Repatriation strategies

As with all other expatriate practices, repatriation also involves careful planning way in advance. As we have already discussed, the use of mentor programs from early expatriation stages helps to reassure expatriates that their experience will be recognized upon their return to headquarters. Also, thorough training programs should be in place to facilitate the re-entry of the expatriate and his or her family back into their original society.

Frazee (1997) also stresses the importance of involving the respective line-managers throughout the assignment to make sure the assignment will not exceed mutual expectations. It is important that all parties involved in ex- and repatriation have realistic expectations that in the best of all cases are put down in writing before the assignment begins. As the author puts it, "there can't be a guarantee, but there should be an international/domestic career-planning process with options laid out and requirement set (...)" (Frazee, 1997).

Information laid out in a repatriation agreement should include agreements about compensation, transportation, accommodation and in-country support. Especially the monetary issue should be discussed in advance, because returning expatriates will have to face income losses of about 30 per cent and are not as likely to enjoy the same perks as they did abroad.

While the company can monitor the repatriate's job opportunities, it is also important to offer them the possibility of managing their own careers while abroad. Keeping them informed about internal vacancies, establishing contact through the intranet, providing home leaves, the mentor program and other contacts to colleagues at home as well as setting up a resource center and vacancy database can help expatriates take their future into their own hands.

As for a time frame when to begin the actual repatriation mindset, Frazee suggests six months prior to going back home. It is then the challenge for the HR department to identify families that might have specific issues or doubts about coming back that have to be dealt with in detail. The repatriation training should build on the initial expatriate training, reminding the family of how they dealt with the first cultural change and how to apply the acquired skills back into the home environment. Involving repatriates in the home work environment is regarded as the "toughest challenge" by Frazee, but keeping the repatriates informed about the headquarters' situation, training them and holding a homecoming reception could facilitate the re-entry.

Allen and Alvarez (1998) identified some causes for poor repatriation and suggested the following strategies to overcome repatriation difficulties. The company might not consider its subsidiary's activities as very important. A sharp divide in domestic and overseas operations can lead to mediocre performers being chosen for overseas assignments, the "out of sight, out of mind" dilemma occurs and the HR strategies might not be well organized in that the domestic department does not feel responsible for the expatriate and his homecoming. The authors defined repatriation problems as a sign for broader HR problems, describing them as "symptoms of ineffective human resource management policy characterized by a short-term orientation in some cases and lack of involvement and responsibility in other."

The divide between home and host country operations can also place the expatriate in a difficult middle position due to competing priorities. It is therefore necessary to spell out expectations on both sides and plan for repatriation from the beginning. A short planning horizon will hinder the proper repatriation, as there might not be a proper job for the repatriate to come back to. The aforementioned contact, communication and mentor programs can facilitate repatriation, although as the authors note, especially the support from headquarters and mentors needs to be consistent. This implies that training and screening of mentors is necessary.

Planning ahead and linking the overseas assignment to the long-term career plans of the expatriate will create commitment and give a sense of security on both sides. Allen and Alvarez (1998) also indicate that broadening the re-entry 'time window' would also increase the likelihood of finding an appropriate position for the repatriate. Unfortunately, in reality most job openings will not be able to be held for long, but arrangements for the repatriate to return home early and the family following later can be taken care of. It is furthermore suggested to create a repatriate directory and network to maintain contact with former expatriates and enabling repatriates to gain insight into previous experiences. Repatriates can thus be used as trainers of future expatriates.

Black and Gregersen (1999) give examples of how different companies handle their repatriation. At Monsanto, for example, jobs after repatriation are thought about three to six months prior to the expatriate's return. The expatriate's skills are assessed and potential vacancies are reviewed. At the same time, the expatriate is asked to write a report including a self-assessment and a description of career goals. Again, it is noticeable that involving the expatriate into the process and listening to his or her concerns and ideas creates a sense of ownership and commitment and reduces the risk of losing the repatriate. A formal coaching process can assist with debriefing the international experience as well as with realistic goal setting.

Another example is UNOCAL, offering a day-long debriefing program for the whole repatriate family, identifying common repatriation difficulties. Videos from past repatriates' discussions are watched and sharing experiences is encouraged.

In summary, it is safe to say that the company can do a lot for expatriates before, during and at the end of an international assignment, but the ex- and repatriate him- or herself has ways of taking the career into their own hands. Remaining in close touch with headquarters, developing relationships with mentors and line-managers, maintaining visibility through frequent visits, and formulating clear and open expectations all ensure a smooth repatriation.

How have your own repatriations been handled in the past? Does your company have measures in place to make sure repatriate knowledge isn't lost in the process? Thank you for leaving a comment!


Frazee, Valerie (1997) Welcome your repatriates home, Workforce, p24

Allen, Douglas and Alvarez, Sharon (1998) Empowering Expatriates and organizations to improve Repatriation Effectiveness, Human Resource Planning, p29

Black, J. Stewart and Gregersen, Hal B. (1999) The right way to manage expats, Harvard Business Review, p52

Til next week, have a peaceful and happy one! Thanks to Maigi for the free pic.

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