Repatriate & Radiate

A while back, I was asked to attend an intimate HR event — the agenda was to look at relocation and immigration cases that were particularly problematic to manage. One of the challenging scenarios that we reviewed were Italian nationals repatriating back to Italy.

It was in that moment that I had one of those “Aha” moments like Oprah used to talk about back in the 90s. I immediately could see, what in my opinion was missing, and what could be provided instead, thus contributing to making these repatriations more successful.

It was clear to me that a repatriating assignee needed to be given a specialized program to avoid certain challenges that could potentially lead to a negative service delivery evaluation. Having overseen thousands of relocations, I felt that there were vital elements that must be present when repatriating an assignee back to their home country. If these are addressed, in my opinion, you can dramatically increase the satisfaction rate of the repatriating employee.

A few months after my initial meeting with the HR managers, I got the chance to test out my concept regarding assignees repatriating back to Italy. It concerned a C-suite Italian manager who had lived abroad for fifteen years and who had absorbed a lot of the culture in the countries where they had been assigned to. This was the perfect opportunity for me to put into action the tailor-made, personalized repatriation program that I had conceptualized months earlier.

The program, together with other unique features, includes several strategic one-to-one sessions, starting with ‘Italy — The Reintroduction’, whereby the assignee is led through the major changes that have occurred in their country during their absence — the internet cannot always provide this insight in such granular detail. This session also addresses what is commonly known in the Global Mobility sector as Reverse Culture Shock.

In my opinion, this is very real, and should not be underestimated. It occurs quite often in a repatriating assignee and can bring up a myriad of emotions ranging from surprise to feeling disoriented in their own country. This can be brought about by the assignee questioning aspects of their own culture or country, feeling less than enthusiastic about being back home, and experiencing moments of isolation brought on by not having within reach certain qualities that they appreciated about the other cultures and countries where they lived. In some cases, there can also be sudden realization of why they left their own country in the first place, which can make them question their decision to repatriate.

Working closely with HR, a second session deals with the company culture, and what has changed and who is who now, in comparison to when the assignee went abroad on assignment. This has proven very effective in supporting the assignee with the reintegration process.

As the saying goes, nothing stays the same and nothing lasts forever. Given the competitive nature of the business marketplace, many companies are introducing changes and new processes constantly, with the goal of staying relevant and offering a work environment that fosters talent retention. Sometimes, these changes are tested and implemented first in the headquarters and other offices located in the home country, before they are rolled out to their other offices around the world. This can often mean that the repatriating assignee will be working in a very different work environment back home as opposed to the one overseas.

To prepare the repatriating assignee and to assist them to acclimatize to the new environment in the home country, as well as to help them avoid making any professional faux pas due to being unprepared, this session is a must-have as part of a dynamic and innovative repatriation program.

Another challenge for repatriating assignees in Italy can be the housing market, especially when they are transitioning from being an expatriate to a local hire. Even though this is their home market, due to their experience abroad, they can benefit from a session on how the local housing market functions now. This session explores the current state of the local market, the most desired areas, budgets, lease contracts (corporate vs. person-to-person), and interacting with landlords, especially regarding sought-after properties in 1st tier cities.

Given that this aspect of returning home can be challenging — it is vital that the home search is given priority in every sense of the word. This means that the assignee must see properties within 24 business hours from the time they give their availability — therefore, only the best and most vetted realtors can be used; those that will bring their A-game to the table by also including whisper listings, to make sure that the newly repatriated assignee is getting the best customer service experience. The challenges of moving back home should never be misjudged, so it’s essential to pull out all the stops, especially regarding the home search aspect of the repatriation program. Any issues or challenges regarding this part of the service delivery need to be communicated immediately to the HR, so these can be address collaboratively in a proactive and solution-oriented manner.

Acquiring and retaining valuable talent today often comes down to who is providing the best support possible to top performers as they relocate and repatriate around the globe — no HR wants to have dissatisfied assignees on their hands that could quit and leave due to a poorly managed relocation or repatriation.

Therefore, only by getting granular with regards to the challenges a repatriating assignee can have in their home country, will you be able to recreate, revamp, and reposition your repatriation program — one that genuinely addresses the assignee holistically and consistently aims at solving high-value problems for your clients and prospects.

If you require any case-specific assistance, please feel free to contact me

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Damien O'Farrell

Global Mobility Specialist and Expat Coach with thirty plus years’ experience in Global Mobility.