stated by Brian J. Hurn “Repatriation, or re-entry, is the transition from
a foreign country back to one’s own after living overseas for a significant
period of time” (Hurn, 1999). Living and working
abroad for a period of time represents a lot of effort and expenses for the
company as well as a major change of life and work for the employee. Therefore,
companies and individuals should ensure a smooth expatriation process but as
well focusing on a successful repatriation. There is evidence that only a
minority of companies invest in repatriation and acknowledge the difficulties
facing this phase (Paik, et al., 2002). Most expatriates
and managers assume that reintegrating in one’s own country and culture is easy
(Stroh, et al., 1998). However, studies
show that repatriating is often even more challenging than expatriating (Paik, et al.,
The cost of failed reintegration of international assignments is high,
financially for the company, and personally for the employee.
4.2 Problem Statement of Repatriation
lot of expatriates and managers underestimate the repatriation, as the employee
‘only comes home’, which is a process to be assumed as simple. That the
re-entry process, certainly, is difficult becomes visible when looking at the
attrition rates of repatriates in international companies. Studies show that
managers returning to their home companies are more likely to discharge their
position and consequently reside outside employment than other executives (Stroh, et al., 1998). Referred to Black and
Gregersen (1999), 25% of employees leave the company within the first year
after the assignment, which is twice as high as the number of employees who
were not on an international deployment. From the figures it is apparent that organizations
need to care better, since costs of losing repatriated employees is very
relevant, as those employees can understand both the perspective of the headquarters
and the overseas subsidiaries. Corresponding to Allen and Alvarez (1998), many
multinational companies face poor repatriation processes. In the article
concerned, they describe different reasons and causes why the repatriation
proves to be a difficult issue in the expatriation process.
employees are sent abroad, they mostly come back with newly learned skills and
knowledge acquired in the overseas position and environment, but executives
report that often organizations fail to recognize the gained competencies. Such
handling can provoke the feeling of not being appreciated in an appropriate way.
According to Gupta (2013), the main motivation for employees to decide on an
international assignment is the career advancement and the financial gain.
Therefore, the main factor during the re-entry phase is the job anxiety. During
their return many repatriates indicated that they faced a ‘lost ground’ in
their career as no career advancement was promoted. Therefore, Allen &
Alvarez (1998) state that high costs are wasted when expatriate skills and
knowledge are not utilized by the organization.
potential reason highlighted by the authors is “the inability to recruit
key personal into overseas positions” (Allen & Alvarez, 1998). Black (1991) declared that poor repatriation can
illustrate an international assignment like a “kiss of the death” (Allen &
In order to recruit potential candidates for a period abroad, such assignments
need to be presented in an attractive way. Employees observing poor managed
repatriation processes, might not be attracted in such a career. If companies become
unable to make most qualified employees interested in global assignments they
are hindered in developing international capabilities in their workforce (Allen & Alvarez, 1998).
(2013) presents, in this context, the kingpin
phenomena, which says that expatriates often face a high amount of
promotion in overseas positions, resulting in a high level of responsibility
and autonomy. When arriving at the home office they might experience a certain
loss of status and autonomy (Gupta, 2013).
A similar approach is explained by the big-fish-small-fish
idea. Employees sent abroad, often experience to be a big fish in a small pot,
as in smaller offices overseas often every employee is a key employee. When
returning back to the headquarters they might be seen as a small fish in a big
pond. Possible responsibility or autonomy did not change but the employee
receives the feeling of being less important to the organization (Buller & McEvoy, 2013).
become highly relevant in the field of reintegrating an employee into the old
work-environment. Often organizations do not realize the extent, in which an employee
has adapted to a foreign culture and may not exert their efforts in assisting
the expatriate in the cultural reintegration process (Paik, et al., 2002). Therefore, companies
can have different expectations than the expatriate and may offer different
opportunities. If no expectations or agreements are discussed in form of a
reintegration program, consequences can be high attrition rates and dissatisfaction
of the repatriate. Referred to Stroh et al. (1998), expectations of expatriates
need to be developed long time before the re-entry, even before the assignment
has started at all. Sometimes it is even stated, that some kind of
psychological contracts are formed, where employees’ beliefs about the
obligations that may exist between the employee itself and the organization,
are aligned (Lazarova & Caliguri, 2001). According to Allen and
Alvarez (1998), the fulfillment of the employees’ expectations is increasing
his/ her job commitment and effectiveness.
in another country than your home country for a period of time comes along with
changes. On the one hand the person itself changes. Due to the adaptation to a
new culture, customs and people may let the person think different, act
different and feel different. On the other hand, the organization and the home society
changes (Stroh, et al., 2000). Therefore, expatriates
are not aware that they might have changed as well and organizations do not
reflect what expatriates have accomplished during the time abroad (Paik, et al., 2002).
already explained earlier, repatriates experience some stages and phases when
returning back home. As they may face a cultural shock when going abroad, they
may experience a reverse cultural shock when entering their home country again.
Corresponding to Black, the re-adjustment in the home country is more difficult
than the adjustment to a life in another country (Black, 1991). He declares his
argument by explaining that many expatriates do not have lived in their
destination country before, therefore they do not pose any personal experience
with this country till now. Consequently, their expectations are more based on
stereotypes. On the other hand, all have lived in their home country and
therefore the expectations, upon return, are based on personal experiences.
