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Foreign Assignments Inspire Employees to Job-Hunt

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Many employees of global brands who are sent overseas will look for a new job after they return because they feel undervalued, new research shows.

The University of Iowa study found that workers for multinational companies who have spent time on a foreign assignment don’t feel fully appreciated for their global experience, leading to a higher-than-normal turnover rate.

"Home may not have changed, but it is not the same place because repatriates themselves have changed after having been expatriates," said Maria Kraimer, a professor of management and organizations who headed the research team.

"Those who take international assignments often feel fundamentally different after returning, yet they may not see their development reflected in their treatment by their firms," Kraimer said.

The study was based on 112 repatriated employees who worked for medium to large multinational corporations based in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Australia. Nineteen percent had left for a new job within a year of returning home. Kraimer notes previous studies have shown the turnover rate to be as high as 38 percent.

The researchers found that living and working overseas changes employees in fundamental ways. Many of them create whole new identities for themselves that have a significant international component and incorporate new meaning in how they approach their careers.

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Kraimer says repatriates believe this new identity makes them a more valuable employee but that their firms fail to recognize this value, especially when compared with co-workers with no international experience.

"When a repatriate perceives her job has less responsibility, respect, pay, or opportunities than the jobs of colleagues without global experience, the repatriate may believe that the organization does not view her international experience and employee identity in the same way that she does," Kraimer said.

There are steps that businesses can take to reduce repatriate turnover, Kraimer said. They can use repatriates to train fellow employees who are about to go on their first international assignment, or they can involve repatriates more heavily in developing international strategy. Either approach draws on the employee's global experience and shows that it is valued.

In addition, Kraimer encouraged businesses to closely manage employees on international assignments, linking them with other divisions and maintaining close communications to reinforce their identity with the organization.

The study, "No place like home? An identity strain perspective on repatriate turnover," was recently published in the Academy of Management Journal. It was co-authored by Margaret Shaffer and Hong Ren of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and David Harrison of the University of Texas.

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