August 29, 2014
“Living in this country will change you so profoundly; you will never see your world in the same way.”
Such were the words of an expatriate colleague upon my arrival in Saudi Arabia to teach at a local university. I knew what she was talking about. Having spent my childhood in developing countries following my father’s job, and subsequently living and working in a number of countries not my own, I was familiar with the transformational aspects of the expat life. Living in another country can irrevocably alter your values, attitudes, behaviors, ideas, and perceptions in ways not fully appreciated until you return home.
Most international companies today are diligent about preparing employees for overseas postings. What they do less well is welcome these employees back when the assignment is over. Even when they do, they often assume they are welcoming back the same employees, spouses, and children they dispatched to another country. By not paying sufficient attention to their returning employees, they are doing the employees and their companies a great disservice in an era when competent globally minded employees are needed more than ever.
Why should HR be concerned about expats coming home? It has been estimated that 15-25% of returning expats leave their jobs within a year and up to 40% after 2 years. Companies are losing valuable assets in which they have made considerable investments. Departing employees are taking their international knowledge and expertise to other companies or are starting their own.
One of the major reasons returning employees do not stay is because of the changes they have undergone while working overseas. Back in their home countries, they often find their new skills, international savvy, and multicultural flexibility are unacknowledged and underutilized. They are bored by work days characterized by efficiency and predictability. They miss the challenge and thrill of the new and novel. They frequently mourn their “specialness” as foreigners. The world is no longer their oyster.
How can HR help? Here are seven tips for welcoming your expats home while keeping them in the company and capitalizing on their global acumen.
As I have been repeatedly transformed, your employees will likewise change profoundly as a result of their overseas experiences. These changes, however, inevitably increase their value to their companies. No company today can afford to lose the expertise of these global employees. It is critical, therefore, HR take the lead in ensuring they are appreciated, retained, and developed.
For more business analysis and insights, sign up for our free newsletter with career advice.