Repatriation is a fancy term that means an employee returns to their hometown and home office, after some time living and working abroad. HR professionals spend lots of time and energy preparing for smooth and successful relocations, but creating a plan for repatriation can actually be just as important to your company’s work culture and achievements. It’s easy to assume repatriation is a simple process, after all, your transferee is moving back to their own familiar culture and environment. But don’t be fooled, significant pitfalls can arise, so you will need to take steps to prevent them.
Potential problems in repatriation
Some of the problems HR professionals are likely to encounter if they have not properly prepared for repatriation are similar to expatriation problems. The employee may be returning to a less senior role back home than the high-status position they held abroad, or there may be diminished opportunity in the office. Additionally, repatriates lose the role of being a “special” employee, distinct from those who never left. Returning to the home office also means any salary bonuses and special benefits are *poof* gone, which could equate to a lower quality of life for them and their families. These factors can significantly affect your employees’ sense of worth and job satisfaction. The ability to retain transferees after they return back is a real problem for many companies. It can mean your company will have the difficult task of finding new hires, often for high-level positions, which is why it’s so important to plan for repatriation.
Tips for creating a successful plan for repatriation
It’s typical for companies, even large multinational ones to limit the scope and nature of their repatriation processes. Plans tend to be focused on costs, and they lack a strong emphasis on meeting the needs of repatriates and their families. Paying attention to the needs of the families (especially spouses and significant others who will likely have to undergo repatriation of their own) is incredibly important. Here are some tips to keep in mind when your HR team creates a plan for repatriation:
- Manage employee expectations BEFORE they are relocated overseas. It’s important that your transferees understand the challenges of expatriation, so that they have realistic outlooks about what coming to back home, and to the home office will be like.
- Consider establishing a home-leave policy that makes it easy for transferees to come back to their “home” office. This will help them stay connected with current affairs, and prevent them from feeling as though they are losing touch, are out of loop, and are being forgotten by the company at home.
- Built support systems for the repatriate’s family. This might include helping them find new jobs, providing resources for counseling services (yes, they can experience culture shock, even coming home) and touching base to see how their readjustment is going.
- If possible, offer work opportunities that are relevant to the new skills and knowledge your employee has returned with. An easy way to make your homecoming employee feel like their time abroad wasn’t worth it is to let their new skills fall by the wayside. Even if there isn’t work directly available right now to accommodate new skills, you can consider creating a mentorship program, in which your repatriates can speak with new transferees before and as they go overseas.
- Consider post-assignment career tracking (for at least two years). To determine whether or not your company’s repatriate retention rates are a problem, establish a process of tracking repatriates. This will help you understand the paths they are choosing to take, and why.
- Consider offering repatriation assistance in the form of access to counseling, resources, and even monetary assistance for relocation costs of coming home. There’s no better way to build loyalty than to show you are dedicated and loyal to your employees!
- Finally, celebrate and publicize your repatriates’ overseas accomplishments. Publish a special thank you message in your company’s newsletter, or acknowledge their successful term abroad at a company meeting. Take them out to lunch to show gratitude. Be creative! Allowing them to feel like a “rock star” for a little while will help them to feel valued and optimistic about their position with your company.