Multinational organisations often need to deploy employees, particularly highly skilled workers, temporarily overseas to utilise their expertise or fill a skills gap.
However, on return to their home country, it’s surprisingly common for employees to experience a reverse culture shock and feelings of loss for their host country. This is believed to be the main reason why 12% of overseas assignments lead to repatriating employees prematurely leaving their organisation following a return to the UK.
This is a concerning figure for employers given the investment made in international assignments, from relocation costs and HR support through to visa application fees.
So what can HR teams do to retain highly skilled and experienced personnel returning from overseas assignments?
HR can help employees re-adjust by proactively implementing measures to reach out to employees before, during and after overseas assignments:
1: Establish regular contact
Employees on assignment will be focused on adjusting to life abroad and building relations in the host country, but it may help for them to be in regular contact with the home site so that they do not feel cut-off.
Particularly where longer-term assignments are concerned, it’s likely there will be changes at the home country site. Being in regular contact with employees will help keep them in the loop and abreast of key developments.
2: Open clear lines of communication with receiving line manager
HR will usually have a guide as to when to expect the employee to return to the home country, but they may not be informed early enough of the exact date of return.
To address this, put processes in place where line managers are required to inform HR of an agreed date of return as soon as possible. This will enable you to better support returning employees.
3: Provide welcome packs ahead of their return
It’s helpful to provide more specific information to employees in preparation for their return. Build a ‘welcome pack’ in conjunction with the employee’s line manager at home, and include any detail you think relevant, such as legislative industry changes, an up-to-date organogram, details of new personnel and organisational developments. This way you are reaching out and alleviating any potential surprises on their return.
4: Conduct post-assignment debriefs
Returning employees bring with them invaluable insight and first-hand experience. Set aside sufficient time for the employee to share their experiences from their assignment and raise any points from which the organisation can learn.
A good platform for this is a debrief or ‘return to work’ meeting between an appropriate HR representative and the employee. Try to arrange for this as close to day one of the employee’s return as possible, while the experience is still fresh in their mind and any resulting action points can be picked up quickly.
5: Involve them socially
Involving returning employees in all aspects of organisational life is extremely helpful. Invite returning employees – and their partners where possible – to social functions and events. This will go a long way to remind them that they are still part of the organisation and the team.
6: Manage expectations
It’s crucial to be open with employees about your organisation’s expectations of them.
Often, such are the skills of repatriating employees that they may be expected to take up further long term assignments in close proximity to previous assignments. Informing employees of this expectation at the earliest possible juncture can help them and their families to prepare – practically and mentally – for the future.
This can also work in the reverse, where employees and their family members may expect to take up further overseas assignments in quick succession, only to find that such a move is not on the horizon for the organisation.
In each scenario, keeping employees informed allows them to make appropriate life adjustments and decisions.
A follow-up meeting between the employee and HR, scheduled 3 months after the return to work meeting, can prove beneficial to both parties. It’s an opportunity for employees to voice any concerns or issues they may have about their repatriation, enabling HR to address these concerns and avert the loss of highly skilled employees.
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