Moving for Work: The Difference a Career Professional Can Make
By Jennifer Bradley
“So, how was your day?” I asked my spouse.
- Fine. My boss called me in just before I left. They’re looking for someone for one of our overseas projects. There are some problems. Don’t know much yet. But he asked me if I’d be interested.
“And, are you?” I hesitatingly asked.
- Maybe. Sounds interesting. You know I’ve always talked about working overseas.
“Yes, but …Where? When would you go?” My mind buzzed with questions.
- As soon as possible. Maybe even next week.
This “out-of-the-blue” conversation between my spouse and me at the end of an otherwise ordinary workday was the first step towards a life-changing relocation for our family. In our case, a short-term assignment became a long term international move. This is just one example of many different types of relocation, the succinct term for “moving for work”.
As career professionals we serve clients working in a global economy. How many of your clients move for work? My goal in this article is to provide a brief overview of relocation and discuss selected examples of how career professionals might support this client group.
Reasons for Relocation
Let’s begin with an overview of the “why” and the “what” of relocation. First, why to people relocate – i.e., what are the most common reasons for relocation? Second, what are the different types of moves?
Relocations may be initiated by employers or by employees. The top two drivers for employers are business growth and a gap in local talent (Atlas Van Lines, 2015; PWC, 2014). For individual employees, the reasons vary. One employee may move to be closer to family. Another may pursue a dream of working internationally.
Types of Career Relocation
Just as there are many reasons for relocation, there are many types of moves. Here are some examples:
- Permanent transfers (nationally or internationally)
- Temporary assignments (long-term and short-term)
- Developmental moves (e.g. global leadership development)
- Talent swaps (e.g. employees spend time in each other’s home country)
- Extended business travel and cross-border commuters.
How the Career Practitioner Can Help
The structure of the relocation shapes employee experiences and the help they need. Once you understand the context of relocation, you will see engagement opportunities for career professionals. For the purpose of this article, let’s examine two levels of intervention:
- services for individual clients
- services for employers
The Experience of Relocation for Individual Employees and Families
As a career practitioner, you understand how work and family intersect. It won’t surprise you that research identifies the top concerns for relocating employees as housing, family issues, and in the case of dual career families, a partner’s job (Atlas Van Lines, 2015).
So how can career professionals help? For dual career families, accompanying partners have varied career-related questions. Examples include how to find a job in a new location without a network, how to transfer skills to a new labor market, or how to find purposeful activity in the absence of a work permit. A holistic approach by the practitioner can acknowledge and assist the entire family.
What about employees themselves? When employees relocate, work responsibilities typically increase. Demands are multiplied in the case of international moves that require operating in a new culture. Prior to a relocation, career practitioners can work with employees to clarify their personal career goals and the employers’ goals for the assignment. Uncovering assumptions early on goes a long way towards managing frustration, reducing overwhelming feelings, and even preventing assignment failure.
Since unresolved family issues are a major cause of unsuccessful relocations, intervention at the family level can help. One example of this is in the pre-assignment phase. Employees may lack the knowledge and skills to get the relocation support they need. If you are accustomed to working with clients on compensation negotiation, you already have skills that can help a relocating family research, clarify, and negotiate for what they need. Having the right support and resources can make the difference between an assignment that benefits everyone and one that is an ongoing struggle.
Employers Perspectives on Relocation
Just as the purpose and types of move vary, so does relocation management by employers. Large global companies may have a dedicated mobility team with expertise honed over many years. In some small organizations, support may be limited.
Regardless of how they manage relocation, employers share some of the same questions. How can they control the costs? Will this employee succeed? Will the company get a return on this investment? Companies are also concerned about managing their reputation and complying with regulations that govern complex areas such as labor law, immigration, and tax. In some locations there are security risks to address.
So is there a role for the career practitioner? Although several of the above problems require specialist expertise, career-related interventions are also relevant to employers. One example is when relocation is used as a leadership development tool. As experts in career development, career professionals can contribute to program design, participant assessment and selection, coaching, and program evaluation.
Transition management is also key to successful relocation. Career professionals can work with organizations to support not just the move, but also the reintegration of returning employees. Research suggests attrition rates double for repatriating managers (Groysberg & Abrahams, 2014). The cost of transition planning for returnees can be offset by the value of retaining experienced employees.
Employees who move for work are a diverse group with evolving needs that require responsive services. Moving for work is about more than work. As career professionals, we can use our skills at supporting, negotiating, and a holistic approach to make a positive difference.
Atlas Van Lines. (2015). 48th Atlas Corporate Relocation Survey Results. Retrieved from http://www.atlasvanlines.com/relocation-surveys/corporate-relocation/
PwC. (2014). Moving people with purpose: Modern mobility survey 2014. Retrieved from http://www.pwc.com
Groysberg, B., & Abrahams, R. (February 13, 2014). A Successful International Assignment Depends on These Factors. Harvard Business Review. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.
Jennifer Bradley, Ph.D., is a US-based Career Professional and a Registered Occupational Psychologist (UK). She coaches individuals during career and work life transitions. Jennifer combines her personal experience of international relocation and career change with several career industry certifications and extensive work experience in higher education and health care. In addition, she has a Certificate in Project Management from Portland State University, where she was a project manager and member of a team researching work life issues and transitions. Contact Jennifer by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jenniferbradleyphd