Corporate Relocation: Plan, Plan, Plan

Holly J. Culhane SPHR
April 22, 2008 — 2,166 views  
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We're all familiar with the old real estate adage: "The three most important factors in buying a home is - location, location, location."  When looking at corporate relocation, the absolute most important rule is planning, planning, planning!  With employees becoming ever more mobile, and companies constantly looking for quality workers and ways to streamline their operations, it is essential that policies be in place before tackling employee relocation issues.   Research shows that nationwide the number of company relocation moves is approximately the same as personal moves.  And if you think it's only important to have a written relocation policy if you move huge numbers of workers - you could find yourself with enormous headaches with which to deal!  It only takes moving two employees - even over a span of many months - to ensure that an upfront, written policy is imperative to the well-being of your operation.  The reason is simple - employees talk!  Even if you have those two lone relocated employees in totally different physical work locations, at some point in time they will find each other and, once discovering that they were both relocated, will compare "deals."  When that happens, you want to be absolutely sure that they were both treated equitably, or at least one of them is going to be unhappy. So, before you even relocate one employee - make sure that you have a written policy in place.  This applies to new hires, as well as transfers from other corporate locations.  Your policy needs to be specific, but with some latitude built in as every situation is somewhat different.  Typically, relocation policies recognize that there are three levels of benefits offered, depending on the type of hire/transfer.  The first level generally applies to new hires that are usually recent college graduates, young and inexperienced.  These employees often (not always) have limited "baggage" and will likely need assistance with moving household-goods, travel, and miscellaneous expenses.   The second group of employees would be those who are experienced and have been working for a number of years.  These employees are usually seen as more valuable due to their experience and expertise.  Also, they typically are more established and may have a number of spouse/family issues inherent to a move, as well as a home to sell.  The relocation package for these employees may include house-hunting/school district research trips, as well as assistance with selling a home at the old location.  Then, finally, there are the executive-level employees who normally will require a broader policy.  These employees usually have not only the family ties, but community ties as well.  The package for this level may have added features such as one or two months of temporary living expenses, several house-hunting trips, and possibly even assistance with finding employment for a spouse, as well as the help with selling an existing home.  Some companies are finding that offering "lump-sum" payments that employees may use as they want can eliminate many problems by simply allowing the relocated worker to decide how a specific "moving allowance" be spent. Patty Werner, Director of Human Resources at the Bakersfield office for Bright House Networks, concurs, explaining, "We do have the three levels of relocation benefits, with the executive level being the most generous, including income tax preparation for the first year due to the relocation and the tax consequences.  For all of our relocations, we require they sign an agreement that they will remain for one year." As with anything else, when writing your relocation policy, start with some research.  Discover what other companies are doing and use an existing policy as a model.  Although it is important to tailor it to the specific needs of your organization, you will probably find that a number of the features are relevant for most businesses that are of the same size and nature of your operation.   Next, you want to work very closely with your human resources (HR) personnel and have them involved every step of the way.  They are critical in not only developing fair and equitable policies, but in working with each separate relocation contract and assisting with exceptions as they arise.  (And they WILL arise - because, again, each relocation is different in some aspects.) There are a number of diverse options to consider in your relocation policy.  You may want to have a contract with a particular household-goods carrier.  Someone in the organization, usually your HR department, will need to do some research and determine which carrier best suits your specific needs.  When researching, it is best to meet face-to-face with the vendor, and even have them tour your operations so they can get a "feel" for the culture of your company.  Before choosing a carrier, make sure you have met with them at least twice and, again, be sure that you have a specific, written contract outlining expectations.  Some organizations are even opting to outsource relocation matters and broker with a third-party.  This also needs careful investigation, and every organization must determine if, indeed, outsourcing is best for their particular operation. Another important aspect to your relocation policy is the "payback" issue.  You want to ensure the newly moved employee remains with the company for a certain length of time - usually one to three years.  Usually, there is a clause within the policy that if the employee does NOT remain with the organization for the specified length of time, the upfront moving expenses must be reimbursed. It may all sound daunting, but a little planning goes a long way in ensuring that relocating employees can be a positive experience for all concerned.

Holly J. Culhane SPHR

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Identified the need for human resource and organizational assistance for small- and medium-sized business­es and formed Profes­sional Administra­tive Systems in 1987. Now known as P A S Associates, this firm combines specialists in the fields of human resources, labor and employment law, affirma­tive action, and substance abuse policies and education, providing an unsurpassed Human Resource Center.