Smarter Career Moves

Tara Weiss

Before we were a workforce of telecommuters, the United States was a nation of relocators. As recently as the 90s, location transfers were commonplace and companies were quite generous with moving allowances. Firms readily footed the bill for anyone they wanted to transfer from Los Angeles to Louisiana. They'd pay the movers’ bill, pay temporary housing costs and even spring for a transferred employee’s mortgage closing costs.

As you may have noticed, corporate purse strings are much tighter now. With the exception of a few elite employees and high profile new hires, chances are you’ll have to pay more out of your own pocket to complete your relocation. The hassle and expense may explain why the number of transferred employees dropped from 368 people on average per firm in 1998 to 291 in 2002.

But now, with a stronger economy and a tighter labor market, relocations are on the rise again. In 2006, expected relocations are 412 on average per firm, according to Worldwide ERC, the relocation trade group. If you’re among those being transferred, here is what you need to know to get the most for your move.

Remember: All is not equal when it comes to relocating, at least not anymore. Not long ago, it was common for a company to have a standard relocation policy that applied to nearly all rungs of the corporate ladder. But companies are increasingly using a tiered approach. Today, 67% of companies use a tiered method to reimburse for their relocation costs. That’s up from 10% in 1988, according to Worldwide ERC.

What hasn’t changed is the preferential treatment enjoyed by top talent and highly valued new hires. Their moves are often handled by relocation firms such as Cendant Mobility and Weichert Relocation. But professional packing is just the start. "With the job market getting tighter there is much more negotiation," says Matthew Thomas Deffebach, an attorney at Haynes and Boone in Texas who specializes in employment and labor issues. "Most of the large companies have been more active with intangibles." An intangible is something like helping the intended new hire's spouse with professional networking opportunities so he or she can get a new job too.

To alleviate their very tangible concerns over softening real estate markets, some companies are actually purchasing their employees slow-selling homes. That’s one way to facilitate a transfer. While that scenario is rare, many companies will pay for transporting the family car and pay to break apartment leases.

All that isn't just for new hires. It's also beneficial for intra-company transfers so employees don't deal with moving logistics while they're on the job. "We want to ensure that the transferee is as productive as they need to be in their new work location and that their family doesn’t feel the burden and stress of the move," says Peter Church, assistant vice president of human resources for The Hartford.

But moving is becoming more onerous for the majority of relocating workers. In the past, transferred employees were typically responsible for itemizing their costs and submitting them to their employer. Now, employees are often given a lump some to cover the costs of their move. They must shop around for their own moving services and realtor, and if done on the cheap, they can keep the rest of the money. But overspend, and you’ll have to pay out of your own pocket.

Lump sums give employees lots of flexibility. "If someone wants to have Ramen Noodles they can save the money," says Church. While that's appealing to employees, it's not ideal for employers. "The danger is there’s a lot more of the individual’s time that goes into [moving], and they're less productive in the workplace," says Church.

For most of these benefits you have to work in certain industries. Healthcare and technology are in high demand so virtually everything is on the table. The same goes for geographic areas that are experiencing considerable job growth. Susan Vobejda, vice president and career expert at Yahoo! Hot Jobs, points to Alaska, Ohio and California as examples of areas where there's such significant job growth, companies are "willing to spend money to get talent."

When it comes to international relocation, cost-cutting is still the name of the game. For instance, many companies give employees the lump sum deal instead of itemizing. They're also encouraging employees to rent their home for the length of their stay abroad in order to avoid home selling costs, according to Collie. They're also providing the employees with furnished housing to eliminate the need to ship household goods to an assignment and back.

No matter what, don't accept the transfer or the job until you've got these details negotiated, says Holly Schroth, a professor of negotiating at University of California, Berkeley. "Negotiate before you accept the job," says Schroth. "They’re not going to let a few moving expenses from having you."

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: