Relocation has historically been an administrative, logistical function—simply the movement of people and goods.
“Twenty years ago, relocation reported to real estate, finance or the benefits aspect of human resources,” says Ellie Sullivan, director of consulting with Weichert Relocation Resources. “Now it’s more aligned with talent management. It’s much more strategic today: Where does the company need talent? Where and how can I deploy people for the best impact on the bottom line? It’s gone from transactional to strategic.”
This linkage between talent development and relocation appears in varied ways. “We’re seeing more of an interest in commuter assignments of fewer than 183 days, with no families,” says Peggy Smith, president of Washington-based Worldwide ERC. “These save money, but the bigger driver is talent management.”
Mustang Engineering, which builds the above-water structures of offshore oil rigs, does business in 25 countries. Africa, South America and the Middle East are all growing in importance for the Houston-based company. Typically, Mustang moves some 150 employees a year. About 65 percent of those are on year-plus assignments; 15 percent rotate in a 28-days-on, two-weeks-off schedule; and 20 percent have one-month to one-year assignments. Only a handful of moves each year are permanent.
These moves get experts to the places where they’re needed; they’re not for talent development. Nevertheless, the company uses its relocation policy to manage talent—it keeps employees happy in the distant and often difficult locations where they’re needed.
“We’re looking at the number of needed engineers,” says John Pfeiffer, manager of global human resources. “Demand has increased and the supply has decreased. Dual-career households are driving rotating and short-term assignments. So a one-size-fits-all relocation policy isn’t feasible anymore. Policy must be more flexible to accommodate employees.”
Mustang established core and flex relocation policies to meet employees’ varying needs. “We add ‘blue chip’ items for different locations, such as an allowance for a spouse to get more education or shipping the family pet, which can cost thousands of dollars,” Pfeiffer says.
To keep its employees happy, global engineering giant Bechtel has taken its previously outsourced relocation function back in house. “We are very concerned about employee satisfaction,” says Christopher H. James, manager of human resources global services. Relocated employees had found themselves dealing with not only the home-country relocation company, but also the host-country moving company, freight forwarding companies and others. “We will establish a single point of contact for employees who will be completely responsible for the entire process,” James says. “This is the type of thing an outsourced provider can’t do.”
Relocation still has a big talent management problem when it comes to returning employees. “There have been years where 40 percent of people come home and go to a new company,” says Bill Humphrey, senior vice president and managing director of Wilmington, Delaware-based Xonex Relocation. “It has always been a challenge for companies to retain returning expats. They don’t plan for it.”
Workforce Management, July 2010, p. 26 -- Subscribe Now!