Rethinking Employee Relocation

Family moving after employment relocation

The landscape for employment-based relocation isn’t what it used to be. While in the 1980s, roughly 30% of people were willing to move for work, that figure has steadily declined ever since: the start of 2023 saw a record low of only 1.6% of job seekers who relocated for a new position. This begs the question: how did we get here? And perhaps for many employers: what’s the way forward?

Let’s start with some context: in part, we can thank the pandemic for the current state of affairs. It’s no surprise that post-COVID, remote work has continued to be commonplace, with many office spaces reaching record-breaking vacancy rates. Though telework used to be a perk, it’s become part of the current workforce’s expectations for the terms of employment, whether a hybrid schedule or working entirely remotely.

Given that many employees have the ability to work remotely, the notion of moving for work may seem unreasonable– why be near an office if you can work from anywhere? Even with the most robust relocation packages, moving is generally a hassle. Americans have more stuff than ever before, which undoubtedly complicates the matter; however, regardless of one’s possessions, between packing up valuables and making travel arrangements, the moving process is not usually enviable. Not to mention, costs for renters and homeowners alike have been on the rise, so changing locations could mean a vast difference in living expenses for many.

This isn’t to say people aren’t picking up houses anymore: in fact, “long-distance and international moves are still elevated” post-pandemic. Thanks to remote work, there’s no reason to be tethered to any particular location, and attractive destinations are hugely motivating, despite the inconveniences that come with relocating.

All things considered, many employers remain optimistic, reporting an uptick in their relocation goals and budgets. After all, being able to bring the right candidate to you only expands the applicant pool, meaning more opportunities to find the right fit. Still, goals and budgets are only a facet of a winning relocation strategy.

In this current climate, a financially competitive relocation package certainly matters, but ensuring your hire is supported after the move is perhaps more important. Generally, “employee retention rates drop after relocation,” in large part due to poor integration in their new company or local community. To ensure a strong, long-term fit, employers may want to consider the following extras: site visits, home buying/selling support, payback clauses, bonuses/pay adjustments, and/or family support programs.

Alternatively, employers could bypass the extras and opt for a one-time sign-on bonus for relocators. As a team of talent experts, this is a strategy that we’ve recommended to some of our own clients (with great success!) due to its multiple benefits. For one, these payouts can be appealing to prospective employees: unsurprisingly, monetary incentives tend to be motivating. The candidate also has the flexibility to use the funds as they see fit, fulfilling any potential needs they may have during their move. This simplifies the relocation strategy for employers by putting the process in the candidate’s court–no additional considerations needed. It also encourages a long-term commitment, since these bonuses typically come with a payback clause, whether partially or in full, if a candidate leaves their position within a 1-2 year period. In short, you have the potential for a true win-win!

Even with a winning strategy, though, relocating may not be for everyone. Employers should determine for themselves whether the potential benefits outweigh the risks and costs that come with the territory. Sometimes, the occasional site visit can suffice, and employees can work remotely for a predetermined length of time before being brought to site on a more permanent basis, too.

Bottom line: while employee relocation has declined, people will take the plunge under the right conditions and with adequate support. If you’re trying to bring an employee to you, make sure you have the proper tools to motivate them and make it stick!