The lines between tiers, though, frequently blur during a tight labor market as exists today. Companies eager to get a key employee to an important location are now willing to extend higher-level relocation assistance than they might have been a few years ago. Indeed, companies are now using relocation programs as an incentive when recruiting employees.
"Employees are in the driver’s seat," says Kathy Morris, director of global consulting for Prudential Relocation. She has seen companies offering home purchase assistance to renters asked to relocate. To help persuade workers to move to a location with a higher cost of living, companies are offering cost-of-living benefits for a period of time.
"The cost-of-living programs are a hot topic right now," says Wendy Richardson, vice president of client services at Primacy Relocation, which is based in Memphis, Tennessee.
While the first stop in most relocation programs is usually a company human resources official, much of the actual work is typically outsourced to vendors like Primacy that offer specialized services. For example, Impact Group of St. Louis provides a package of relocation help that can include job counseling for a spouse, family emotional support and in-depth information about the new location, whether that’s domestic or international.
LifeCare Inc., a "life management services" company, also works with companies to provide new location data to employees about to relocate. The custom-tailored reports cover everything from housing prices to school funding and test scores to local income levels.
"We’ve had a number of people tell us they wouldn’t have taken the relocation without this," says LifeCare CEO Peter G. Burki.
When it comes to the actual move of belongings, relocation benefits can vary considerably, based not just on an employee’s job level but also on the type of company. Atlas Worldwide notes in a recent survey that manufacturing companies are more likely than service companies to pay to move cars, pack and unpack all items and move exercise equipment. Midwestern companies are most likely to move a boat. Northeastern companies are likely to pay to move pets.
Once the relocation offer has been made, workers have to decide fairly quickly. About half of companies want a decision within two weeks, according to the Atlas survey. Serious procrastinators are out of luck. Only 8 percent of companies in the Atlas survey said they allow more than a month for a decision.