Successful Expatriate Repatriation

Conference Board study reported that many firms have sophisticated plans for executives going overseas but few have comprehensive programs to deal with the return home. Many have noted that too often repatriated workers are valuable resources neglected or wasted by inexperience of management.

Low morale and a growing amount of attrition among returning expatriates have many causes. Some complaints and problem are family related, while others are career related. The family related problems generally deal with financial and lifestyle readjustments. Some expatriates find that, in spite of higher compensation programs their net worth have not increased and the inflation of intervening years makes it impossible to buy a home comparable to those sold on leaving. The hardship compensation programs used to induce the executive to go abroad also create readjustment problems on the return home. Such compensation benefits frequently permitted the family to live at a much higher level abroad than at home (employing, yard boys, chauffeurs, domestic help, and so forth). Because most compensation benefits are withdrawn when employees return to the home country their standard of living decreases and they must readjust. Unfortunately little can be done to ameliorate these kinds of problems short of transferring the manager to other foreign locations. Current thinking suggest that the problems of dissatisfaction with compensation and benefits upon return can be lessened by reducing benefits when overseas. Rather than provide the family abroad with hardship payments, some companies are considering reducing payments on the premise that the assignment abroad is an integral requirement for growth, development, and advancement within the firm.

Family dissatisfaction which causes stress within the family on returning home is not as severe a problem as career related complaints. A returning expatriate’s dissatisfaction with perceived future is usually the reason many resign their positions after returning to the United States. The problem is not unique to US citizens: Japanese companies have similar difficulties with their personnel. The most frequently heard complaint involves the lack of a detailed plan for the expatriate’s career when returning home. New home country assignments are frequently mundane and do not reflect to experience gained or the challenges met during foreign assignments. Some feel their time out of the mainstream of corporate affairs has made them technically obsolete and thus ineffective in competing immediately on return. Finally, there is some loss of status requiring ego adjustment when an executive returns home.

Companies with the least amount of returnee attrition differ from those with the highest attrition in one significant way: personal career planning for the expatriate. This planning begins with the decision to send the person abroad. The initial transfer abroad should be made in the context of along term company career plan. Under these circumstances the individuals know not only the importance of the foreign assignments but also when to expect to return and at what levels. Near the end of the foreign assignment, the process for repatriation is begun. The critical aspect of the return home is to keep the executive completely informed regarding such matters as the proposed return time, new assignments and an indication of whether it is interim or permanent, new responsibilities and future prospects . In short, returnees should know where they are going and what they will be doing next month and several years ahead.

A report on what MNCs are doing to improve the process suggest five steps:

1) Commit to reassigning expatriates to meaningful positions.
2) Create a mentor program. Mentors are typically senior executives who monitor company activities, keep the expatriate informed on company activities, and act as liaison between the expatriate and various headquarters departments.
3) Offer written job guarantee stating what the company is obligated to do for the expatriate on return.
4) Keep the expatriate in touch with headquarters through periodic briefings and headquarters visits.
5) Prepare the expatriate family for repatriate once a return date is set.

Some believe the importance of preparing the employees and family for culture shock upon return is at par with the preparation for going abroad.

Source: International Marketing

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