Bringing a positive candidate experience to relocation assignments can be a key differentiator.
By Christa Elliott
Most HR professionals agree that creating an outstanding candidate experience—from recruitment through onboarding—is a great way to boost employee engagement and well-being. But relocated employees, whether they are new hires or transferees, will have a very different “candidate experience” due to the special circumstances of their employment and the careful planning that goes into a relocation. Done well, a relocation can illustrate that the organization is invested in the employee’s success and growth. But if the relocation assignment isn’t given special attention and care and becomes stressful for the employee, it can work against the organization.
A 2017 study by CareerArc found that 99 percent of employers believe that managing employer brand and reputation (including through candidate experience) is important to attracting top talent. And according to Brandon Hall’s 2015 The True Cost of a Bad Hire report, organizations that invest in a strong candidate experience improve their quality of hires by 70 percent. So, why not apply this strategy—crafting positive experiences to improve the quality and well-being of hires—to relocation?
“The overarching ‘relocation experience’ is critical to the success of any transfer, whether it be a domestic or international one,” says Gail Rabasca, senior vice president of global mobility for MSI. “With many moves now being considered strategic in nature, in addition to those that are operational, the relocation experience must go smoothly and flawlessly in order to set the stage for the next steps of assimilation into the new location and the new position with their company.”
Rabasca goes on to explain that over the past several years, there has been a greater provision of support for the relocation candidate and their family with tools and services to assist them in having a positive move and settling-in experience at the new location.
Although many organizations are already focusing on maximizing the relocation experience, the value of these efforts cannot be overstated. The process of relocating, after all, is a complicated one, and even the smoothest transition is bound to have its challenges.
Employees may worry about their kids making friends at their new school, whether or not their spouse will find work in the new location, how they will manage conflicts working in a foreign culture, and whether their new health insurance system will cover their pre-existing conditions. It is the employer’s job, in part, to recognize concerns, no matter how small, and do what it can to address them. Media agency MediaCom understands the critical part they play in ensuring the relocation process is a smooth one for their employees.
“For transfers to be successful, companies must recognize the many challenges that expats face and have a policy and process designed to address these human issues and get employees to a point of productivity, engagement, normalcy, and satisfaction as quickly as possible,” says Kristen Dardani, executive vice president of mobility and careers at MediaCom.
“One of the ways best ways to accomplish this is by managing transfers and relocations through a dedicated global mobility team rather than by HR generalists. Many HR generalists do have mobility experience, but leveraging experts in the mobility space not only solves mobility challenges more effectively and efficiently but also frees generalists to devote all their time to in-market issues across their areas of expertise.”
In an ideal scenario, a mobility expert can help the employee—and the HR team—identify goals and concerns for the assignment and develop customized strategies to allow the employee to thrive in their new environment.
“Relocation is a disruptive event personally and professionally and the biggest challenges are those around cultural and host location adjustment,” says Joanne Danehl, global intercultural and language practice leader for Crown World Mobility. “Strategies for being professionally successful in the home country may not work in the host location and building networks from scratch is a challenging proposition. This feeling of being adrift can be overwhelming but there are steps HR can take.”
Danehl suggests that HR departments take the following steps to ensure a seamless relocation:
• Encourage employees to participate in the relocation process. Many assignees are selected for an assignment, instead of choosing their assignment themselves. It is important to foster engagement early on and involve the assignee and their family in decision-making processes as soon as possible. Doing so will ensure that the employee feels comfortable with the relocation as opposed to disconnected from decisions that will dramatically affect their life.
• Set clear and measurable objectives for the assignment. The employee will already understand the purpose of their assignment, but regular check-ins, progress reports, and participation in strategic planning will create a roadmap that the employee, HR, and the receiving manager or team can refer to. This roadmap should also include measurable steps toward professional development goals and an agreed-upon timeline to deliver results.
• Link the assignment goals to corporate strategies and values. No matter how far away their assignment takes them, the employee should always feel connected to the larger organization and its culture and long-term goals. A strong connection to their employer will bring clarity and confidence for the employee about their purpose. The relocated employee should enter an assignment with not only a clear picture of their new responsibilities, but also an understanding of how their efforts will grow the business.
In addition to the steps listed above, selecting the right candidate one who feels confident both professionally and personally in their ability to tackle the assignment—will minimize friction and boost well-being. Because these assignments vary widely and can be unpredictable, there is no exact formula for the perfect relocation candidate. Rather, a candidate with the correct skill set for the task at hand whose employer has instilled confidence through preparedness, is the most likely to succeed.
“HR’s role should be consistency, competency, and setting expectations, not picking and choosing candidates based on perceived potential reactions,” says Tim O’Shea, vice president of worldwide consulting services for Graebel Companies, Inc. “However, the more organizations can show confidence and a track record of success, the more a candidate will have confidence that he or she made the right choice.”
A successful relocation has greater implications for the organization beyond a positive experience for the individual. After all, when a transferee begins their assignment, they become an employer-brand ambassador—for better or for worse—for their organization. They will likely communicate the details of their relocation experience to family and friends. When done right, a positive experience can attract more candidates to the organization from new markets.
“Word of mouth is a powerful tool for companies in generating buzz about their company brand. A positive relocation experience for a candidate will be shared with peers within the industry and creates interest from other possible candidates,” says Barry Morris, president and CEO of CapRelo.
O’Shea agrees and adds, “How companies take care of their people, including providing the best possible relocation services and support, is a reflection of the employer brand. Plus, HR teams may choose to promote their relocation support services to others within the company who may be candidates for relocation, or they may use the positive experiences and related case studies to help attract key talent.”
Once a company has found the best candidate, there are several services that they can offer. Helpful resources include language learning tools, pre-decision assessments or counseling, a thorough orientation process, or a point-of-care contact at the new location who is prepared to answer cultural or regional questions. Additionally, organizations should familiarize themselves with tax and immigration changes and regularly evaluate and reevaluate current benefits and company policies surrounding relocation. Rabasca recommends doing the latter at least every three years.
When planned appropriately, relocations can transform into exciting opportunities for top performers to see the world, help the business, and grow professionally. A foundation of solid resources presented through the lens of candidate experience can be a game-changer for HR in managing relocations, leaving both the transferee and the employer satisfied with the process.
“From a talent management perspective, a great relocation program is part of the overall strategic HR planning in the professional growth and development of high potential employees,” MSI’s Rabasca says. “Relocation—particularly international assignments—are often considered the springboard to the career development of the future company leaders. A great relocation program is also of benefit to the organization as a competitive advantage in the war for talent in any industry segment.”