Navigating The Six Zones Of Repatriation

For those who have navigated the return journey of living and working overseas, you will know that sometimes it can feel just plain tough. Whilst the experience of returning ‘home’ is often not all bad, most of us are caught by surprise at just how many ‘little’ things can actually unnerve us or catch us unaware. The idea of navigating any form of lag time outside of jetlag just didn’t seem to occur to us and yet it is something that catches both individuals and the organisations that they work for by surprise.

As the demand for leaders with a global mindset continues to grow, the prospect of living and working abroad continues to remain a valuable opportunity for businesses and individuals alike. However all too often the benefits fail to fully materialise for both parties due to the difficulties experienced in navigating the return journey ‘home’.

For organisations these difficulties often result in the departure of key talent, which represents an enormous loss in ROI with knowledge, experience and relationships walking out the door. For individuals the lack of opportunity to reconnect purposefully on both a professional and personal front often translates to disengagement and frustration.

Positioning repatriation at the front of the global talent mobility cycle is critical if we are to ensure employees and their families return confidently. The Brookfield 2016 Global Mobility Trends Survey recently found that only 10% of organisations surveyed reported that the role of the global mobility function was aligned with the wider talent agenda and actively engaged in workforce planning and people effectiveness.

There is no doubt that this disconnection is hurting both businesses and individuals. As organisations recognise and actively work to build a pipeline of future leaders with global experience, how they support and integrate the personal and professional needs of an individual during the return phase will ultimately determine how strong their pipeline remains.

Successful expats grow not only their core business knowledge and skillset whilst away but also their personal perspectives. More often than not they return with different attitudes and views looking at the world through a different lens. Ultimately they return different people. To assume that they can and will simply ‘slot back in’ is dangerous and often costly.

Just as the physical journey home invariably requires individuals to cross often multiple time zones, so too does the repatriation journey. To reduce the lag time associated with these zones, organisations need to ensure that their repatriation planning pays attention to each area that individuals find themselves having to navigate.

The six zones of repatriation:

Physical: Regarded as the base line of support, most organisations are well equipped to manage this ‘zone’ effectively through partnerships with outsourced mobility partners and interim accommodation providers. Ensuring that this component is not just part of the initial assignment phase but also the homeward bound journey though is essential.

Financial: Given that most people don’t move in tandem with the financial or tax year, offering tailored financial guidance is critical to helping individuals and their families’ kick start their lives back ‘home’. Foreign bank accounts; managing off-shore investments; navigating compliance formalities and simply shifting finances home all require timely advice.

Business: With significant business changes – be it in structure or people – often occurring whilst the expat has been off shore, a ‘re-boarding’ process is strongly advised. These programs need to reflect any key market, political or relationship changes that may impact the way in which the employee may carry out their role.

Career: For repatriates the number one frustration with their return is the lack of meaningful opportunity to leverage recently acquired knowledge, skills and experience. Whilst robust career planning should occur prior to the assignment commencing so that realistic expectations are established, it is vital that career planning is made an integral part of the returning phase.

Social: It is not uncommon for individuals to experience and enjoy the connection of a tight knit expat community whilst off shore. For many, returning ‘home’ is an intensely isolating experience that can significantly impact the level of fulfillment and engagement in the workplace. Welcome home events, internal mentor programs and repatriate networks that include spouses and children are proven strategies to help support social reintegration.

Emotional: Whilst stress and anxiety are a well-known side effect of any move, it is often most underestimated on the journey ‘home’. When the so-called familiar no longer feels that way the emotional impact can be overwhelming. Understanding some of the key triggers and the subsequent support offerings should be a critical part of any employee well being program.

Have you returned home after living abroad, or are planning to in the near future? I invite you to comment and share your experiences below.