Furthermore, the reverse cultural shock can be experienced in different
intensities. Such extents may depend on aspects like the length the individual
has been away from the home country, the country where he/ she completed the assignment
as well as personal characteristics like the age. According to Gupta (2013),
the reverse cultural shock is dependent on the variations in the home country
as well as the degree to which the individual has altered.
employees are conducting an international assignment, often the financial
supply is guaranteed. They are heavily financially supported by the
organization, costing the company two till three times more than a normal
employee. Besides the high salary, they receive further compensation premiums.
Expatriates and their families adapt to a higher living standard, in being able
to join several clubs, driving an expensive car and going to restaurants. Upon
returning, they are probably no longer able to maintain such style of living. This
loss of life quality often results in a loss of social interaction and disappointment
in the home country (Gupta, 2013).
families returning to their home town, do have the impression that friends have
moved away. Repatriate spouse can have the feeling that friends no longer are
available for social activities. All this can result in a sense of loss.
Repatriates may not receive the same level of attention and support, they have got
abroad (Gupta, 2013).
Often repatriated families reported upon close unions in the foreign countries,
even particular expatriation communities, who share the same concerns.
Returning back home, they are given the feeling that everyone is in concern
with their own lives: “The phone does not ring” (Gupta, 2013).
Even in contact with people, repatriates indicate that other persons are rarely
interested in hearing from the foreign experiences. As previously stated,
companies often fail to appreciate the gained experiences and values a
repatriate has collected, it becomes visible that this also happens in the
private environment. As returned persons cannot share their experience or do not
feel well-understood, the sense of isolation and disorientation can be
increased. If expatriates decide to go abroad with their family, they also need
to care for the reintegration of children. The children are confronted by
reentering in their social groups. Peer groups could have changed, new group
dynamics could have developed, new friendships to establish and new trends to
follow. Children may face even more surfaces where to reenter again, like sport
clubs, school systems and things like slangs and fashion (Gupta, 2013).
Claimed by Gupta (2013) it can be speculated: “the more difficult the
re-entry process for the children, the greater is the spill-over effect for the
repatriate”. Tension in relationships can also be an outcome of a poor
reintegration, as partners face problems to find a new job or settle down
Viewpoint of the organizations
is a lack of literature in the field of challenges international human resource
faces upon expatriation management (Buller & McEvoy, 2013). Anyhow Paul Buller
and Glen M. McEvoy conducted in-depth interviews with international human
resource managers from seven successful American companies so as to to identify
new aspects of the expatriate management and to reduce the lack of attention on
this topic. In the course of their study they found out that 70% of companies
report to have a written repatriation policy, 98% tried to help expatriates
finding new career options and 90% have repatriation discussions (Buller & McEvoy, 2013). It becomes visible,
that companies might be prepared for repatriation processes as they depict
certain policies. Anyhow within their study international human resource
managers indicated that the job assistance is only done in informal approaches.
With a not existing strategic career planning upon return, employees are left,
useless, with their new knowledge and skills. (Buller &
has been mentioned above, an important aspect to increase certainty and satisfaction
for the returned employee, the companies should settle agreements about career
perspectives upon return. An empirical study from 1997 reports that 27% of companies
held re-entry sessions to discuss career objectives and performance plans for
the re-entry. Anyhow, responding firms said that they waited 90 days before
conducting such sessions (Dowling, et
al., 2008, p. 199).
However, authors of more recent studies have indicated an increase in re-entry
discussions. Findings from the GMAC-GRS survey in reported that 73% of
concerned organizations held such sessions in 2002, in comparison to 2004
already 86% implemented re-entry discussions (Dowling, et al., 2008). Anyhow 53% were only
informally debated, 38% formally and 10% did not know (Gupta, 2013). Accordingly to
these studies it can be assumed that improvements in the reintegration
processes have been significantly made over time. Although the percentage have
been risen it becomes visible, that re-entry sessions only rarely exist in a
common formal procedure. As investigated, agreeing on career objectives and
preliminary agreements is an essential part for a successful reintegration.
to previous research, expatriates often fear that companies forget about them
while being overseas and that the experience abroad will not be valued afterwards
(Black & Gregerson, 1999). Referring to the
study of Buller and Mc. Evoy (2013), the international human resource mangers
reported that such experience is valued within the companies. Moreover, they indicated
that companies provide programs for expatriates to stay in contact with the
home country. Some implemented advanced video conferencing technologies, others
chat rooms, where expatriates could chat with colleagues and bosses.
to Black and Gregersen (1999), expatriates normally do not have a job guarantee
when retuning after an assignment. This was proved by the interviews hold in
the study, where six of the seven firms confirmed this accordingly but added
that it might be the same case for “at will” employment and
repatriates challenge more with the
big-fish small-fish phenomena when returning (Buller & McEvoy, 2013).
to Linehan and Scullion (2002), repatriation should be a major concern of
multinational companies as the lack of awareness to repatriation may consist a
long-term impact on the performance of companies because of the problems coming
along with the reintegration, both for the expatriate and the organizations.