Employers can do more to care for expat staff returning to the UK

Guest Blog from Sarah Dennis, head of international, The Health Insurance Group

Most HR departments think about the support they need to offer staff as they relocate for a role overseas. Helping them to manage the disruption that accompanies the move overseas tends to be well catered for but it’s only part of the picture.

Reintegration can be a surprisingly problematic time that has traditionally been given little thought by employers. Recent research from the Canadian Employee Relocation Council found that only 30% of organisations currently provide repatriation support.



Each stage of employees’ assignments can have a significant impact on emotional and mental health for staff and their families. Employers need to consider the logistical practical help and emotional support which may be needed across all stages.


Good business sense

Providing appropriate support at every stage of a move and return makes good business sense too. Supporting the mental health and emotional wellbeing of employees returning from overseas increases the likelihood of retaining these staff who may, as a result of their expat assignment, have become even more valuable to the company.

Providing the right mental and emotional support for returning staff also facilitates a faster return to productivity. In the same way, offering more support during the pre-departure phase makes sure that, as much as possible, any impending move doesn’t distract from business as usual.


The emotional journey can affect productivity

Employees experience a whole range of emotions as they accept a position, relocate and then return. Maybe initial anxiety then an exciting ‘honeymoon’ period could be followed by frustration and disappointment if things aren’t going quite as planned. There may be a culture shock when they first arrive before they adjust. As an assignment ends they may be anxious about returning home and even go through a second culture shock before re-adjusting to the UK. Managing all these emotions on top of getting to grips with a new role and the practicality of moving overseas can be difficult.


Supporting families is critical

Often it isn’t just the employee that moves, they may be accompanied by a partner and their children. The family can also go through a huge range of emotions. Their challenges can be quite different and may feel exaggerated as they aren’t directly connected to the employer. FiDi, a global alliance of professional international relocation companies, cite domestic difficulties and lack of support in its top five reasons why expat assignments fail, which adds weight to the argument that employers need to offer families the same level of support as staff.


What employers can do

Employers should offer support at each stage and look into preventative measures to avoid issues before they arise. These can include counselling, encouraging staff to join local support networks or creating a buddy system to connect staff with others who have experience of overseas relocation. Talking to international experts is a great starting point.


Employees who are prepared to take on the challenge of relocating for a role need to feel that their wellbeing and that of their family is being cared for. With the distances involved, employee engagement can be more difficult. Promoting preventative measures and arranging support at every stage demonstrates the company’s care and plays an integral role in employee engagement. It makes good business sense too as it maintains productivity throughout all the stages of an assignment.


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