More care is needed to address the emotional experience
By Russ Banham
Itâs one of the most difficult decisions a person must makeâwhether or not to take the job offer that requires relocation to a new city. The way that this delicate decision is handled by the hiring organization may determine the new employeeâs level of engagement from that point forward, with attendant retention risks as well.
Many personal factors are also involved in the decision to accept temporary or longer-term relocation either domestically or abroad. If the new hire is married, they must consider their spouseâs career and income. If they have children, the availability of a quality education is also a factor. The new locationâs real estate market, crime rate, and social and cultural amenities also play into the decision. If just one of these factors is substandard, a highly regarded job candidate may become a highly unproductive employee.
âThe relocation experience is often the first impression a new hire has about the employer,â says Scott McCain, senior vice president of global growth and consulting at Paragon Relocation (a provider of corporate relocation management). âThis enormous responsibility is treated differently by different companies. Some are merely accommodating; others go the full mile to ensure the employee experience adheres to the companyâs culture no matter where they are.â
To go âthe full mile,â employers should consider the value of outsourcing the task of relocation to a relocation management firm. These firms can serve as an intermediaries between hiring organizations and the various suppliers of specific relocation services, such as real estate agents, household movers, local employment agencies, and providers of temporary lodging. âItâs our job to ensure that everyone is on the same page, providing the due diligence and care needed to ensure an optimum relocation experience,â says McCain.
More Important Now
While assuring a positive relocation experience for new hires has always been important, it is more critical at present. In the current war for talent, companies cannot afford the possibility of a dissatisfying relocation experience, due to the employee âflight risksâ that this may foster. âEmployers tend to focus on compensation, but the more important issue is effectively manag[ing] the emotional impact of the relocation,â says Heisha Freeman, executive vice president of MoveCenter, a relocation management firm. âThe new hire or transferee needs to feel a sense of control [and] that their concerns are understood and addressed.â
The challenge is that all people are different. Some individuals need a bit more hand-holding when it comes to dealing with the stress of moving to a new place. Others feel a thrill and love the sense of adventure that a new environment offers. âThe problem is that many companies treat the relocation experience as if it were one and the same, when each employee has different expectations and concerns,â Freeman says. âEveryone needs to be treated on a one-by-basis.â
In this treatment, relocation management firms listen closely to the employeeâs specific worries to create a relocation experience that will ease these anxieties. Chief among these concerns today is the impact of relocation on a family. âIt used to be all about the home value and still is to a degree, but what has really risen to the top of why people turn down a relocation experienceâboth new hires and current employeesâis family,â says McCain. âMy dad worked for General Electric, and we moved five times when we were children. Heâd just say, `Kids, start packingâ and we were off. Today, families donât want to uproot unless theyâre sure the move is the right one for all the family members.â
Gail Rabasca, vice president and managing director of worldwide operations at MSI Global Talent Solutions, shares this perspective. âThe big questions are emotional: Will the children adapt well to the new location? Will their education not suffer, and will my spouse find meaningful work?â she explains. âIf the relocation is temporary, the transferee is concerned about his or her career pathâthe quality of job they will return to.â
She adds, âThese are highly emotional concerns that affect a personâs peace of mind [and have] possible negative consequences for their productivity.â
Managing the Impact
Fortunately, the relocation experience can be managed to mitigate the recruitment, retention, and productivity risks. This explains why many large, multinational corporations are turning to relocation management service providers. Their value proposition is to consider each employeeâs concerns in pre-decision consultations and then put forth a strategy to manage them. âYouâre trying to eliminate the surprises [by] ferreting out what makes the new hire stressed about relocating,â McCain says. âYou can then plan for these bumps in the road.â
Like the other relocation management firms, Graebel Relocation sits down with a new hire to perform an initial needs assessment. For example, the assessment may indicate which real estate professionals properly match the familyâs needs for the origin and destination locations. âWe mitigate concerns with the unknown by furnishing [the relocation plan with]factual market information and demographics of the new location,â says Teresa Valadez, Graebel senior vice president of global client development.
To alleviate the employee prospectâs concerns over the new location, Graebel or its service providers often provide pre-hiring tours of the new area and post-hiring assistance with settling-in, all while paying attention to the childrenâs unique needs and the familyâs social, cultural, and religious wishes. âAll service providers in our supply chain must be sensitive to our high standards,â Valdez says.
The providers also must be equipped to do more than properly perform services. A case in point is real estate agents. âBased on what theyâve learned about the individual from the needs analysis, the real estate professional should recommend resources and connections to local events such as dining, entertainment, and family-oriented activities,â Valdez explains. âFor instance, a family interested in the outdoors could be provided with a resource that describes the best location for a scenic hike.â
Most relocation management firms have a technology platform that integrates with their respective services providers. Using an employee portal, the new hire or transferee can manage the entire relocation process in real time to ensure that everything is going as planned. This is especially important when the move is international, as it will demand even closer alignment and collaboration among the various providers.
