Chris Russell

3 min read

Human Resources

Relocation Benefits Less Attractive in Remote Era

Just as Covid is changing the nature of work, it’s caused workers and their employers to rethink the meaning of employee relocation and just what kind of benefit it still is.

Before 2020, relocation meant geographically reassigning workers as part of a promotion, or because they had special skills needed elsewhere, or to grow the business, or some combination of these. Relocation for new workers meant covering moving expenses and maybe some additional help with housing.

Especially overseas relocation was a plum benefit that could be counted on to attract and retain the best talent.  

Fewer Workers Willing to Relocate

Since the pandemic, some of the luster of relocation has worn off. The relocation benefit in a time of labor shortage and remote work isn’t as exciting a benefit as it was just a few years ago. For many workers, accepting a new job across town or across the country doesn’t have to mean relocating and insisting on it could be a deal breaker for the company. 

According to the 54th Annual Atlas Corporate Relocation Survey, 60% of companies had workers refuse a relocation om 2020. A third of respondent report the number of workers turning down a move has increased from previous years.

Why, is hardly a surprise – Covid. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic eclipsed all other factors impacting relocation last year,” the survey report said. “In 2020, the most frequent reason given by employees declining relocation was health concerns/illness/the COVID-19 pandemic, both overall (52%) and internationally (44%).”

That doesn’t mean workers haven’t been relocating. Since the pandemic and increasingly in the last year, workers are relocating on their own, bypassing corporate relocation benefits and policies. Meanwhile, cities and towns, states too, have jumped at the opportunity to lure workers by offering their own relocation benefits.

Hints of this can be seen in the Atlas survey. It found a sharp decline (from 52% to 32%) in the percentage of employees declining corporate relocation because of the employment of their spouse or partner.

 “This shift downward may reflect the impact of higher unemployment levels during the COVID-19 pandemic (fewer dual-income households), as well as flexible work arrangements (telecommuting/work from home) being leveraged by many companies during this time.”

Mobility, the relocation trade association’s magazine, pointed out that, “Workforce mobility is no longer just about the relocation of employees. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift toward more remote work, which has become a key aspect of mobility and requires the use of technology to facilitate that increasing aspect of the industry.”

The impact of remote work on the relocation industry and corporate relocation benefits was a key topic at the trade association’s conference last fall. “How does the rise of remote work affect who needs to move and why?” was key discussed topic at Worldwide ERC’s Global Symposium.

As the relocation industry wrestles with the changes accelerated by the pandemic, companies are worrying about a different type of relocation. Call it remote work’s do-it-yourself relocation benefit. A Harris Poll survey in March 2021 found 11% of the US population moved during the first 12 months of the pandemic to take advantage of options afforded by remote work.

“Among those recent movers, three quarters (75%) say they moved for positive reasons, such as being closer to family or friends or living in an area they’ve always dreamed of,” reported Zillow, the digital real estate company that sponsored the survey.

Most did that without help or even the knowledge of their employer. That’s causing headaches for corporate managers, says the Society for Human Resource Management

When companies relocate workers they know where they are going and when and how they’ll work. With DIY relocators, companies learn this only after the fact, if at all.

 “Managers need to know where their employees are working and when they are working, so they can stay in compliance with the laws of the jurisdiction where the employees are doing their,” says the SHRM article.

Given the current labor shortage, companies are casting a wide net to attract workers. For many candidates, dangling generous relocation benefits is not much of a lure and may even be a negative. Instead, companies are promoting jobs as being remote; no need to relocate. The number of jobs advertised on doubled in the first year of the pandemic and continues to rise.

Cities Now Offering Relocation Benefits

Cities, towns and some states are taking advantage of workers newfound mobility, paying them $10,000 or more to relocation. The AARP listed six areas of the country – including the entire of West Virginia – offering relocation benefits. 

So eager are communities to attract well paid, remote workers that they’re sweetening the deal with all sorts of perks.

 Move to southwest Michigan and the Move to Michigan program will give a worker $15,000 toward the purchase of a house. And an annual memberships at fitness clubs. And a membership at a driving range. And a coworking space and free car service to the airport.

In northwest Arkansas, relocating workers get the $10,000, membership to local cultural organizations and their choice of a bike.

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