Repatriation management: Holding on to expatriate talent

Repatriating back home after living and working abroad can be a very challenging and emotional experience – and for those of you who haven’t experienced this - it might come as a surprise that it can take even longer to adjust to returning “home” than to moving to a foreign country. Or perhaps on a deeper level, as Thomas Wolfe put it “You can’t go home again”

Joyce Jenkins, President of SIETAR UK, and a seasoned expatriate now working back in the UK, has commented:

"The repatriation process was much harder than any of the expatriate assignments we had experienced and we were given the least amount of assistance and support." 

Many expatriates find repatriation to be a tumultuous experience, both personally and professionally.  And this often surprises them, sometimes to the point where they feel betrayed by their companies, friends and families or by their own expectations.

A number of factors can make the process of re-adjustment difficult – each person faces a different set of challenges dependent on their experience abroad, family situation, personal coping strategies, the degree of organisational support as well as their own and their company and colleagues’ expectations. 

Whilst international assignments in many organisations are seen as essential to career mobility and talent development, many repats find that they are stuck in a corner and their company doesn’t know what to do with them or how to make use of their international experience and newly acquired skills. And the situation may be equally or even more complicated for their partners who struggle to find a job upon return and may have to deal with a sense of displacement. As many as 90% of accompanying partners are likely to experience a career interruption that will complicate their search for employment on repatriation.

The challenge for companies and individuals is to find a role that uses the new skills and knowledge developed on assignment and enables the repat to progress their career. The attrition rate among repats is high which suggests companies need to implement more robust repatriation policies.  As the causes of repatriates’ frustrations are often straightforward, so can the solutions be.  Yet according to the Brookfield Global Relocation Trends Report 2012 only 16% of companies reported having a repatriation strategy linked to career management and retention. Given the continuously high turnover numbers of repats, companies need to improve their focus on how to retain their returning employees.

Successful repatriation requires career planning, training and support before, during and after the employee embarks on their foreign assignment. Continuous communication during the assignment is needed to keep the assignee up-to-date with changes “at home” and early conversations about the choice of role available on their return have been shown to be benefical. And similarly to expatriation, it also requires a successful re-adjustment of the repat’s family.

Before and upon return from the assignment repatriation training programmes have been shown to be an important success factor both professionally and personally for returning expats. Ideally these repatriation programmes guarantee confidentiality and are led by an external consultant in order to encourage honest conversation and development of strategies for closing the gaps between expectations and reality, from both the company’s and the individual’s perspective. 

SIETAR UK is running a panel discussion about Repatriation in London on 21 September.  Find out more here.

Agnes Image


Agnes is an experienced intercultural business coach, trainer and facilitator, specialising in expatriation and repatriation programmes for global companies.  She is a Norwegian national, living and working in London, with a background in financial services.. She is a board member of the Norwegian-British Chamber of Commerce and SIETAR UK.

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