It is time to strike the words “our employees take care of their own relocation” out of your HR department’s vocabulary. The reason is simple: They-Do-It-Themselves is a policy that risks to cost a company more than the price of support. And that's before the upside is accounted for.
Employees undertaking a relocation project themselves waste productive hours navigating todos, seeking and organising information, solving problems and getting settled in a new city. Even when your company has a hands-off approach, informal support is oftentimes provided nonetheless from local colleagues who have insights and information.
If your employee has a difficult relocation experience, your company's lack of support may be scruitinized, publically reviewed and commented on. More importantly, there is a direct opportunity to increase your employer brand appreciation, improve productivity before/after arrival and better connect your relocating employees to their new team.
We spoke to five young professionals who recently went through a difficult relocation experience and pulled out some common themes and challenges from their stories.
1. Finding a place to stay
Martin’s first experience with London rentals wasn't good. He elected to come to London from Vienna in July 2016 for a six-month rotation opportunity to work with his company’s UK team. The rotation was voluntary but was promoted as a training and development opportunity by the company. Martin was provided paid flights and a monthly rent stipend of £1,000 from the company. Getting from A to B and getting settled however was his project to manage.
So Martin found and booked a co-living space in Kings Cross before departing Vienna. The plan was to live there for a month while looking for something long-term. It ended up being a musty, noisy basement studio with a dingy interior. “The flat was loud, humid and mouldy. Most of what I remember of my first month at work is terrible sleep and the hum of a constant headache."
Money alone will not advise you on norms in the market, tell you which areas to focus on or avoid, make it clear what you'll get for your budget or give support for making the right decisions. Now, after arrival, he now had to manage an uncomfortable place, full time work, and completing a new search in a city he didn't know. Martin managed, as bright young professionals do. But the experience could have been optimised for him and his company.
2. Managing bureaucracy is about know-how and preparation:
After arriving in Dublin, where he was starting work as an engineer at a large international company, Kaushik discovered he was caught in a Catch-22:
“When you land in Ireland, you have no proof of address. You need one in order to open a bank account. The only way to get one is by renting a flat. But you won’t get a flat if you can’t pay a landlord a deposit - from a bank account.”
Kaushik needed to find a friendly landlord who would accept a cash deposit and first month's rent. All of that during work hours and in person - after all, he had to charm the landlord in real life to get this special deal. It took weeks to pull off. Dublin's property market was red hot at the time, and every flat viewing had dozens of people queuing up.
Cases like these could be easily anticipated by a company’s HR department and there should be some off-the shelf solution the employer can provide. Kaushik for sure isn’t the only one facing this problem.
3. Lack of social connections
Even if the logistics of the move are taken care of, this isn’t where the work ends. Helping the employee integrate with the locals can be as important.
Sten relocated from London to Berlin to start working for a large French company. There was a local office, but he was part of a global team without touch points to the locals who didn’t even know Sten was coming. When he arrived, they shrugged and assigned him a desk in a small separate office, where he sat all by himself. No one welcomed him, there were no efforts being made to involve him in any social activities in the office. Sten also didn’t have any personal friends or acquaintances in Berlin.
“Those first two months in Berlin were really hard. I was all by myself sitting in that solo office, wondering what I had gotten myself into.” And even though more employees later did join his team, this experience - no one caring or even once asking about his personal wellbeing and social inclusion - heavily contributed to Sten handing in his resignation a few months later.
How much effort would it have been to show a little bit of humanity?
Maybe two check-ins per month with the headquarter HR team and introduction to an HR buddy in Berlin? An email from his boss to his counterpart in Berlin, asking her to welcome the new guy, have Sten give a little introduction at a local all-hands meeting? And simply have a few personal questions thrown in at the end of a weekly catch-up? All in maybe all a total of 15-20 people-hours that could have kept an employee from quitting.
Especially the best performers with high standards will not tolerate being treated like a mere resource. While you maybe can “afford” to have middling employees fend for themselves, the ones with plenty of options like Sten (who has a top tier MBA and blue chip companies on his CV) will be the first to leave. And these are the ones you want to retain the most.
How do YOU make them feel?
In the course of researching this topic, we received responses from more people who were willing to speak to us about their bad relocation experience than we could cover. Our question on a public messaging board had raised many sleeping dogs and people wanted to share their stories, many of which happened years ago. The oldest was from 2008.
The lesson is: people remember. And they tell their story to others. This way, a poor relocation experience can make itself felt years after it happened and to people who were not involved. Raj told his 2011 story to a stranger (the author of this blog post) he never met before. What will Sten tell a friend who considers working for the company that let Sten down and had him sit in a lonely cubicle for weeks on end?
Few activities have as high a return on investment as caring about an employee’s relocation. As Maya Angelou said “People forget what you said or what you did - but people will never forget how you made them feel."
Make sure that the way you make them feel in a difficult time of transition is supported, welcome and valued.
If you would like to explore how Benivo can help you streamline your junior employee relocation, get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you prefer to do it on your own, read our blog post on how to get started.