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How HR Managers Can Help Employees Adjust to Life Back Home after Overseas Assignment

At DavidsonMorris, we are finding that our oil and gas clients have to be savvier as to how they move and deploy their staff. The price of crude oil continues to fall sharply, leading to resource expenditure being further scrutinised and various projects in the UK and abroad being shelved in the short to medium term. At worse, the current economic climate has led to significant redundancies. However, some companies are moving their highly skilled staff overseas so that ongoing projects can benefit from their expertise and their skills can be retained by the wider business.

Yet, despite best efforts to deploy employees and retain their skills and expertise in the longer term, employees that repatriate to their home country after an overseas assignment can feel so despondent that they may even begin to question their futures with their company. Nevertheless, there are measures that Human Resource (HR) managers can take to help employees readjust to life back at home.

Employees in multinational companies who take up an overseas assignment can find the whole experience exciting. Travel books about the overseas destination are read, online forums searched for snippets of information, cultural insights gained and international schools rated. There are the questions around living arrangements and finding the right home in the right locality in the new country, language barriers to overcome, tax implications and where to store existing belongings during travel.
Added to that, there is the nervousness of the immigration process. After all, if the work permit is not secured, the assignment is over before it begins. Once the work permit is secured, the assignees, usually accompanied by family members, can begin planning for the big move to exotic, or the not so exotic overseas locations.

Following the completion of the overseas assignment, problems can arise when it is time to move back to the home country and resume the life that was left behind. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, those that relocate overseas on assignment can go through a period of ‘loss’ on their return to their home country.

Tina Quick, in her book, ‘The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition’ compares the feeling of loss to ‘grief’ until the returning employee gives in to the feeling of ‘home sickness’ for the country they left behind.

For some employees, this reverse culture shock and feeling of grief can be so deeply felt that 12% of repatriated employees end up leaving the company within a few years of their return. While that percentage is similar to the overall churn rate for companies, the number is a concern, “given the inordinate cost of international assignments,” says Diane Douiyssi of Brookfield Global Relocation Services. Indeed, this seems a poor return on investment given the significant expense incurred by companies moving key personnel overseas, costs that include relocation costs and visa application fees. And it may also be disruptive to an individual’s career aspirations to leave a company because ‘home’ no longer feels the same.

To help employees begin the adjustment process, HR managers may wish to take forward the following:

Establish regular contact

HR managers should consider establishing focussed and more regular contact with the employee in advance of their return, if they are not already doing so. During a 3 year assignment, the company in the home country can shift so much that it is important that employees are kept abreast of key developments. The employees will of course be trying hard to adjust to life in the host country and focused on building relations there, but it may help for them to be contact with the home site, at regular intervals, so that they are not made to feel completely cut off from the company at home.

Starter Packs

Although HR managers in the home country should be keeping in touch with the employee during their time away, providing a ‘Starter Pack, in conjunction with the employees’ line managers, that highlights any legislative industry changes and includes an up-to-date organogram and details of new personnel and developments, can help to alleviate the feelings of ‘shock’ on their return.

Clear Lines of Communication with Receiving Line Manager

HR managers will often have a guide as to when to expect the employee to return to the home country but may not be informed early on of the exact date of return. To avoid this, HR managers should put processes in place where managers must inform them, in advance, of the employees agreed date of return. This will enable HR managers to better prepare for the return of the employees.

Return to Work Interview

On conclusion of the overseas assignment, a ‘Return to Work’ meeting between the appropriate HR manager and employee should be arranged as close to Day 1 as possible. Sufficient time should be put aside for the employee to share positive experiences from their assignment and raise any points from which the company can learn. A follow up meeting between the employees and HR managers, scheduled some 3 months after the Return to Work meeting, can prove beneficial to both parties by allowing HR managers to identity any concerns that employees may be experiencing about their repatriation and helping employees to address any concerns that they may have.

Social Events

Returning employees should be invited to work functions and social events to remind them that they are part of the company, perhaps inviting partners, where possible.

Managing Expectations

It is crucial for the expectations of repatriating employees to be managed by the company so that employees can make the appropriate life adjustments. Often, such are the skills of repatriating employees that they may be expected to take up further long term assignments in close proximity to the previous ones. Informing employees of this at the earlier can help the employees and their families to mentally and physically prepare 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 the quick succession, only to find that such a move is not on the horizon for the company. In each scenario, keeping employees informed allows them to begin adjusting to life in their home country or prepare for further travel.

Conclusion

Multinational oil and gas companies often need to move employees to different overseas locations to utilise their expertise or fill a skills gap, something that is becoming more evident in the current economic climate. However, on their return to their home country, employees can experience a reverse culture shock and feelings of loss for their host country that may eventually lead to their premature departure from the company. In order to minimise this effect and the loss of highly skilled and experienced members of the company, HR managers should proactively implement measures that helps them to reach out to employees not only before and during overseas assignments, but on their immediate return followed by meetings thereafter. Such measures may just help company retain their highly skilled employees.

For help and assistance moving personnel to overseas locations and smoothening the immigration process, speak to our Global Immigration Team on 020 7494 0118 or via email at info@davidsonmorris.com

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