At the just concluded People In Energy conference in Houston, a thought-provoking discussion on global mobility trends ended with a common theme among attendees: what can we do about repatriation? Companies make a large investment in their expats who go on assignment. But often lost is the recognition that these employees also invest in themselves. The most successful expats take the time to personally learn a new language and understand the cultural nuances of working in a new country. Companies spend on the front end, and so do the employees.
Many Repatriates End Up Leaving
Think of the transformation a long-term assignment has on that employee. They often take the assignment with a promise of career-enhancement, and so put in the effort to ensure they are successful. While adding value to overseas operations for the firm, they are also adding new knowledge and experiences that make them even more valuable employees. So if, upon successful completion of the assignment, they come home to an environment that doesn’t acknowledge that value and experience, frustration sets in. It may even be the same job they had before — but now you have an employee with a global mindset, language fluency, and lessons learned that cannot go backwards. Add to that an atmosphere where they are surrounded by a new manager and peers that have little context or appreciation of their experience. Is there any wonder then, in the current war for talent, one company’s repat is another company’s rising star?
So What Can Companies Do?
Recognize that the journey home for the employee is simply the next phase of talent development. Put that global experience to use in ways that continue to help the organization, whether the next assignment, or promoting the repat’s visibility to other parts of the company that may tap into these newly acquired skills. These are assets that can be cultivated and encouraged to stay, or allowed to atrophy and walk away. Repatriation policies that mirror the time and investment on the back end as is done on the front end will greatly help. As will ongoing conversations with the employee while on assignment planning for their return.
Sonya Kaleel is the Director of Global Learning & Development at Aperian Global, a consulting and learning solution company dedicated to talent development.