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.

Go to the profile of Tim Burgess
Nov 04, 2018
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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.

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...read more

Shield GEO makes international employment simple. Our customers use Shield GEO to employ and payroll hundreds of workers in over fifty countries. Find out more. 

Go to the profile of Tim Burgess

Tim Burgess

Director, Shield GEO Services Ltd

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