Magazine article Personnel Journal

Relocation Policies Must Reflect Diversity

Magazine article Personnel Journal

Relocation Policies Must Reflect Diversity

Article excerpt

Recently, there has been increasing dialogue about employee diversity, family issues and the changing work force. Despite these discussions, many corporations haven't incorporated sensitivity to these issues into their relocation policies.

As vice president of consulting services for The Hessel Group in Wilton, Connecticut, I've noticed that most relocation policies are written for the stereotypical transferee of the '70s: the white, married male whose spouse is at home. Organizations that have standardized relocation policies no longer have standardized employees. Their policies don't reflect the changing characteristics of the employee population.

These out-of-date policies affect a work force that includes single parents, the people who have disabilities, women, minorities and two-career families. How are these groups' needs for relocation benefits different from the '70s stereotype? Here are two examples:

In the summer of 1991, I held a focus group with eight human resources managers from a large chemical company. One of them had this to say about her recent transfer experience: "When I went on my house-hunting trip, the company would pay only for my spouse to accompany me. Because I'm single, I asked my father to travel with me. I've bought houses before, but I wanted someone else's opinion to temper my own judgment. I spent $1,300 in airfare and hotel expenses to have my father join me in looking for a new home. Why doesn't our relocation policy pay for this?"

This human resources manager isn't alone. I researched the relocation policies of 100 major U.S. corporations recently, and only 15 of these organizations covered home-finding expenses for an adult other than a spouse.

Divorced employees who have children may face a different relocation problem--child custody. Recently, I had a conversation with a divorced woman who had custody of her daughter. When her company offered her a promotion and transfer, she had to petition the court for permission to take her daughter with her. She received the court's approval, but it took three months. Fortunately, her employer was able to keep the job open until she had resolved her legal problems. These are only two of the perplexing issues facing transferees today. Consider some additional difficulties:

1) Not only may single transferees not have anyone to help them search for a new home, but they also may be solely responsible for such tasks as listing the former home with a realtor and packing. These obligations result in a greater loss of productivity.

2) In dual-income families, the spouse may lose income and job benefits with the transfer. According to Runzheimer International's 1991-1992 Policy Survey, only 15% of the companies surveyed offer a formal spousal employment-assistance program. Another 26% provide help on a case-by-case basis, while the remaining 59% offer no help at all.

3) Minorities may face unexpected cultural differences or prejudice at their new locations, either in the workplace or in the community. This situation can extend the time needed for the transferees to adjust to the new environment and return to productivity.

4) Single parents may find that childcare services aren't available at the new location, or that the cost of child care may be prohibitive. Employees who have eldercare obligations face the same problems.

5) Tax-assistance policies are an issue for dual-income families who relocate. In 1991, relocation deductions and personal exemptions were reduced as income exceeded $100,000. …

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