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Relocation industry shifts focus from finances to quality-of-life

Corporate relocation managers play a pivotal role in the complicated and time-consuming process of moving employees and new hires.
Gloria Bartholomew, Xerox Corp. relocation manager, for example, says she becomes a new hire’s ally, adviser and friend. John Snow, a corporate relocation coordinator with PHH Relocation in Danbury, Conn., which partners with Frontier Corp., says he becomes entrenched in a new employee’s life for nearly seven months. Rosemary Magere, a business-unit liaison at Eastman Kodak Co., works with Prudential Relocation to guide transferees and new hires through the relocation wilderness in a way “that will lessen the impact that a move inevitably has on an employee’s life.”
Every year one in six Americans moves; according to the Employee Relocation Council, member companies relocated 200,000 workers in 1994. Such moves cost American corporations more than $15 billion annually.
“Corporations, particularly those within the Fortune 500, compete nationally for talent,” says Cris Collie, executive vice president at the ERC in Washington, D.C. “Those companies must provide comprehensive packages in order to attract and retain the caliber of employees they need to remain competitive.”
In addition to rising costs, relocation managers must contend with work-family issues, such as the spouse who follows the transferred worker and needs assistance finding new employment or the good candidate who may turn down a job to stay near an elderly parent. Providing support for relocating spouses also is a key recruitment and retention issue for many large corporations. In addition to financial support, many companies now offer career counseling through third-party providers like Rochester’s Career Development Services Inc.
“We provide a comprehensive program for relocated spouses that is designed to ease the transition for the entire family,” says Patricia Coles, director of the New Connections Partner Relocation Program at Career Development Services. “Furthermore, with our resources we can customize a program to fit a client’s particular needs. One person may opt for community orientation; another may need help sharpening his or her interviewing skills.”
Relocating with a spouse or partner, whether this person is a he or a she, can put a major strain on even the closest relationships. A few years ago a relocating spouse who happened to be a he might have been tangling with a cultural taboo. But today, according to a survey conducted by Runzheimer Reports On Relocation, an industry newsletter, 25 percent of 1995 corporate transfers were women, compared with 22 percent in 1994. So the trailing-spouse category is beginning to include men in moderately higher numbers.
Also noteworthy is that 12 percent of the transferees were ethnic minorities, and 5 percent single parents. As these numbers become more significant, companies will need to respond by providing special assistance, such as help in selecting schools, finding employment assistance for spouses and making child-care arrangements.
So, in addition to the typical financial assistance offered by corporations– including, but not limited to, house-hunting trips, moving expenses and other costs associated with relocating–companies are becoming much more intimately involved in the day-to-day issues that face existing and prospective employees.
“Corporations should track demographic shifts in their transferee base,” says Lori Hurst, editor of the Runzheimer newsletter. “By recognizing and dealing with special needs up front, companies stand a better chance of recruiting the right transferee for the right position.”
Taking these special needs into consideration requires flexibility by everyone, but especially the company courting a hot candidate.
“Sometimes we need to step outside the policy in order to accommodate everyone’s objectives,” says Xerox’s Bartholomew. “Plus, relocation assistance may be dependent upon the hiring manager, particularly in the case of a dual relocation where both spouses or partners are relocating at the company’s request.”
At some organizations, relocation assistance is completely decentralized. At the University of Rochester, for example, faculty relocations are handled by the specific department conducting the hiring process.
Depending on the industry, relocation benefits vary across the spectrum. At Frontier, for instance, the goal is to keep employees “whole.” In human resource- speak that simply means providing assistance so that the relocating employee incurs no costs.
Of course relocation packages vary from company to company. And even within a corporation the benefits offered will be different for an existing employee transferring to another location vs. a new hire. Some plans are standard, some reflect more of a cafeteria-style approach. Often the extent of assistance provided is simply a matter of demand.
“If we’re asked to help a new hire’s spouse map out some career strategies, we’re going to do it,” says John Schultz, corporate staffing manager at Frontier. “We really try to be sensitive to each employee’s needs.”
As companies scramble to keep up with the divestiture and decentralization of corporate America, relocation managers must stay poised to provide services in a cost-efficient and timely manner. One way to achieve that stance is to outsource the functions to third-party providers like PHH and Prudential. Yet that will not diminish the role corporate relocation managers play in the movement of employees. Their liaison responsibilities will continue to be an integral part of the relocation industry.
(Leslie G. Levine is a Rochester-area free-lance writer.)

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