There’s No Place Like Home: Returning from an International Assignment
Posted by: Uli Leib, Account Manager, Intercultural & Language Solutions
In the classic 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, the heroine was able to return to her home in Kansas by clicking her heels together three times while saying “There’s no place like home.” But what is “home”?
When I was growing up, a village of 1,500 people in Austria was home. I still go home when I visit my family there every year. I get excited months ahead of time and anxiously count down the days. When I received my cultural profile from the web-based tool Country NavigatorTM recently, the country my profile matched most closely was Austria, even though I have been living in the United States for years. And just in case that’s not proof enough that Austria is my home, I also own a t-shirt which proudly states You can take the Girl out of Austria, but you can’t take Austria out of the Girl.
Interestingly enough, though, after a few weeks of being back at “home” in Austria, I start to feel restricted by life there. Gossip about neighbours (Did you see that dress she wore?) is a favorite pastime, and I have a hard time finding topics of conversation which are of interest to both me and my friends and family. Would I ever be able to fit in here again, I wonder, as I start to look forward to returning to Chicago, which has become home sweet home as well, and where nobody seems to care about what anyone wears.
Repatriating from an International Assignment
I can understand how hard it is for the expat families we work with to return “home” from a place that has become home for them during their international assignment. Most of them probably look forward to going back, but as many have found out, it’s surprisingly challenging to fit in again. They have learned so much; they had to adjust to a different life style; they found new friends and new favourite dishes. And now, nobody is interested in the lives they led overseas, and nobody understands why they would miss a foreign place so much. Reverse culture shock is very real, and it can indeed make repatriation the most challenging part of an international assignment.
Fitting in again in the old work place is just as challenging as in the old neighbourhood. Expats who were a “big fish in a small pond” while on assignment often feel let down when expectations of being looked up to as a global expert may go unfulfilled. Frequently, this will tempt employees to start looking for greener pastures elsewhere. A Cartus survey indicated that 61% of companies don’t even track the percentage of repatriating assignees leaving their organization within two years of the conclusion of their assignment. Also, a recent study showed that 20-50% of repatriates leave companies within two years of repatriation (Stroh et al; Bossard and Peterson).
How Relocation Managers Can Help Repatriating Employees
Here are a few ways employers can help repatriating employees:
- Include a career discussion (including repatriation goals) during the assessment and selection process
- Assign a mentor in the home location for the duration of the assignment
- Have focused networking and HR/business conversations during home-leave trips
- Begin repatriation job planning 9 to 12 months prior to the end of the assignment
- Offer a retention allowance as long as they stay with the company for two years upon return from assignment
- Provide repatriation integration programs for the entire family
For more information on intercultural support, and other matters that impact your relocation program, be sure to visit our Resource Hub on Cartus.com.