The loyalty of expatriate employees is (also) achieved by managing their return

By on 16 January 2019

With the signing of the Brexit agreement in mid-November, 13% of French expatriates living in the United Kingdom are considering returning to France[1]. If the economic and political situation has not yet stabilized, these attempts to return home by expatriates will raise real questions for their employers, and in a probably fairly short period of time.

The Brexit raises the question of the return of expatriate employees to their country of origin with particularly strong acuity. Return is often the weak link in the management of expatriation by employers, convinced that returning home is, if not a non-event, in any case necessarily easy for the employee. This is not true, as this eloquent figure shows: 47% of expatriates left their companies within 2 years of their return[2].

The expatriation process extends from preparing the departure of the expatriate employee to accompanying his or her return to his or her country and company of origin; and this last step is essential to maintain his or her commitment and loyalty, even though he or she has often become a real asset for the company. Most of the time, he returns bilingual, with a more international professional network, and shows increased agility and adaptability, which are key strengths for a company, especially in a market that is constantly changing, increasingly digital, more international and more competitive.

As with departure preparation, managing the return of an expatriate employee must be part of the company’s overall talent management policy and focus on three areas:

  • Professional support: which position? how to value new skills / knowledge acquired? how to find a dynamic in your company without the “exhilarating” effect of life abroad?
  • Administrative support: where to stay? how to declare your taxes? how to register for social assistance schemes? what health coverage? These administrative questions arise particularly in France, where the formalities are numerous and lengthy: obtaining a new carte vitale, presenting a complete certificate of the coverage the employee had abroad….
  • Social support: it is often a neglected aspect, but the expatriate employee does not usually go alone, but with his spouse and children: how to ensure schooling? how to financially manage his home while his spouse finds a job, finds a new job, spends a training… ?

In short, it is a question of supporting the employee in his global reintegration: cultural gap, social life to be rebuilt… In a way, expatriates, especially those who have been living there for a long time, must learn to live in their country of origin again.

As international insurance experts, we have been accompanying employees and their employers for many years and have witnessed the difficulties they may encounter in managing the return, many of which could have been avoided with better preparation. My advice to both the employee and his employer is to anticipate. You wouldn’t send an employee overnight to live in Hong Kong for two years. Similarly, the same employee cannot be expected to return to his or her home office overnight, after several months or even years spent abroad. It takes about six months to discuss all aspects of the return with the employee and propose answers to questions that could constitute points of tension once the employee has actually returned. Although simple, these actions are proving to be effective: on the professional level, organising career interviews on the spot and appointing a “sponsor” to accompany the employee during his mission until his return; on the administrative level, relocation companies, which will facilitate the relocation of the employee; finally, on the social level, it is always possible to offer coaching sessions for the employee and his family, or help in finding a job for the spouse. In any case, dialogue is key.

In short, the return, like the departure, is prepared and organized around a clear roadmap. And the employer is the most legitimate contact person to support his expatriate employee. Moreover, 43% of companies are now seeking to improve the management of expatriation returns as part of their talent management policy. The key: the possibility of building their loyalty within the company, to make the most of their (new) talents, and to give themselves every opportunity to prepare for a future expatriation!

 

[1] Etude Mondissimo « Français du Royaume-Uni, quel avenir après le Brexit ? »

[2] Observatoire français de l’expatriation

[3] Talent Mobility Trend Survey – BGRS