64% of businesses surveyed in the 2015 Brookfield Global Mobility Trends survey did have a repatriation policy. However, 86% of companies surveyed didn’t have a repatriation strategy in place to facilitate career management and retention. This is staggering given the significant investment involved in mobilising staff. The result, according to the Ernst & Young Talent in Motion report, is that 41% simply return to their pre-assignment position.

This tactical rather than strategic view is reflected in planning activity.

Typical planning occurs less than 6 months before return in 52% of cases. Worryingly, only 7% discuss a repatriation plan before the assignment has begun, and a further 7% don’t discuss it at all.

Margot Andersen, Principal Coach at talentinsight and expert in career transitions suggests that, “Creating opportunity for meaningful career conversations throughout the assignment–and not just several weeks or months before the repatriation process begins–is the only way organisations, expatriates, and their families will navigate this path with confidence, clarity and purpose.”

The key considerations

1. Career path and/or succession planning

Whilst difficult due to lengthy or often unpredictable timeframes, the career plan discussion should take place as a part of the initial move plan. This could include a suitable role on return, plans to diversify or develop skills, mentorship, and other succession or structural planning. This would see Human Resources or Talent Management keep assignees up to date on skills demand within the organisation that match their profile. A close tie of career development and the mobility of skills must exist to facilitate a thriving mobility policy, and contribute to a healthy return on investment.

2. Reverse culture shock

Many organisations offer assistance with acculturation when going overseas, but don’t consider the challenges of returning home after a stint abroad. Not only will staff changes and organisational culture evolution have occurred, there may be work pace and other work style re-adjustments that are often taken for granted.

3. Family support and settling in

Not only is there the challenge of adjusting to work ‘back home’, but the personal impact of the move may take its toll. The upheaval and family adjustment can be distracting and can have an adverse effect on engagement. Spousal support in the form of networking or career assistance is important, along with support for home and school searches with accompanying financial provision.

4. Cost and return on investment (ROI)

Staff mobility is costly, and a worrying 78% of respondents to the Ernst & Young survey did not measure ROI of their mobility programs. In most cases, this was due to the difficulty in agreeing how it should be measured. In some cases, for example a secondment with the express objective to uplift sales, ROI is easy to measure against a target. However, less tangible outcomes will be achieved in the case of developmental assignments where future leaders are mobilised to gain experience and exposure to different areas of the business. The other costly possibility of repatriation is attrition, is that, on average, 16% of assignees leave the company within two years of repatriating.

Final thoughts

Margot Andersen states that, “Repatriation is about reconnection. Re-connecting to people, places, ways of life and for many, ways of doing business. Maintaining quality connection between organisation and employee throughout an expat assignment is critical if the re-pat transition process is to succeed.  Unfortunately for many the adage of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ all too often rings true and the authenticity and trust in the connection between home base and the expat diminishes over time.”

Repatriation must be thrown into the equation early on and strategically for a successful and meaningful mobility policy to work.