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| 2 minutes read

Repatriation is harder than you might think

Reverse culture shock, homecoming challenges, stagnant work life. What do these all have in common? They are all potential aftereffects of repatriating after a stint abroad. Even if an employee went on a short-term assignment, there’s still a possibility that they won’t quite be themselves once they return. Companies invest significant money and resources into overseas assignments so here’s a few factors to consider when repatriating an employee:

  • Reverse culture shock is prevalent in overseas assignments and it’s not something to take lightly. In fact, supporting the employee to ease back into their home location is the best way to show that a company cares and values that employee. It’s no secret that employees who return from overseas assignments are more likely to quit within their first year after they return, so the company too has some challenges to face upon the employee’s homecoming.
    • What can companies do? Keep in constant communication and prepare proper expectations before the employee begins the assignment. The more a company can prepare the employee that things might not be the same when they get back, the better off they will be to adjust.
  • Assignments don’t always mean a promotion when the employee returns. Often times an employee will agree to an overseas assignment with the goal of career advancement and can be disappointed to realize that they are returning to the same job that they left to go on the assignment. This can be a huge talent retention risk, especially if the employee has expressed an interest in a promotion due to the assignment.
    • What can companies do? Talk to the employee about their expectations before they leave, during their assignment and upon their return. Their answers may change throughout the course of their assignment, but at least they will have expressed their desires and expectations and their manager(s) will know what the employee is expecting when they return.
  • Severed friends and family connections can hurt the employee’s ability to adjust when they return. This is also true of their coworkers. It’s easy to lose touch when someone is half way across the world and rarely in a similar time zone. Only communicating via social media, phone or video calling can put a real damper on human connection. Not only is losing touch via communication a real possibility, the employee may also grow and change personally which may affect their relationships with friends and family. They may return having vastly different perceptions, thoughts, beliefs, etc. about the world that differ from the views that they had before they left, and this may cause a riff in some of their relationships.
    • What can companies do? Say it with me once more. Expectations, expectations, expectations. There isn’t a whole lot that a company can do to protect the relationships of its expats but helping the employee understand that their relationships can be impacted because of their assignment can help them consciously try to keep up on their communication with their loved ones while they are gone. It can also help the employee prepare their friends and family of the potential communication challenges so that everyone can take precautionary measures to defy the risks.

Fortunately, there are decades of data that researchers have used to pinpoint these specific techniques to make repatriating more manageable for expatriates. When companies understand the importance of supporting repatriating employees in several mental and physical aspects, they will see a great return on their usually very costly investment.

Did you know that Plus recently repatriated one of our own employees? She even documented the whole journey! Relive Anna’s assignment here!

The research shows that 'repats' can experience more intense culture shock on returning home than the trepidation they initially felt when being dispatched abroad. In one poll, 80 per cent of returning Japanese expats, 71 per cent of Finnish, 64 per cent of Dutch and 60 per cent of Americans said they found it harder readjusting to their home country than to their host country abroad.


repatriation, talent retention, reverse culture shock