Preparing expat employees for repatriation

January 2022

For international businesses with expat employees, a lot of work typically goes into preparing them for going on assignment. Soon to be expats may complete pre-departure training, visit their destination country with their family and have assistance settling into their new life. 


But what happens when the assignment is over? It could be months or even years later and it’s time for the employee and their dependents to return to their home country. Research into repatriation shows this can be equally as challenging for the individual and their family as leaving in the first place. There are also concerns for your business, one study found that almost 40% of repatriates left the business within a year and another found 50% left within two years of their return. 

  1. Although expats are most likely to leave a business mid-assignment for family reasons, once they have repatriated the KPMG Global Mobility report found the majority left for a few key reasons:
Research conducted on repatriate’s pre-pandemic indicated they felt fundamentally changed by the expat experience. Repatriates have a new international component to how they work that is often not valued by their business when they return. 
Repatriates can find themselves in roles with less responsibility, pay or opportunities than colleagues without international experience. Or they may be in a role that does not allow them to use the additional skills they acquired during their time overseas leading them to seek other opportunities. 
International experience is valued by many businesses and repatriates may find they are a more desirable candidate for mid-high management positions recruited by other businesses. 
This leaves many firms with globally mobile employees in the difficult position of losing experienced senior employees. Leaving your business with challenging vacancies to recruit, particularly in a global economy with skills shortages in many industries
Given levels of repatriate turnover, it may not be a surprise that Mercer found career planning for returning expatriates was the top challenge businesses faced when managing international assignments. There are actions businesses can take to make repatriation easier and hopefully see better return on investment:
There is a temptation to focus entirely on an expats business goal while they are overseas, however, it is important to begin discussing the repatriation process long before the assignment is due to end. Keep mobile employees up to speed on changes in their home country. Check in with the assignee so the business is aware of changes in expectation when they move back. 
Your company is likely to put a lot of time and money into preparing employees for living and working overseas. If similar care is not put into preparing repatriates for a return to their home country, it may not see a full return on investment. People teams may need to prepare assignees for the possibility of reverse culture shock and assistance settling back to life in their home country. 
Help repatriates integrate back into the workforce by conducting pre, during and post assignment skills assessment. This will help identify skills gained or strengthened during the assignment and identify any potential gaps as a result of being away for a long period. 
Following the skills assessment, leverage any additional skills as part of their role when they return home. This may look different for every employee, they may be able to assist in the development of new products, international strategy or team building based on learnings from their time abroad. 
Mercer also found that most businesses surveyed [66%] did not conduct satisfaction surveys with returning expats. Conducting this kind of research is an invaluable way to gain insight into the post-assignment problems and improve the assignee experience.   

Businesses can help repatriates feel more valued during and after their expat assignment by:

  • Linking expatriates with other divisions within the company while they are on assignment and maintaining these contacts when they return. This helps repatriates maintain their identity within the business.  
  • Use repatriates to provide pre-expat assignment training to employees going on their first international assignment.
  • Involve repatriates in the development of international strategy so they can actively use the insights they have gained on assignment.

If your business has expatriate employees on assignment provide them with access to private healthcare with international health insurance tailored to your business needs.