Bloomberg Law for HR Professionals is a complete, one-stop resource, continuously updated, providing HR professionals with fast answers to a wide range of domestic and international human resources...
By Lien Hoang
Dec. 8— When employees take on cushy assignments abroad, it's easy to feel like rulers of their own little fiefdoms. They can be in charge of entire countries, have personal drivers and send important intel back to headquarters about new markets. Once the expatriate contract expires, however, these “repats” move back to home offices with little to do—and little reason to stay, says Iain Adams, managing director of Asia Pacific for relocation company Sterling, who estimates that more than half of employees who return from international postings wind up quitting within two years.
Many repats end up feeling bored or less significant when they return, like “small fish” in big ponds, Adams said, because their companies don't have post-assignment strategies. That can jeopardize the returns employers expect on their investment in sending staff abroad.
“We should be doing everything we can to get them back in the business and capitalize on the investment,” Adams said Dec. 1 at the annual Asia Pacific Forum for Expatriate Management in Hong Kong.
Mining giant Rio Tinto addresses this problem through “reintegration” sessions, according to Eric Baden, the company's Asia Pacific senior advisor for global mobility. Repats could face a Rip Van Winkle-like shock back home because the office changed in their absence, colleagues moved on and their old jobs disappeared. Baden says his company uses reintegration to update returnees on what's new at the workplace, as well as to identify new roles for them.
“They would have been used to a different lifestyle, a different mindset,” Baden told Bloomberg BNA on the sidelines of the forum.
Adams recommends that employers take steps toward reintegrating expats while they are still on overseas assignment. Some employers offer flexible vacations back home, for example, allowing employees to visit family and friends and to spend some time working in the home office. Similarly, if the expat goes to headquarters on a business trip, Adams suggests the visit be timed to coincide with a mixer with coworkers, which would allow the cultivation of ties between domestic and foreign colleagues. Such relationships tend to suffer when employees are transferred abroad.
Adams suggests companies draft formal policies to ensure regular communication between headquarters and foreign offices to avoid the “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome.
Flexibility is key to providing a satisfactory expatriate experience, Adams says. This begins with tailoring expat contracts to the realities of a specific assignment—for example, by giving transfers an allowance for pollution in Beijing or a clothing budget when moving them from hot to cold climates (or vice versa).
“The ‘one-size-fits-all’ may no longer be relevant,” Adams said.
Early planning also means managing staff's expectations. Adams himself, for example, thought his relocation to Singapore would be an easy move, but no one warned him that the haze would force him and his family to stay indoors.
At the end of a foreign assignment, it is just as important to reintegrate the family as the employee, Baden said. Rio Tinto, for example, works with spouses to see what they need when back in their home countries, going so far as to connect them via social clubs. The company also spends time finding an educational match for the children, who get used to years of attending international schools.
To contact the reporter on this story: Lien Hoang in Hong Kong at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rick Vollmar at firstname.lastname@example.org
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to email@example.com.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).
This Bloomberg BNA report is available on standing order, which ensures you will all receive the latest edition. This report is updated annually and we will send you the latest edition once it has been published. By signing up for standing order you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you need. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.372.1033, option 5, or by sending us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order
Notify me when new releases are available (no standing order will be created)