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International Assignment Failure: Encountering Problems During Repatriation

When an employee is sent on assignment abroad, one of the necessary elements is a repatriation plan for a smooth return to the home country when the assignment is complete.  Repatriation planning includes setting a fixed end date, concluding assignment projects, relocation logistics, re-integration to the home country and any ensuing employment options.

As with many aspects of international assignments, repatriation can encounter obstacles that lead to another category of expatriate failure.  There are several core reasons for repatriation failure, which can be avoided with expat orientations, clear communication and adhering to host country rules on termination.

Reasons for Repatriation Failure

There are several ways that repatriation can be delayed or ineffective that make it a failure.  The term ‘failure’ is used to signify when there are unforeseen costs, time delays, business obstacles and employee issues.

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Socio-cultural Changes

Adapting to a foreign country when an assignment begins takes time in order to adjust to cultural differences and language.  Likewise, after a lengthy assignment, repatriation can bring its own version of ‘culture shock’, as the expat has to readjust to the home country.  Too often, the return home is taken for granted since it is familiar to the employee.

However, there can be problems with co-workers, family life, health and emotional adjustment.  Offering a re-orientation for expats on how to prepare for repatriation can help to mitigate any extreme reactions that could pose problems at home or work.  

Work Related Changes

The expat will typically be changing their range of job responsibilities on return to the home country, and need to be apprised of what to expect.  One of the common reasons for repatriation failure is when an employee is given increased responsibility or authority on assignment, only to find that their new home country position lacks the same qualities and job satisfaction.  This leads to repatriation retention issues, and despite the investment of training an expat in their position, they may not remain with the company.

Not Meeting Expectations

Given the challenge and occasional hardship of an international assignment, expats may expect a higher level of attention and treatment as they enter the repatriation phase.  If the returning employee is disappointed with elements of repatriation, this could lead to motivational problems and is one of the more subtle reasons for repatriation failure.

A company can prevent this by acting well ahead of time to ensure the move home is handled with care and attention.  Executives returning from assignment may be especially prone to having high expectations of how their repatriation is handled.

Non-compliance With Host Country Laws

Even when an assignment runs its projected time frame without incident, there may be local rules that require formal termination of employment.  This can include adequate notice periods, termination for cause and even severance pay, which can take several weeks to complete in countries such as China.

If the employment laws are not followed the company could face fines, expat delays in exiting the country and the employee could even have grounds to file a wrongful termination claim in the host country if notice and cause are not given.

Managing Expatriate Failure After an International Assignment

The steps to manage and minimize expatriate failure post-assignment are similar to those taken when planning the assignment.  The assumption is that a return home should be seamless and without difficulty, but that is far from the case.

There are specific methods for managing an expats repatriation, and can be implemented even before the assignment begins.

  • Develop a Repatriation Policy: This should be a general policy to guide HR and management in effective repatriation efforts
  • Have Clear Repatriation Agreements for Each Assignee: In addition to a policy, each assignment should specify the details of repatriation and a timeline
  • Use Repatriation Mentors: Prior to return, mentors can assist with communicating the details of repatriation and how to handle any problems that arise
  • Before Repatriation, Outline Home Country Positions and Opportunities: A chief concern among expats is the position awaiting on return, and this should be shared well ahead of time in case of adjustments or requests
  • Social and Company Wide Welcome Home Events: The returning expat will need to re-integrate into the business, and having a welcome event can help boost their esteem and give an opportunity to reconnect with colleagues

How a GEO Employer of Record is a Solution to Help Manage Expatriate Failure

A GEO employer of record is a solution to address the core reasons for repatriation failure, in addition to providing a full spectrum of local employment and payroll compliance measures.  The GEO is an alternative to setting up a legal entity in the country, and is positioned to assist with expat employment, termination and repatriation.

Specific ways that a GEO can help manage expatriate failure include:

  • Ensuring that all notice, termination and severance rules are followed that might prevent an employee’s timely departure
  • Confirming the repatriation date with the client-company and communicating with the employee regarding logistics, banking, benefit payments and required immigration departure steps. Some countries require time consuming deregistration and exit clearance for long term expats.
  • Assisting with the transition of payroll from host to home country, depending on the type of payroll method used, allocation of compensation and benefits arrangements.

Just these few benefits make the GEO solution attractive for multinationals, and the local employer of record provides a comprehensive service to companies entering new markets or expanding business activities.

Get in touch to find out more about how an Employer of Record Solution can help your company mitigate International Assignment Failure

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