Problems of expatriation begin with the homecoming

Sebastian Reiche reveals a common Achilles’ heel


Sebastian Reiche

Multinationals go through a lot of effort in order to ease an employee’s transition to a position in a foreign office. And they are often successful. But when the time comes to ‘repatriate’ those employees once their assignment has been completed, 25 percent leave the company within less than two years of returning. Why? What has changed?

Sebastian Reiche, is a professor at IESE who specializes in professional expatriation. He has been studying the related data during the past decade. His insights on the topic were included in a recent article published in Bloomberg Business Week: "During repatriation, once the order to return is given, the company doesn’t think about the employee because they don’t see any problem and this is where they err." The employee also doesn’t expect any difficulty in returning to a supposedly familiar place.

When a manager is sent abroad, they mentally prepare for a complete change of life. "You’re mentally prepared that your life will change completely," says Reiche. "Companies do what they can to facilitate the adaptation process. But we forget that returning home is a big change as well. "Coming back is a totally different story."

The professor explained to Bloomberg that "returnees often get frustrated when the skills they’ve acquired overseas go unrecognized, and they find their professional circles have moved on without them." There are many occasions when the company’s management or Human Resources do not understand the nature of the problem and don’t know how to resolve it.

The problems of the ‘repatriated’ are worse than those of expatriation because they are unanticipated by the company and the employee and so are not resolved.

Reiche went on to explain, "If you feel your new-found talents are wasted at work you are going to leave the company and go somewhere else, where there’s a position that can better leverage what you’ve gained and where people are interested in what you’ve done before." When a good employee quits, it’s a step backwards for the company and a problem for management. To face growing internationalization and mobility, resolving the problems of repatriation is very relevant in order to retain talented people and maintain employee loyalty.

"Counting on a good mentor and maintaining regular contact is essential." Prof. Reiche recommends that professional ‘expatriates’ find a formal or informal mentor in their headquarters, someone "who can really defend your interests while you’re away. This is very important."

Prof. Sebastian Reiche publishes his opinions on expatriation in his blog Expatriatus.