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Repatriated Employees Cannot Be Ignored!

Matthew MacLachlan

13 Mar 2017

For many organisations, sending an employee on an international assignment allows them to deploy a unique set of skills, at speed and with a relatively high degree of accuracy. While on assignment, assignees are expected to carry out key tasks, reach major milestones and deliver on their assignment’s objective(s) before returning home. But knowledge transfer is a two-way street – repatriated employees have not only imparted knowledge during their assignment but also learned new skills that are invaluable to them and their employer.

An assignee who has completed a successful assignment returns home enriched with knowledge, experience and new invaluable skills. Why is it then, that so many organisations fail to leverage the knowledge and experience of repatriated employees? Attrition rates are much higher among recently returned assignees than any other segment of an organisation.

 

The hurdles faced by repatriated employees

It should be relatively simple to transfer the knowledge repatriated employees have gained back into the organisation. But in reality, this requires a number of factors that are not always in place.

So many organisations fail to leverage the knowledge and experience of repatriated employees

The Wall Street Journal recently published research showing that successful expats bring back much more than new knowledge. They also return with a better understanding of cultural differences and a more varied way of making decisions.

So if the case for investing in returning expatriates is proven – why is it that almost 25% of returning expatriates leave their employer within two years of returning home?

Out of sight, out of mind

Many assignees are invariably forgotten about once they relocate abroad. HR and Global Mobility should do more to encourage assignees to stay in touch with regular meetings (be they virtual or physical) with home-country management.

Almost 25% of returning expatriates leave their employer within two years of returning home

However, modern-day technology and corporate social networks mean the assignee can easily meet the organisation half way and stay in touch with colleagues, peers and managers – thus ensuring they are aware of the latest developments back home.

Fitting back in

Once the expat returns home, adjustments must be made, both by the repatriated employee and the organisation. The returning assignee brings back a suitcase of valuable knowledge and experience that can benefit the organisation. But, inevitably, both the assignee and the organisation have changed during the expat’s absence.

Finding a way to fit back in is sometimes at least as difficult as it was to adapt to a new and foreign culture. The dangers to the expat are plentiful.

An enthusiastic expat keen to share their experience can come across as arrogant, overly critical of the status quo. They can quickly lose their audience and their effectiveness if colleagues are not prepared and not ready to listen to them.

The returning assignee brings back a suitcase of valuable knowledge and experience that can benefit the organisation

One way organisations can help is to show they value the expat’s experience and make it clear to their other employees that the information and knowledge transfer is something to take seriously and to learn from.

Finding an interested audience

All too often, knowledge transfer from the returning assignee is driven by the employee’s altruism and selflessness. They have a genuine understanding of the value of their new knowledge and have proven that this knowledge is effective while abroad.

But if the repatriated employee tries to impose their knowledge on their colleagues at an inopportune time, it may be ignored, rejected or worse. The knowledge must also be relevant to their colleagues, and not simply an edited version of what the expat wishes to portray.

In other words, it must be timely and relevant to the repatriated employee’s audience.

repatriated employee

Organisational support

The repatriated employees need to do more than simply fit back into the home office. They also need to regain the trust of their colleagues.

Organisations can help the returning assignee transfer knowledge by building a formal platform with the structure needed to make it valuable and relevant. Employees are more likely to be receptive to information that is acknowledged as important to the home office.

All too often, knowledge transfer from the returning assignee is driven by the employee’s altruism and selflessness

They can also coach the assignee so they can determine when what and how to provide the required information to their colleagues so that it is well received.

It is important that both parties recognise that the assignee’s newly gained knowledge will probably only be truly appreciated when it is endorsed by the organisation.

Time

Finally, it is important to recognise that repatriation is an ongoing process. When the expat feels their experience is appreciated, they also feel valued.

Those who don’t are very likely to find another organisation that does appreciate their experience and knowledge. Don’t be the organisation that funds the knowledge transfer of a newly returned assignee to your competition.