CEO’s Letter: Relocation Redux

The HRO Today magazine Baker’s Dozen Customer Satisfaction Ratings™ for relocation services is featured in this issue. Unlike the name “Baker’s Dozen,” which indicates a dozen plus one, this year’s list only has less than half of that. Our survey has anemic results. The data is accurate and the service offerings of the excellent ranked firms are exemplary amongst their peer group in 2024 or any year prior where we have done a Baker’s Dozen survey in the relocation services industry. But it’s anemic in the number of providers who qualified because this survey requires multiple active customers and the HR service companies providing relocation have fallen on hard times, and the path back to its former vibrancy remains unclear.

According to an article by Pivotal Talent Research, published on LinkedIn, in the 1980s, more than 30% of people were willing to move for work. This article also quotes a 2023 Challenger Gray and Christmas survey revealing that the percentage has now reached a new low of 1.6% of job seekers. When employees can work from home and teleconference from anywhere, particularly in an office, why relocate for a job? The trend toward remote work has dampened the world of career-based relocation. However, according to an April 2023 article in the Wall Street Journal, companies are increasing their relocation budgets in the coming year. A significant part of that spend is to get employees and managers to relocate to office locations as companies begin to bring workers back to the office or go to hybrid work schedules that require employees to be in the office at least three days per week.

I am writing this on a plane as I am flying back from London today. I have to say my attitude toward remote work and any affection I have for being remote is increasingly remote as I contemplate my week. Meeting with colleagues and clients, some of whom I have not seen in years, was a remarkable return to more “normal” times. I think we accomplished a great deal more in terms of building camaraderie and communication by being in person than if I had done 10 video conferences. It is not the same and it can never can be. You lose context, body language, and focus when staring at a two-dimensional rendering of a three-dimensional creature. We are a communal species and that is how we survived the danger of a primitive past confronted with species far more equipped for survival individually than a human.

It used to be that moving to another geography or another country was an important part of the process of executive development. Talking to someone over Teams or Zoom or the telephone was not considered sufficient to understand nuances and gain sensitivity to other cultures and customs. You had to immerse yourself in them. Ironically, many younger employees see the opportunity to relocate as a perk or a benefit so perhaps this trend will naturally reverse itself.

Many of the relocation firms that previously qualified in our Baker’s Dozen had difficulty finding sufficient active clients to respond to our survey this year because relocation volumes have dropped so low. The Challenger, Gray and Christmas report showed 33% of companies are returning to the office, up from 13% last year. While some employees continue to resist, companies are offering relocation packages to get them back, particularly if they moved away from the office or if they were hired at a time when the company was remote but has now modified that policy.

These conflicting trends leave us with a murky picture of the future of the industry. No one is arguing that corporate relocation is a way for employees to learn, grow, and gain a global perspective necessary to be senior executives in complex organizations. We also know that some employees seek that opportunity and have always done so. If we can accept these historical observations, perhaps, the relocation industry will soon rebound.

Elliot S. Clark

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