Boosting The Retention Of Employees When They Return From Overseas


Research a number of years ago from Rice University found that time spent living abroad helped people not only understand their purpose in life but also to align their lives more effectively with that purpose.

This translates into good employees too, with research from the University of Buffalo highlighting that studying abroad boosts one’s employment prospects by 17%. This is perhaps due to what INSEAD’s Linda Brimm refers to as the “global cosmopolitan mindset”. She believes that the cosmopolitan mindset has three core elements to it:

  • A growth mindset – this is something examined in great depth by Stanford’s Carol Dweck, and can be characterized as a belief that intelligence can be developed, and a desire to learn new things, embrace new challenges, and generally persist in the face of setbacks.
  • A global mindset – which is defined as the ability to see and understand the world from multiple perspectives.
  • A creative mindset – the last characteristic is one that is defined by attitudes such as curiosity and a tolerance for ambiguity.

Retaining talent

While it’s increasingly appreciated by managers that people with overseas experience are beneficial to their team, there hasn’t really been much attention given to how people are treated once they return home. Indeed, it’s pretty common for people to leave their organization after they return from an overseas assignment.

Research from Mount Royal University explores some of the reasons behind this. The researchers found that a lack of engagement with returnees underpins their decision to move on, which is a tremendous waste as there is a rise in the number of employees sent on overseas assignments.

The researchers cite data from Brookfield Global Relocation Trends showing that nearly 40% of returnees leave their jobs within a year of coming back home. As a result, they believe that much more support is required to ensure that people are retained when they return from an overseas assignment.

Boosting engagement

Central to these efforts should be engagement, with the researchers finding that when employees weren’t sufficiently engaged after their return, they were much more likely to leave. This is a bit like when you leave your hometown for the bright lights elsewhere, as your hometown can appear dull and uninspiring upon your return.

For repatriates, the way in which they perceive their job in the period immediately after their return plays a big role in their engagement, and therefore their likelihood of sticking around. If their home office is up to the standards found in their overseas assignment then they’re much more likely to stay.

As a result of this, there was a general expectation among returnees that their employer would adjust the work they do to better reflect the new experience they’d gained overseas. For instance, they would be much more interested in strategic involvement and desperately want new ways to deploy the knowledge they picked up.

Feeling valued

In other words, the repatriates clearly felt that their time overseas was hugely valuable, and they want their employer and their manager to think likewise, with this reflected in their assignments upon their return.

It’s when these expectations aren’t met during the period after their return that disenfranchisement sets in and negative feelings start to fester towards their boss and towards their organization.

To meet the expectations of repatriates, organizations should begin by acknowledging the valuable knowledge they gained overseas. This could encompass technical skills, cross-cultural knowledge, language proficiency, and sales and marketing processes. The organization should reflect these skills in the job responsibilities of repatriates.

However, many organizations assign repatriates positions that do not align with their newly acquired knowledge and skills. It is crucial to match the repatriates’ new knowledge and experiences with their job duties.

New desires

Repatriates often had higher autonomy, flexibility, and decision-making authority while working abroad. Upon returning, tighter controls, loss of autonomy, and reduced flexibility can lead to decreased job satisfaction and engagement. Organizations must address these key factors when offering positions to repatriates.

Maintaining relationships with home office colleagues is crucial for expatriates on international assignments. The challenge of establishing and preserving these relationships can arise from factors such as time zone differences, limited personal interaction, and conflicting work objectives.

To address this, organizations should implement effective mentoring programs, including assigning a re-entry sponsor for repatriates. This ensures that repatriates stay connected with home office employees during their assignment and smoothly reintegrate upon return.

It’s clear that sending employees on overseas assignments is beneficial for all concerned, but perhaps organizations have paid less attention to what happens when they return than they do on what happens on the assignments themselves. For the benefits to endure, that’s a situation that has to change.

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