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Business homecoming – the repatriation challenge


Companies use international placements as a way to further their talent management objectives. According to the 2015 Global Mobility Trends survey, conducted by Brookfield Global Relocation Services, 23% of companies use international assignment objectives as a way to build international management experience, compared to the 17% in 2009.

On the one hand, much attention and many procedures have been adapted to aid employees in their stay abroad. The repatriation process, on the other hand, is greatly neglected and seemingly forgotten by multinational corporations: 82% of survey respondents indicated that they do not have set in place a career management process for expatriates.

Even more so, another 86% stated that they do not have formal repatriation strategies with regards to the career management and retention of international assignees.

As a result, “more than 50% of international assignees left their companies within two years of returning”. Generally speaking, the international assignee attrition rate is so high due to the following reasons:

  1. Lack of suitable career possibilities;
  2. Not enough challenges and responsibilities in the home organization;
  3. Absence of understanding and appreciation of the knowledge and experience gained abroad, on behalf of the home-organization colleagues;
  4. No long-term career path planning for expatriates. Although this is greatly discussed in the literature, it is not put into practice;
  5. Differences regarding the definition of successful repatriation. Expatriates focus on country culture readjustment, while HR managers largely focus on work-related results;
  6. Loss of autonomy;
  7. Technical and managerial obsolescence.


The Repatriation Strategy

Many organizations assume that returning to the home country will be an easy process, as the expatriate is familiar with the language, culture, and conditions at home and will believe that they remained the same as when left behind.

Repatriation however is not quite as easy as onboarding. Quite the opposite, it is just as difficult and complicated a process as it is when coping with expatriation, and assignees can oftentimes experience the so-called reverse culture shock.

Organizations should establish an effective repatriation strategy and understand that the need for support after the return to the home country, and the support before leaving are equally important. An effective repatriation strategy is composed of four stages.

Stage 1: Repatriation Planning

An organization should develop a repatriation plan long before the employee returns to the home country. Having some form of planning will reduce the stress associated with the repatriation process and provides stability.

Stage 2: Repatriate agreement

Early in the expatriation process, a plan must be developed, to conclude how the skills acquired in the host organization can be utilized upon return. Furthermore, the assignment period, return details, incentive payment, guarantee of a suitable position on return, re-entry training, and repatriation program to assist in the adjustment upon return should be specified in the agreement.

Stage 3: Repatriation programs

Most organizations have repatriation intentions; however, these intentions are often not translated into practice. Intentions can be put into practice by using the previously mentioned repatriation agreements and at the same time, ensure that the expatriate career paths compare favorably with the ones available for the employees that did not go abroad.

Furthermore, the organization can make use of a mentor that serves as an adviser, confidant, and link between the home organization and the host organization.

By keeping the expatriate up-to-date with ongoing developments in the home organization, there will be less conflict regarding home operations and more commitment when they return. A list of other practices includes the following:

  • Previewing types of jobs guaranteed upon return;
  • Setting a fixed-return date by using a “school schedule”;
  • Increasing repatriation options by offering cross-divisional moves;
  • Creating temporary holding jobs to bridge placement problems until a suitable position is found;
  • Creating a repatriate network and directory;
  • Training and preparation for new expatriates.

Stage 4:

The repatriation strategy should be evaluated not only based on turnover, but should also measure the impact it has on the individual’s work commitment, job satisfaction, work values, and the expatriation process in its entirety.

If organizations are willing to recognize that supporting employees upon return as they would upon expatriation, not only will they reduce their expatriate turnover, but they will also gain employees with substantial knowledge related to specific practices in local management and markets, management skills, and interpersonal relations.

“Business as usual is no longer a viable option. Playing a vital role in a company’s talent management strategy and maintaining cost effective, successful global programs, while meeting the challenges of forging into difficult markets will require a fresh, more mindful approach to mobility management.” – Brookfield Global Relocation Services

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