Home will have changed while you've been away
Many ambitious executives now push for the chance to work overseas. It's a way of gaining broader experience, making new contacts and getting recognised within the organisation. What they often fail to anticipate, though, is that returning home after a successful spell abroad causes more apprehension than they could ever imagine.
That's completely normal. Any major change involves readjustment and, in my view, it should involve managing both your own expectations and the overall process.
Consider first how to manage expectations. You probably feel positive about going home. There may be a more senior job waiting for you, or perhaps an exciting set of new challenges. You'll be looking forward to familiar surroundings, favourite foods, seeing old friends, and maybe better job prospects for your spouse or a different school curriculum for your kids. There's one rule to remember: whatever you've been expecting, expect it to be different!
In order to prepare mentally, there are some things to be ready for:
1. Your company has probably not planned very well for your return. Most employers are not good at reintegrating returning staff, or readily appreciating what "the new you" has to offer. It's a fact that many employees who enjoyed their time abroad leave their companies within a year of returning home.
2. You will have less "freedom" in terms of decision making than when abroad. This will be particularly true if you are moving to company headquarters. "The sky is high and the emperor is far away" is a Chinese expression which perfectly describes the view of many people working in an overseas office. Their feeling of freedom quickly disappears on returning to HQ.
3. The effects on the entire family will be significant. If you were on expatriate terms, you will immediately lose all manner of travel, education and cost of living allowances which you have become used to. There will no longer be any contributions for tax planning purposes or the practical assistance of domestic helpers for day-to-day problems. These factors all add to the "culture shock" you are already experiencing as you re-establish family contacts and friendships and help your children settle into a new routine. Your home country will have changed, just as your family has, and it takes time to get reacquainted.
As with any transition, the better you can manage it, the better chance of a successful outcome. Here are some tips on managing the process:
Plan ahead for your family
If you can "buy time" from the company, your move will not be rushed and repatriation will be less stressful. Ideally, your children should be allowed to finish their school term and you should have planned with contacts at home which new school they will move to. Consider carefully what your return home will mean for each member of your family and, especially, the impact it will have on your spouse's career. Finally, check with tax and financial advisers about what it will mean in money terms and arrange your finances to minimise any adverse effects or tax liabilities.
Plan ahead for yourself
In addition to handling the family part of the repatriation, you'll need to plan for your business transition. Obviously, that means arranging a smooth succession and tying up loose ends in the job you are leaving.
While doing that, it makes sense to reflect on your career and conduct an informal "audit" of where you stand and what you want to focus your energies on in future. After this, you can decide how best to market yourself during the transition.
Think about the skills, values, interests and attitudes that have changed since you left home, and how they can be put to good use in the years ahead. Ask yourself how to leverage these skills and create opportunities in your future job and more broadly within the company. Keep your eyes open for anything that may help your career.
Once you have a better sense of who you are and the role that will suit you best, consider how to present yourself to new colleagues. Don't assume people know you - first impressions must be made all over again. Particularly if the job you've been offered is not what you wanted, start networking and "interviewing" with your new colleagues in order to get yourself known. Think carefully about the value you are bringing to the new role and how to communicate that convincingly.
You may still feel out on a limb, but join in company activities and attend industry events. Learn about the "local culture" and accept it. Doing so will help you be viewed as one of the team and go a long way to assuring a successful business transition.
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| || ||Jeff Hasenfratz (firstname.lastname@example.org) is managing director of Mindsight Talent Management Services, a consultancy offering retention consulting, executive coaching, and dialogue management services in China. He is a Putonghua speaker and a lawyer by training.