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Firms fail staff returning from international assignments

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Organisations that send staff on international assignments are failing to benefit through failure to invest in repatriation and professional development, according to research by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Cranfield School of Management.

‘Measuring the Value of International Assignments’ is based on tracking 3,450 expatriates over an average of three years. It finds that an average of 15 per cent of international assignees – frequently an organisation’s top performers – resign within a year of completing their posting.

As the trend for international assignments increases, organisations are placing more emphasis on selection. An average of 32 per cent of new expatriates are in the top performance category as assessed by their company.

Surprisingly, the report finds no correlation between higher pay for expatriates and improved performance.

In fact, the higher the pay, the longer assignments tend to last with some employees happy to prolong an enhanced financial existence abroad, with little incentive to return.

But the report stresses that more time needs to be spent preparing for an assignee’s return.

PricewaterhouseCoopers partner, George Yeandle, said: “One of the worst pieces of news a HR manager can get is that a high performing, newly returned employee is leaving, but this is worryingly common.

“People who have spent two years working in a different ways across varied markets and cultures are not always happy to return to the same desk and the same prospects.

“In this vacuum of direction, many have a career ‘wobble’ then leave via a recruitment market in which their experience is seen as increasingly valuable.

“By taking steps to plan the repatriation phase, companies will be able to halt the exodus, retain talent and benefit from the substantial investment they have made.”

The report shows the value employers give to international experience. Some 5 per cent of UK managers currently have international experience. This rises to 20 per cent for senior managers and 25 per cent at board or executive level.

Dr Michael Dickmann, of Cranfield School of Management, said: “Our research has shown that companies are at risk of losing their expatriate staff because they fail to devise a career path for them when they return from overseas.

“Much more time and effort must be put into preparing for an employee`s return – they need security, a meaningful role on their return, and to see a clear path for their future career development within the organisation.

“Our research has shown that expatriate performance is surprisingly high during their assignment, and again 12 months after they return – it is in the 12 months when they return that they are most at risk of leaving a company.”

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