Repatriation has long been recognised as one of the most difficult aspects of the global mobility cycle and yet determining how to successfully repatriate employees ­– as highly engaged, confident and productive individuals – still remains a burning question for most organisations. With the 2015 Brookfield ‘Global Mobility’ survey suggesting that 88% of organisations expect their international assignment population to either increase or stay the same in the coming few years, the issue of repatriation seems likely to stay a hot topic.

While both individuals and organisations are often only too familiar with the term ‘reverse culture shock’, the reality is that both parties typically struggle to identify meaningful ways to minimise and navigate the challenges that arise from repatriation.

Leading organisations that are starting to achieve positive results in the area of repatriation recognise the need to integrate mobility into their talent management agenda. In doing so, they understand the need to move beyond the traditional view of mobility as simply being a way of filling a vacancy to the potential it has to enhance their leadership and talent pool. It also addresses what has long been considered the number one bugbear of many returning expatriates: the disconnect between meaningful career opportunities and the organisation they work for.

While the motivation for individuals to accept international assignments can vary, there is a long-held view that at the very least it will have a positive impact on their career development and future opportunities. Failing to plan for this development and the corresponding future pathways is what lies at the heart of the issue.

According to the Ernst & Young ‘Talent In Motion’ report, 41% of returning expatriates simply return to their old position. With industry statistics suggesting that up to 24% of people leave their organisation within the first year of returning, coupled with high levels of employee disengagement among those who do remain, there is no doubt that there is a very real need to close the gap between talent management and repatriation.

5 Key Considerations

1. Position repatriation at the start

Repatriation should be considered the ‘pre-nup’ in your assignment agreement. While career directions and opportunities may change during the course of the assignment, there are some fundamental parameters that can be defined at the beginning to ensure that there is both an opportunity for open and pragmatic conversations to occur throughout and also that anxiety is minimised at the end.

2. Invest in a formal career management process

It is critical that formal career development plans are created at the commencement of the assignment to reflect an employee’s experience, development opportunities and career ambitions. In doing so, organisations are afforded the opportunity to align expectations and provide both ongoing feedback and insights into potential career pathways.

3. Consider the 6 zones of repatriation

All too often employee support is only about the ‘logistics’ of relocation i.e. physical and financial While they are critical components, and often the most immediate, it is important to ensure that support extends to the other four key areas: an individual’s future career development post their return that continues to leverage their international experience; provision of up-to-date local business knowledge that reflect any key market, political or relationship changes that effect both them and the organisation; social support to reconnect both personally and professionally; emotional support to ensure that the return process is embraced with positivity and eagerness, rather than a feeling of resentment and loss.

4. Establish formal networks of support

Networks that offer support at an organisational, industry, career and personal level are critical in supporting both the speed and effectiveness of the return. Supporting employees to build and identify key network opportunities both within and outside of the organisation can have a significant impact on an individual’s level of productivity, confidence and clarity with how they operate.

5. Extend support to spouse and family

Family challenges remain a key determinant of relocation success. With many spouses having placed their own career on hold to support their partner, it is important to acknowledge and encourage them with the re-establishment of their own careers.