Overcoming Employee Resistance to Relocation

Each year, nearly seven million people in the United States relocate because of their work. Job changes, restructuring, and moving a corporate office often involve relocation. However, employees are not always willing and eager to make the move.

The relocation process is a major source of disruption and stress, and it can cause employees’ health, workplace engagement, and productivity to suffer. When families are involved, the transition brings with it even more upheaval.

To overcome employee resistance to relocating, more and more companies are offering incentives and benefits to help employees manage the logistical and financial hurdles of moving. Perhaps just as important to easing dislocation and making relocation more attractive is providing resources and emotional support for employees through the ups and downs of the entire moving process – not just during the physical move.

Why Employees Decline Relocation

According to the 2017 Corporate Relocation Survey conducted by Atlas Van Lines, the top three reasons for relocation resistance are family issues, spouse or partner employment, and concerns about housing and mortgage costs. While mid-size and large companies are more affected than small firms, nearly two-thirds of firms surveyed saw employees decline relocation last year.

Although the 20% increase in employee reluctance reported in the 2017 survey is slightly below peaks of 2009 (29%), and 2014 (28%), it is above average post-recession levels of 11% to 18%. For companies trying to motivate employees to relocate, this means continued pressure to address the key factors behind the resistance.

Providing Practical Support

One of the typical first steps in overcoming resistance to relocation is providing employees with financial incentives. These can include salary adjustments based on cost-of-living differentials, bonuses, and loan assistance. Statistics show that 38% of large companies routinely pay cost-of-living adjustments to employees who are moving to higher-priced locations. Others assist transferees with loans for mortgage down payments, preferred interest rates on mortgages, or a combination of mortgage assistance and cost of living adjustments.

Many companies also offer relocation benefits to help alleviate the logistical stresses of moving. From finding temporary or permanent housing to hiring packers and movers, assuming these tasks allows employees to focus on the job transition rather than being overwhelmed by planning and executing their move. The benefits to employers range from less downtime and more productivity to more satisfied employees with a happier home life and greater sense of wellbeing.

Moving the Family, Not Just the Employee

In many cases, your employee isn’t moving alone – there is a spouse, partner, and/or children involved. Family members can make or break the success of the relocation. In fact, research indicates that family issues are the number one reason for relocation resistance.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry notes that relocating to a new community may be one of the most stressful experiences a family can face. Children thrive on consistency, so moving can be an unsettling experience as they are faced with adapting to a major life change. In general, the older the child, the more difficulty he or she will have with the move to due the loss of important friendships.

It is critical that companies provide support for employees and their families throughout the relocation process. One of the most important corporate relocation incentives is helping find jobs for working spouses of transferring employees. Many couples cannot manage without two incomes, which is why the possible loss of career opportunities for spouses ranks high on the list of employee concerns.In the past, companies often used a do-it-yourself approach to helping “trailing spouses” find employment in the new location. Today, HR professionals understand that it is easier to persuade people to move when their spouses know what job options are available. In fact, more than half of U.S. corporations offer career counseling or job-search assistance. Career counseling programs can add value by saving companies time, money, and productivity when it is determined in advance that a relocation is not feasible.

Ensuring Employee Well Being

Companies of all shapes and sizes have implemented employee wellness initiatives, recognizing that investing in their workforce both professionally and personally is critical to building loyalty and improving productivity.

This focus on employee wellbeing is vital when it comes to helping employees manage the stress and strain of relocating. Leaving one’s comfort zone and starting over in a new city can take a tremendous emotional toll, and the impact can extend well beyond the employee and his or her family. The employee’s job performance may suffer and the company may struggle to retain their relocated talent. This can impact an employee’s – and the company’s – long-term success, making it a critical issue for companies to address.

HR teams would be wise to consider including wellness support in their relocation policies or packages. This can range from providing staff with detailed knowledge of their future community and surrounding areas to ensuring mental wellness experts are available and accessible.

Sending an employee on a pilot trip get a feel for their new office and neighborhood can help ease the transition and allow them to get excited about what the relocation has to offer. Specialized services like Suburban Settlers can provide geographical introduction tours, contacts for local services, and referrals to support and care options for children, adults, and seniors. Suburban Settlers also connects employees and their families with newcomer groups and even makes introductions to like-minded people in the new community.

Moving can be a wonderful opportunity for employees and their families, but the benefits of relocating can easily be overshadowed by the perceived challenges and pitfalls. Companies must continue to craft comprehensive relocation policies that help alleviate not just the logistical and financial burdens, but also the emotional hurdles of moving. This will set employees up for success and contribute to creating a responsive and healthy company culture.


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