Relocating for work can bring a wealth of personal and professional opportunities – but it is not a decision to be taken lightly. Moving a current employee can cost a business a little over $90,000, according to Worldwide ERC, and much more importantly, such a major life decision can cause havoc in your personal and family life if you rush into it.
You might think that the first stage of deciding whether or not it is worth relocating for your job is to negotiate a relocation package with your employer, but in reality the planning and decision-making process must start long before that. Without thinking through all the implications of a move, you might land yourself in hot water, not least because many relocation agreements come with hefty conditions which might require you to repay some of costs of the move if you end the arrangement before the contract is concluded.
Don’t risk getting it wrong. Relocation for work can be a fantastic opportunity (speaking from experience here), but you will only really get the best from it if you put in some effort upfront to figure out how to make it work best for you, your career, and your family life.
This should not be an arduous task, so fix yourself a drink, start dreaming of where company relocation could take you, and here are some questions to think about as you ponder.
See Also: Is Relocating for your Job Worth it?
1. What Could You Get Out of it Personally?
Companies will send employees overseas or to other domestic locations to work for the benefit of the business, but if you want to get the most from the experience, you need to have a clear idea about what you will get from the experience personally. Thinking upfront about this means that you might rule certain locations or packages in or out of your thinking, and it also allows you to answer more confidently when your boss inevitably asks you ’Why?’
Relocation brings a number of personal growth opportunities for you and your family. If you’re considering moving overseas, that might mean a chance to experience a new culture, learn a different language, live in a city that excites you, and broaden your horizons in a whole new way. These personal upsides are useful to your business too, so don’t feel like you should not acknowledge them when you discuss a move with your boss or HR manager. When they are considering you for a relocation package, they will want to know that you have ’skin in the game’ and are looking at this move as something that will benefit you all round, rather than a favour you feel you ought to do for the company. If you’re doing it for yourself and your family too, then the relocation experience is far more likely to be successful for your business.
2. How Does it Support Your Long-Term Career Goals?
For some people, the personal stretch and development offered from a move is enough, but when your company is offering a position that requires relocation, it makes sense to consider how this fits into your longer term career path.
If a position is offered on a short-term contract, then you need to understand the process for getting back into your home business after the contract comes to a natural end. In larger businesses, there will be a formal structure which means that your HR department and previous department managers are likely to retain nominal managerial responsibility for you even as you are working in a different part of the business. This means that you keep the links to your home country and the business there, and makes it easier to find a way of reintegrating after your international contract completes. Check out the scenario in your company, and don’t be afraid to push to understand the processes that will ensure that your career path can be picked up again at home after your relocation experience (assuming, of course, you can drag yourself away from your new location at the end!)
Once you’re satisfied on this point, then invest some time thinking about how the move could help you in the longer term with developing the skills and experiences that your business values. For example, you will likely get a chance to work in a team with a different culture, which helps you look at challenges in a different way and develop empathy even without a shared language. You will be starting from scratch in a new team which gives you valuable experience in how you learn about a new environment quickly and understand and plan to address the business challenges there. Having a clear view of the benefits of the role to your longer term career will make sure that you weigh up your options well and make the most of the experience.
3. Are There 'No Go' Areas for You or Your Family?
If you have now established that a relocation package could be a benefit for you and your family personally and professionally, it is time to consider the details. Are there any places or situations that would be absolutely impossible for you to consider? Having a clear view on this before you start to talk to your business about options allows you to be clear and quickly close down choices that are unsuitable. That way you show you’re serious, demonstrate your thought process, and avoid wasting time in opportunities that don’t appeal.
This is very much a family conversation, so involve your partner and kids as far as possible. When considering relocation, there can be a heavy impact on the partner of the relocated employee – in fact, the greater the difficulty the ’trailing spouse’ has in settling is a common reason for relocations to fail. While the relocating employee has a natural purpose to the move, and a structure ready-made, it can be harder for the partner to find a way of making your new life work. Talk through practical questions and make sure you have a realistic and shared view of what life might look like during your move.
Then think about location. Are there any places that would simply not suit your family circumstance? While employers are highly unlikely to send you into a warzone, there are some factors that might work for one family but not another. For example, if you are travelling as a family and want to integrate thoroughly into the local culture, consider the realistic ways you can do that. In some countries where it is the norm for expats to live in gated communities, with drivers and domestic help to cover some of the practical necessities of life, you’re not going to be necessarily part of the regular culture of the city you live in. Alternatively, some locations might not appeal due to the cultural attitudes to women’s rights or personal freedoms – figure out what you and your family want from the opportunity and any absolute no-go areas before you get too far down the line!
4. What's the Package?
Whether or not the relocation opportunity can come to fruition will depend largely on the package that is offered and how you can negotiate to make it work in your individual situation. Larger businesses often have different ’tiers’ of relocation package, depending on the business need and level of the role. Smaller companies are more likely to negotiate case by case, which might mean it is easier for you to get a tailored package to suit your needs.
Check out the support offered to pay for (and deal with the necessary admin) finding a new home, complying with local customs and legal requirements for residence, shipping your belongings, arranging school places, essential services, and paying for all the travel and incidental costs included in a house move. In most cases, companies will use intermediary relocation specialists and local experts who can advise details like how much it might cost to rent a flat, find a suitable school place, or arrange transportation. Use this service as much as possible – the big questions will probably be answered automatically, but your local experts should also be able to help you with the thousand little questions you will inevitably have, like where and how to find a gym, or which supermarkets in town are the best choices for fresh produce. Each individual question might seem unimportant, but it is these simple things that can make or break your experience, so get the little irritations sorted out quickly!
5. What If...?
A final point to consider is the small print. Nobody likes to spend time reading terms and conditions, but in this case it really is a necessity. If you’re signing a relocation contract, it will almost certainly come with a number of clauses that will impact you for some time after the move ends. For example, you are likely to find a clause that requires you to stay with the business for a certain length of time following the end of the contract, or pay back a proportion of costs. If you’re not planning on staying around for long, this could be costly!
It is also worth understanding the process for returning to your previous role (or not) at the end of the contract. Is your employment in the home business continual, meaning you will be entitled to return to the same or similar position? Do you retain long service benefits and your service history intact? Is the relocation contract end date fixed or flexible? How much notice do you have of the contract ending? Make sure you will have all the support you need even after the relocation contract has come to its conclusion.
Finally, you should also familiarise yourself with the company’s stance on emergencies or if the relocation does not work out for some reason. Will they support your family in moving home if there is a valid and unforeseen reason? While most companies will take a reasonable view on this, understanding the general attitude might help you make a decision about whether or not relocation will work for you.
I can personally vouch for the potential benefits work relocation can bring to you and your family. At present, my family is relocated for my partner’s work and experiencing a whole different culture and lifestyle, which means we are learning new things every day. Even our commute to work is more fun here – but it is not a decision without cost. From the difficulties that come with one partner putting their career on hold to facilitate a move, to settling kids in a new school, to explaining to elderly relatives that ’home’ is now thousands of miles away, relocation does take its toll.
For us, it has unequivocally been worth it, but before you make the leap, take some time to consider the questions suggested here, and make sure that your move is the experience of a lifetime, and not something you’ll live to regret.
What questions did you ask yourself that helped you decide on relocating for work? Let us know in the comments section below!