Although long term assignments for key talent are less common than they once were – having been replaced by less expensive alternatives – most companies still use them when needed. But as cost containment has become the top priority for many, assignment packages have changed and are now far leaner than in the past.
In some instances the impact is minimal, but in others it’s not, and omitting certain benefits can be a false economy. This is especially true when it comes to repatriation. When assignees and family members aren’t provided with adequate benefits at the assignment’s conclusion, organizations can end up losing more than these would have actually cost.
This is because repatriation is closely linked with talent retention — an equally important priority today for most companies. As numerous surveys have shown, employees who aren’t properly repatriated are more likely to resign within a year of their return.
Steps can be taken to help avoid this, however. These include planning ahead for the assignment’s conclusion (ideally before deployment) and providing some basic repatriation benefits to address the specific challenges assignees and their families often face.
Pre-assignment planning should include:
- Communication for term of the assignment
- Long term financial and tax planning
- Scheduled visits to the home office (at least annually)
- Repatriation career planning — how the company will assimilate an employee back into the business and utilize his or her newly acquired skills.
- Pre-established metrics for monitoring and measuring performance during the assignment to successfully transition to the next position upon repatriation
- Establishing other expectations for repatriation – e.g., a company reorientation that enables the employee to share valuable knowledge and insight gained in the host location
Repatriation Challenges and Policy Provisions
For those who haven’t been on a long term assignment before, repatriation is often viewed as a return to one’s former life. But it’s not. In fact, it’s often just the opposite. The result is reverse culture shock, which can be even tougher than the initial culture shock upon deployment because it’s so unexpected.
Reverse culture shock can have many components. Former surroundings can feel less familiar, for example, and friends and family may have moved on or changed. Financially, there can also be a pinch due to tax issues and — depending on the allowances provided during the assignment — less discretionary income. Compounding this is the pressure on a trailing spouse to restart his or her career and quickly find appropriate employment.
School-age children also face challenges, especially if transitioning from private expat schools back to home country public schools.
Employers can help mitigate this, as applicable, with benefits such as spouse/partner assistance (put into place before or at the beginning of the assignment) and a few hours each of children’s transition counseling and educational counseling.
They can also establish ongoing networking groups among expats and repats (and their families), which will further support those in global transition. This, which costs little or nothing, can create an additional level of support from the organization and help ensure continued, strong relationships upon repatriation.
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