It happened again last week: We got a call from the VP Talent in the New York office of a global company, and she was in a bit of a panic. “We recruited this super-specialized manager for a huge project we’re running in Toronto for the next 4 months. He’s only been in Toronto for a week but he’s already talking about quitting the project because the transition has been a disaster. He found some place to stay on Airbnb which turned out to be totally unsuitable, his wife and young child can’t visit him, and it’s taking him 45 minutes to get to the office every day. Can you help?”
Temporary relocations – typically 2-8 months – can often seem like no big deal to employers. After all, the assignee doesn’t have to sell his/her house, is usually given time to go home on weekends or bring his/her family to visit on a regular basis, and, from the employer’s perspective, is being given a great opportunity to build their career and make new connections.
All of that is true, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not stressful. Temporary assignees often feel the pressure to work long days, they’re in unfamiliar surroundings with new colleagues, they’re separated from family and friends, their gym, their favourite lunch spot – the things that make daily life familiar and comforting.
And of course when relocated employees start to get overwhelmed, they are at greater risk of burnout. Which means that suddenly your top-performing A-lister can’t do what they’re great at, and that means that not only is the temporary project in jeopardy, but you’re at risk of actually losing your employee altogether, when they decide that maybe they’d rather work for a company that didn’t want to send them on temporary assignments that make them miserable.
How can you create a temporary relocation program that works better?
No, we’re not HR experts. But we’ve been working with temporarily relocated employees and their employers for 20 years now, and we’ve learned a few things along the way. Here’s what we know about how temporary assignments can be more successful- for everyone:
Think about it from your employee’s point of view
Employers often think that employees should jump at the chance of a temporary relocation, because it seems exciting, career-building, and sometimes even lucrative. But for an employee who’s recently had a baby, who’s getting their MBA at nights and on weekends, or is leading a team in their home office, the thought of spending 3+ months in another city may not seem so appealing. Being sensitive to these considerations – and approaching the employee accordingly – will set a more positive tone for everything that follows.
Make sure everyone knows what’s involved (including expenses)
Temporary assignments work best when everyone – the employee, his/her manager, the HR department, and the office where the employee will be working – knows exactly what’s expected, in advance. Will the assignee be working four 10-hour days per week in order to have 3-day weekends to go home? Will there be a per diem for food/expenses? Is it payable on a regular basis, and does the employee have to submit receipts? Is there a firm end date, or is it tied to the completion of a given project? Will the company be paying to bring family to stay, and if so, how often? Or will the company pay for accommodations that will allow the employee to bring family with him/her?
Taking the guesswork out of this makes life less stressful for your employee, and allows better cost/deliverable management for the organization.
Don’t force – or let – your employee go rogue
Companies who don’t have large HR or relocation departments often leave it up to the employee to find housing, transportation and other services in their new city. This is both time-consuming and stressful, and – as we saw with our New York client – can end in disaster for everyone. Assigning an internal resource to find appropriate housing, transportation and support, and ensuring they dot every I and cross every T, will deliver a better ROI in the end.
Have an onboarding strategy
In our experience, temporary relocations often go off the rails right at the beginning, when a relocated employee arrives in a new city, sometimes late at night or on a weekend, to find that the expected arrangements are not in place and s/he has no one to call to help straighten it out. The employee then arrives for his/her first day or work already stressed out, tired and annoyed – which isn’t good for anyone. Ensuring that someone is on the ground to meet and assist the relocated employee upon arrival can make a huge difference in how the project moves forward.
Engage some expert help
Unless your company is a large multinational that often relocates employees around the world, chances are you don’t have a dedicated relocation department or a global mobility specialist on staff. For higher-volume and/or longer-term relocations, you may want to consider engaging a third-party relocation company like Weichert or BGRS. For short-term or smaller volumes, you can talk to your corporate housing provider – like, say, Today Living Group – you may be surprised at just how much assistance we can provide.
Temporary relocations can be great for employees and businesses
And a little advance planning can deliver both a great experience and a great ROI.