Recalling Expats? Handle with Care

Photo Liz Perelstein (2)Author:
Liz Perelstein – School Choice International

“In recent months, companies have begun recalling expats from multiyear assignments up to 12 months early… The CEO of a Pacific Northwest manufacturer (who requested his publicly traded company’s name not be used) is pulling his European division manager home after only eight months of a two-year assignment because the business can’t continue to foot the $500,000 annual bill for his salary and living expenses.”  –Workforce.com, March 16, 2009

Education is a top priority for middle class families in every culture worldwide, and always has been.  This is true of 32,200 Tamil school girls praying before entering examinations in Madurai, Chinese families who have pinned all of their hopes and dreams on their sole child, and parents in the Northeastern part of the United States who are still, according to The New York Times blog The Choice (July 18), willing to spend $40,000 on college placement counselors for their children despite the economy.  This results in scarcity of suitable school options in major cities globally.  Even if there are vacancies in less popular schools, those that are generally considered “top tier” are overbooked no matter what the economic situation.

As a result, repatriation, which always is difficult, brings additional challenges when it is sudden and forces families to seek schooling for their children mid-year, particularly under rushed and stressful circumstances.  In addition to the logistical challenges involved in gaining admission to schools, children are excluded from extracurricular activities – the cricket team already has been chosen, as has the cast of the play – essential aspects of re-entry if they are to successfully make friends and reintegrate into their home cultures. Repatriation to one’s former home is particularly difficult, according to The Art of Crossing Cultures by Craig Storti, because expectations and reality clash.  When employees are moved home without sufficient notice, they, and their families, do not have sufficient time to process the emotional aspects of the repatriation so it is all the more important that they receive assistance with the logistics of the school search and transition, as together both aspects are quite overwhelming.

Regardless of the country of repatriation, employers can provide:

  • Accurate and easy to use information in the form of books, research, websites and web based tools;
  • Transition assistance so that families understand that the former school may no longer be the best school for a child given the wealth of experiences s/he has had overseas as well as the curricular differences;
  • Expert help in identifying and getting into schools that meet the unique needs of each child at this point in time;
  • Specialized assistance for children with special needs, gifted children, and those seeking schools in particularly competitive locations.

This is something that companies must think about if their goal is to develop policies that will serve them in good times as well as bad.  Benefits of good support when employees with children are recalled are rapid employee productivity, increased loyalty, talent retention, willingness to take future assignments, and improved morale, which includes encouraging other employees to undertake assignments when needed.

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2 responses to “Recalling Expats? Handle with Care

  1. Liz,

    Good article. This become more critical & expensive when expats are transferred to a non developed country (example Latin countries) were public education is not so good and expats have to look for private schools that are expensive and have strict policies…most of time the success of an expat depends on how well his family adapts to the new country.
    I think sometimes recalls occur when a company does not have a proper expat policy, so when they do a cost- benefit analysis on these employees they have big surprises!

  2. Presently companies are facing financial pressures that are forcing them to make cuts in all areas, education among them. If they have no choice but to localize education, including countries in Latin America, it is particularly important that families selected for assignments are those open to a new experience, are prepared in terms of what to expect, have language and cross cultural training, and know what they are getting in for.