as part of their return – and that if not managed well result in significant periods of lag. These ‘lags’ have the potential to incur enormous costs to both companies and individuals if not addressed in a timely and pragmatic way. With six key zones to navigate many organisations are well equipped to handle one or two but very few manage all six well. Apart from the obvious physical and financial aspects of returning home, consideration needs to also be given to the following areas:
Career: Career development needs to be intrinsically linked to global mobility policies. Meaningful career conversations need to be conducted throughout assignments in order to ensure that expectations are realistically managed and opportunities that link past and future opportunities are maximized.
Business: Changes in organisational structures, leadership teams, the way business is conducted, along with economic, political and legislative changes can all make homecoming difficult. As part of re-inducting employees, consideration not only for how the business may have changed but also the way in which it is conducted is crucial.
Social: Often the most under-estimated area by individuals, the loss of social connection both personally and professionally can have profound impacts on productivity, engagement and well-being. Mentors, repatriate networks and leadership awareness of the repatriate journey can all help strengthen and expedite the reconnection process.
Emotional: When connection is broken and difficulties in the readjustment phase arise, one of the immediate but less obvious areas that individuals experience is the impact on emotional well-being. With nearly a third of all repatriates suffering from depression, the personal and business impacts are high. Education and awareness of the emotional cycle of repatriation is crucial if individuals are to meaningfully reconnect in a timely and productive manner.
Support for spouses and children to re-establish can also be enormously beneficial in helping repatriates focus on their new role at hand.
Companies that successfully manage the repatriation journey plan for it and prepare their people for it. They adopt a proactive and strategic approach that seeks to recognise and leverage the value of global insights and experience.