February 20, 2018

The challenges of returning from expatriation

International Mobility

What is the impact of expatriation on the expatriate's career? How can the company capitalize on the investment represented by the expatriation of the employee?

The challenges of returning from expatriation

International mobility: the challenges of return

An assignment abroad is a situation with high stakes, both for the employee and for the company which decides to invest in the mobility of its employees.

However, although a good number of companies quite naturally take care of the different stages relating to departure and start-up on site, on the ground we note that very little effort and resources are deployed to facilitate the return of employees who have spent two , three or even several years abroad. However, they represent significant wealth, in which the company has invested significantly, since the cost of an expatriate employee is around 2 to 3 times their annual salary.

In this context, returning from an expatriation constitutes a challenge, and an opportunity, sometimes more important than the initial mission.

For what ?

What are the challenges of returning?

For the employee, it is firstly a matter of capitalizing on their experience abroad to advance their career, by reintegrating the organization into a motivating position that they consider suited to their career path.

Unfortunately, several studies 1note that this is not always the case and that managers returning home often have the impression that their expatriation has had a negative impact on their career within the organization.

This is due to several concomitant factors, including the impression that the absence has weakened one's internal network or the mixed reception from certain colleagues or managers, who seem to be jealous of this international experience which they lack.

The issue of employability is generally better met, since significant experience abroad still represents a major asset in several sectors.

From a more personal point of view, readjusting to the environment of the country of origin can be difficult, contrary to popular belief.

For the company, it is a question of capitalizing in several ways on the investment represented by the expatriation of the employee.

First of all, by ensuring that he does not leave the organization for lack of adequate opportunities. This remains a major difficulty for companies, since some reports estimate the departure rate between 30 and 40% in the year following the return from expatriation 2. The timing of return is all the more crucial as after the first year, the medium-term departure rate of repatriated employees is lower than that of their colleagues.

Next comes the ability to organize the transfer of knowledge and the sharing of the network acquired by the employee during the international mission.

A structured approach to employee reintegration (internal networks, cross-functional working groups, mentoring programs, etc.) can ensure organizational learning and make the company's investment profitable, often evaluated only in terms of results achieved during the foreign mission.

What solutions?

Support for a return from expatriation must be prepared and structured over a relatively long time (between 8 and 12 months), to meet the following objectives:

  • Between 6 and 4 months before return: clarification of the employee's expectations, consistent with their career plan and based on the positions actually available, including outside their current role (sales, marketing, operational, etc.).
  • From 2 months before return: preparation of the integration plan, to be considered as a course in its own right, just as important as that reserved for new arrivals.
  • When taking up a position, for 4 to 6 months: support for the employee to facilitate their reintegration, the transmission of their international skills in their immediate environment, management of change at a professional and personal level.

This support must concern the candidate, but also their direct hierarchy and HR, stakeholders in any integration situation. In certain cases, it is desirable to extend the system to the spouse, whose situation often represents a significant reason for concern (and therefore energy expenditure) for the employee, both initially and upon return from expatriation.

The cost of a possible failure, for the organization as well as for the candidate, fully justifies the company taking a new look at returning from expatriation, by devoting more resources to it.

1See the works of JL Cerdin, GK Stahl, MC Bolino

2PWC study on the evaluation of international mobility missions

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