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.

However, expatriate assignments don’t come cheap. With the average assignment costing 3-4 times more than an employee’s salary back home, the cost incurred by businesses today typically ranges from AU$500,000 to AU$1 million dollars annually per assignment. Often this is the single largest expenditure companies make on any one individual outside of the CEO.

When industry statistics suggest that 24% of returning employees leave their organisation within their first year ‘home’, and up to 30% leave between their first and second year, it’s little wonder that repatriation management is a key concern for many business leaders. Furthermore, returned expatriates who do remain with the business often struggle to re-engage and meaningfully apply—let alone leverage—their experiences and knowledge. This loss of ROI, IP, relationships and future business opportunities is both detrimental and alarming.

Why are so many repatriates leaving?

I liken the repatriate experience to flying out in business class, and returning home on a red eye flight in economy.

As they embark upon their new assignment they feel well supported in all areas of their life, and well positioned to succeed. Conversely, upon their return, many repatriates feel disconnected from the day-to-day operations of their organisation, in addition to every other area of their former life. Almost all repatriates rate the lack of meaningful opportunity to use the knowledge, experience and skills acquired during their overseas experience as their key frustration.

Maximising the repatriation journey

At the heart of repatriation is reconnection. Reconnecting to people, places, ways of life, and ways of doing business. To effectively facilitate reconnection we need to ensure we don’t sever connection 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 approach that needs to be immediately addressed.

Just as we appreciate that people experience jetlag when they cross time zones, we need to consider how repatriates adjust to other ‘zones’ when they return ‘home’. If this is not managed well, the repatriate will experience 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 6 key areas of repatriation management to navigate, many organisations fall short. Apart from the obvious physical and financial aspects of returning home, consideration also needs to 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 and repatriates need to be able to link their previous experience to their new opportunity.

Business:

Changes in the way business is conducted, along with economic, political and legislative changes, can make homecoming difficult and often require re-education.

Social & Emotional:

When connection is broken and difficulties in the readjustment phase arise, an individual’s social and emotional wellbeing is immediately impacted.

Family:

Support for spouses and children to re-establish can 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.