Companies that send employees on international assignments are failing to make the most of this investment and losing talented staff because they have inadequate arrangements for repatriation and professional development, according to a new report.
A study of more than 3,000 expats by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and Cranfield School of Management found that, on average, 15 per cent of international assignees (often an organisation's top performers) resigned within 12 months of completing their posting.
As the trend for international assignments increases, organisations were placing more emphasis on this at selection, it also found.
An average of 32 per cent of new expatriates were in the top performance category as assessed by their company.
There was also no correlation between higher pay for expatriates and improved performance.
In fact, the higher the pay, the longer assignments tended to last, with some employees happy to prolong an enhanced financial existence abroad, with little incentive to return.
International postings were actively sought by many employees and in these cases financial reward equal to colleagues in the destination county – or "destination pay" – should be sufficient incentive, argued the report.
Some five per cent of UK managers currently had international experience, it calculated, rising to 20 per cent for senior managers and 25 per cent at board or executive level.
Home country managers needed to retain a stake in performance assessment, clear finish dates should be set at the beginning of the assignment and more time should be spent on planning for the employee's return, it recommended.
Each international assignment cost companies an average of $311,000 per year.
International assignees were supported by twice as many HR professionals (one to 37) than other staff (one to 70), with one participating organisation admitting to one HR professional to every 15 expatriate workers.
PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP partner George Yeandle, said: "One of the worst pieces of news a HR manager can get is that a high performing, newly returned employee is leaving, but this is worryingly common.
"Companies need to plan assignments, be clear about objectives and timescales and remain involved in performance management as much as possible, not just hand it over wholesale to the host country," he said.
It was the reintegration of employees that remained the weakest link, he suggested. "People who have spent two years working in a different ways across varied markets and cultures are not always happy to return to the same desk and the same prospects.
"In this vacuum of direction, many have a career 'wobble' then leave via a recruitment market in which their experience is seen as increasingly valuable.
"By taking steps to plan the repatriation phase, companies will be able to halt the exodus, retain talent and benefit from the substantial investment they have made," he said.