Equally important in international relocations is cultural training for the family before they arrive. âWe do a fair amount of destination counseling to help families understand from a cultural perspective what to expect,â says Rabasca from MSI. âThe more they know, the softer the landing.â
Graebel offers similar consultations in addition to workshops and online tools focused on the family expatriate experience. The goal is to help the transfereeâs family acclimate more quickly to cultural differences, although this is not a once and done process. âNew schools, new friends, [and] new foods and languages can be daunting, and training can only go so far,â acknowledges Tim OâShea, Graebelâs vice president of consulting services. âItâs key for companies to look at the emotions of a move as a constantâthe emotional ups and downs that will happen over the course of the entire assignment and not just in the first month.â
Once More, With Feeling
Once a new hire makes the move to a new location, a sophisticated relocation management firm will not close the book on the employee. Rather, they will check in frequently with the transferee and his or her family to gauge their comfort level with the new experiences in the host country. âKeeping the lines of communication open can go a long way to help families not only adjust, but also to thrive,â OâShea says.
A caveat for employers is not to assume that the cultural acclimation will be easy in regions where the language is the same as the employeeâs country of origin. âA big mistake is to skip cultural training when American families take assignments in Ireland, the U.K., or in other geographic locations where English is commonly spoken,â OâShea says.
Another mistake is to treat a new hire right out of college the same as one with 20 years experience. Young people have little experience navigating the shoals of the banking and real estate markets, McCain from Paragon points out. âTheyâve lived in a rental with two roommates in college paying cash for everything,â he says.
Many college graduates may not have credit cards and are likely to be low on money. âYou canât expect them to wait for $5,000 to pay the moving companyâthatâs a big deal,â says McCain. âYou need to ensure their financial concerns are alleviated, but you wonât know what [the concerns] are unless you ask them.â
Not all college graduates fit this paradigm from a relocation standpoint. âSome young people are great at doing stuff on their own, and for them it is really difficult to relinquish control; others are used to having things done for them their whole lives and may lack the maturity to make important life decisions,â says Freeman from MoveCenter. âWe work hard to understand these differences.â
Older transferees, on the other hand, have other concerns. Often they are anxious about selling the familyâs current residence, particularly if the real estate market has suffered and the homeâs value is less than what they initially paid. âThere are ways to work through these issues if you attentively listen to them first,â McCain says.
Freeman agrees. âSometimes this is just a matter of the employer anteing up more money,â she says. âIn other cases, you can work with the client to reformulate the budget to address the new hireâs financial situation. Instead of 30 days of corporate housing, maybe two weeks will be fine, [and] the money saved [can be] shifted to something more important for that person. We work with the client to be creative in how the employeeâs needs are addressed.â
She cites the recent example of a new hire that was flat broke and up to his ears in student loans, which the firm learned about during the pre-hiring consultation. âWe didnât want to embarrass him by pointing it out to the employer, which had set up payroll to reimburse employees for some of their relocation expenses,â Freeman says. âOne of our owners actually deposited money to the transfereeâs personal bank account up front of the move. When the receipts came in, we sent them over to the employer, which then reimbursed us.â
The other relocation management firms also are empathetic when it comes to the emotions that are involved in a new hireâs relocation. For example, the international assignment managers at MSI are all expatriates. âThey understand the emotional highs and lows because theyâve all been there themselves,â Rabasca says.
Without this high level of care for the transferee, the relocation experience can devolve into employee disengagement and result in unproductive behaviors. âThis is all about peace of mind,â says Rabasca. âWhether youâre going on assignment overseas or to Pittsburgh, you want to know what to expect and how to prepare. You want to know your family will be safe, the kids will be enrolled at fine schools, and the spouse will be happy in a new job. You also want to know that your own career will thriveâthat the difficult decision to relocate will be worth it in the long run.â
The best means of acquiring this assurance is to hire a relocation management firm with a culture of empathy that extends throughout its supplier network. This is the case at Graebel. âEach partner must have the same dedication and heightened interest of care and attention to the familyâs unique needs,â says Valdez.
OâShea echoes the statement and notes how the firm rates success. â[Weâve done our job well] if a relocating new employee, when asked a year afterwards whether if he or she would move again or recommend it to someone else, answers, `Iâd definitely do it again and recommend you do it,ââ he says. âYou only earn these votes of confidence by making sure to listen for signs of avoidable strife and removing the obstacles.â
Once removed, the relocation is a bon voyage for all.