Employee repatriation has long been recognised as one of the most problematic parts of the global mobility cycle. With industry statistics suggesting that nearly 28% of returning employees leave their organisation within 12 months of coming ‘home’ this loss of talent represents an enormous loss to businesses today.

Failing to retain your repatriates quite literally gives new meaning to the saying ‘one man’s loss is another man’s gain’ as all too often your former employee will walk straight out your doors and through those of your competitor. When they do, they take with them their IP, insights and networks—that you have made significant investments in.

As companies increasingly use international assignments to grow their talent capability there’s an urgent need to readdress the issues faced when employees embark upon the journey home.

Brookfield Global Mobility Survey

The Brookfield Global Mobility Survey notes that while building international management experience is one of the top 2 reasons for sending employees abroad, 78% of organisations don’t use any candidate assessment tool (formal or informal) for selecting individuals; 82% don’t have a formal career-management process for employees; and 86% don’t have any repatriation strategies linked to career-management and retention. There is no doubt that this lack of planning is hurting both individuals and businesses alike.

Planning for repatriation needs to be an integral part of the assignment from the outset.

Almost all repatriates rate the lack of meaningful opportunities to use the knowledge, experience and skills acquired during their overseas role as their key frustration when returning. Establishing communication and career management frameworks before and during the assignment therefore is critical if we are to effectively manage expectations upon their return.

5 key considerations or employee repatriation:

1. Plan to connect

All too often expatriates can feel ‘out of sight, out of mind’. To overcome this we need to create meaningful opportunities to communicate about new learning, knowledge and insights gained during the assignment. Ensuring that this happens on an ongoing basis and not just a few weeks out from return will help support individuals and businesses to reconnect with confidence, clarity and purpose.

2. Focus on knowledge integration

Returning expats bring with them a wealth of knowledge that can all too easily be turned into a competitive advantage. Market knowledge, cultural insights and locally based networks can increase business impact, efficiencies or act as triggers for innovation when transferred to the broader business.

3. Appoint a key executive as a sponsor

Key sponsors play an integral role in helping expatriates maintain a close connection with the home office during their time away. Ideally appointed at the beginning of the assignment they can offer key insights into what is happening across the organisation, remain up to date with what the expat is learning and how they’re feeling about the assignment, advocate for them when relevant opportunities arise and support them reintegrate once they have returned.

4. Sponsor your employee into a local network with other repatriates

The most difficult aspect of relocation is the social challenge. Typically this is drastically under-estimated by both the employee and the organisation on the journey ‘home’. Local networks that focus on providing support to repatriates can provide a safe place to discuss the challenges faced and meet others who are also navigating a similar journey.

5. Engage spouses

A spouse will often put their own career on hold in order to support their partner’s career opportunity. Offering support to both the repatriate and their partner and family is crucial in order to maximise the speed of reintegration, engagement and productivity.

If organisations are to capitalise on their employees’ potential they need to support their repatriates in a meaningful way that recognises their learning and contribution abroad. When they do this they will be well positioned to not only retain their key talent but also maximise their ROI on the expatriate assignment.