A High-Five for the Hand-Raisers! 07.31.2023 | Laura Levenson

Not all employees are willing to wait to be approached with an assignment or an opportunity to relocate. They’re making it happen – now – by asking! As the number of self-initiated relocations increases, more companies are realizing that they need a more formal way to address these unique requests. Here’s what the research says:

  • According to ERC’s Self-Initiated Short-Term Transfers Report, out of 143 corporate respondents, 85% of organizations do not provide any relocation support for employees that have decided to relocate to a new location.
  • Conducted in April 2023, Benivo’s Employee Initiated Pulse Survey revealed that 72% of organizations experienced an increase in employee-initiated moves in 2022, with family reasons being the most common driver. However, not all organizations provide mobility support for these moves.
  • According to the same report, only 35% of organizations have a mobility policy specifically applicable to employee-initiated moves, while 33% offer mobility support on a case-by-case basis. In contrast, 21.7% of organizations do not offer any mobility support for employee-initiated moves and among these, a strong majority (69.2%) say that it is unlikely their organization will adopt support going forward.

In our opinion, this is all quite surprising when an equally notable trend of reluctance to relocate is in play.

Touted as the “hand raisers”, this demographic tends to be dominated by young, ambitious talent who are tired of waiting for the right international assignment opportunity to come knocking at their office door. Instead, they are taking the initiative to carve out their own overseas developmental opportunities.

Recognizing the talent management value of this employee cohort, Weichert sees organizations rethinking their packages, with some opting to provide a la carte benefits and/or lump sums dependent on personal circumstances that offer a higher level of customized support.

Why should we be paying attention to the hand-raisers? Because the war on talent rages on! The demand and availability of highly skilled talent continue to be skewed, with the odds stacked against organizations worldwide as they grapple with finding innovative ways to motivate, develop, and hold on tightly to their top producers. From a talent management perspective, employee-initiated mobility is a valuable strategy in retaining employees, by providing them the support to gain skills, reach career goals, broaden horizons, and promote your company culture. Moreover, offering mobility support can improve compliance with legal requirements, duty of care challenges, and DEI initiatives which in today’s world are critical to the safety, security and well-being of company’s talent.

Hand-Raiser Hurdles

Organizations that are attempting to cater to a self-initiating population agree that one of the biggest challenges is gaining the buy-in from leadership, particularly if the existing mobility process follows a more traditional approach of tapping a candidate on the shoulder to present an assignment opportunity. This is where the proper marketing of this alternative assignment type is critical. From a talent management perspective, self-initiated moves should be accredited for their potential as:

  • A tool to engage self-motivated employees who are eager for development opportunities;
  • A tool to retain valued talent who are requesting a transfer for either personal or business needs.

Another challenge faced by organizations is drawing a clear distinction between assignments/transfers that are company and employee-initiated. Since budgets and the level of support are inevitably going to differ for each, it makes it challenging for mobility managers to set well-defined objectives and expectations when approaching each employee-led request.

I am frequently asked how to determine whether or not an employee should receive support for such a move, and what are the qualifying factors.

Here are some basic questions that should help HR and Talent Management stakeholders structure a policy for employee-led mobility and set parameters around if and how requests will be treated differently and whether or not there is a defined business need for the relocation.

  • Is the purpose for the relocation personal and/or does it contribute to the employee’s development?
  • Is the employee considered high potential talent, and will this transfer enhance their skill set and thereby provide a long-term benefit to the company as well as the individual?
  • Should benefits be differentiated according to value to both the individual and the company?

Diving into these discussions earlier on will allow for a more streamlined initiation process once the program is in place and will help establish defined expectations for both the employees and internal stakeholders.

Policy Considerations for Employee-Led Moves

Typically, these policies and packages are comparable to those offered to a new hire and, at a minimum, will include visa, immigration, and tax assistance services. Some policies go further and include final move expenses, household goods shipments, as well as a modest allowance to cover remaining miscellaneous expenses. Some companies will adopt a core-flex approach for these relocations, providing more robust “flex” options to higher-level employees, such as home-finding trips, destination services support or real estate expenses, among others.

TREND WATCH: The remote work revolution is already impacting the trend of employee-initiated moves in interesting ways. The ease of “working from anywhere” paired with increasingly volatile housing markets has led to a reluctance to formally relocate. But as more companies shift back to in-person and hybrid work structures, we expect to see a steady increase in the volume of hand-raisers; particularly those who may be looking to move to office locations in locations that offer a lower cost of living.

The number of employees taking the initiative to carve their own relocation opportunities is only primed to increase over the next few years as the appetite for upskilling opportunities surges among today’s workforce. This trend, paired with the ongoing war for talent, solidifies the fact that flexibility and accommodation of alternative assignment types are necessary to sustain a healthy, competitive mobility program.

In a climate where talent is so pivotal to business success, are you doing everything you can to ensure that the loyalty and engagement of your staff is a priority?

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Written by Laura Levenson


Laura Levenson is a Practice Leader in Weichert Workforce Mobility’s Advisory Services group. She has worked in management capacities for workforce mobility and Big Four firms, and is well-versed in bringing clarity to the most pressing global talent deployment challenges. She brings over 25 years of experience to her role and is a frequent speaker on the mobility conference circuit.

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