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24/06/2024

The return of expatriates, a headache for businesses

Notable differences occur in terms of communication, speech and strategy between a parent company and its subsidiaries which are established abroad. Expatriation can play a significant role to reduce the disparities between the two entities. Within the context of an expatriation policy, the employee plays an essential role as an intermediary to help unite the different work processes, corporate cultures, management styles, objectives as well as corporate values.

Meanwhile, for the employee, expatriation represents a springboard for their career, i.e. learning a new language, adapting to a foreign culture, immersing into a new way of working, and gaining challenging opportunities both intellectually and professionally.

However, once the adventure meets its end, as the expat returns to his home country and the company, a sudden shock happens. On average, between 25 to 50 % of employees quit their employer 2 years after returning from expatriation.

Which factors can explain this phenomenon which causes a substantial disruption for organizations and expatriates alike?

The benefits of expatriation for companies

When a company engages in an expatriation, it makes a costly investment, as on average, having an expatriate costs twice as much as hiring a local worker.

The objective of an expatriation program is to establish a long-lasting relationship between the holding company and its subsidiary. The expat helps the two interact and develop a work culture centered around common values and coherent objectives.

The company makes sure that the expat is properly trained, to be able to adapt to an evolving international context and show leadership in a brand-new team. He is also expected to develop new capabilities, hard skills and soft skills which would later be reused for the benefit of the company.

Because an expatriation is usually only short-term, the company has already anticipated the employee’s come back, by providing him upon his return with a job position at a similar level than the one he occupied before his departure. After his mission abroad, the employee will be more operational. He can take on more responsibilities, help his collaborators develop new skills and share a more global, flexible and diplomatic approach to the company.

The consequences of the return from expatriation for employees

It should be noted that 42 % of expats experience hardships during the time of their return to work in their home country.

This can mainly be explained by a lack of anticipation of this impatriation. In most cases, preparation only starts less than 6 months prior to their return, which is often not enough to cover all the administrative actions – housing, social security, driving license, children’s education, re-employment of the spouse – and to mitigate the psychological impact i.e. cultural and identity shock, loss of familiar markers and contacts and sentiment of feeling like a stranger in their home country.

The employee can also lose a couple of benefits that come with the expatriation including responsibilities, a flexible management style and expatriation bonuses. Upon his return, the collaborator, enriched by his international experience, looks forward to a career jump in terms of career progression and compensation. However, the expected raise in salary isn’t always met and he doesn’t usually get to showcase his international experience inside the company.

All those reasons lead to a lack of motivation at work, as the employee feels trapped in his position and has a hard time envisioning the future of his career here. This is the reason why 25 % of former expats end up resigning 1 year after their return and 45 % of the remaining ones resign 2 years after.

What kind of support can be offered to former expats

Human Resources play an essential role in providing expats with continuous assistance, as they did during the initial departure. This HR support is part of an impatriation schedule, ideally starting 6 weeks before leaving the country to properly assist them with all the administrative procedures that come with their return.

Moreover, once the employee is back in the country and working at the company, HR must show some flexibility by making the employee feel progressively included, thanks to a training and integration program, which resembles the one offered to new employees joining the company.

On an individual basis, HR must be able to answer the employee’s demands, for him to properly project himself as part of the company. They can provide him new career opportunities and add more novelty in his daily routine, to stimulate and retain the employee. Finally, HR must also reinforce the social bond between the employee and the rest of the company by keeping him informed of any strategic and organizational changes that have happened since his departure

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