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Protecting Your Talent Mobility Investment: Prioritizing the Human Element of Relocation

Relocation isn’t just a transactional process for moving employees from point A to point B. It's a strategic investment in a company’s most important resource – its people. Top talent is needed for companies to successfully reach their goals, yet too often companies don’t recognize what modern mobile employees need for a successful relocation. Companies that understand their mobile employees’ economic value recognize the need to protect their investment in the relocation process by creating exceptional, people-first experiences.   

As the intermediary between top management and mobile employees, it’s mobility professionals’ responsibility to help company leaders understand the critical need to invest properly in each relocation to meet the unique needs of each mobile employee. Then, mobility professionals must demonstrate how that investment generated a positive Return on Mobility and supported company goals, to reinforce the favorable outcomes and ensure continued support for talent mobility. 

No company sets out to under-invest in mobility or to deliver anything less than positive experiences for mobile employees. But at a time when mobility budgets are under pressure and programs are trying to do more with less, it’s easy to ‘talk the talk’ when it comes to committing the resources necessary to put people first. A more purposeful approach to determining how, and how much, to invest in mobility will help companies ‘walk the walk,’ avoiding failed relocations and getting the greatest return on mobility investments.

Here are insights for mobility managers looking to refine and amplify their approach for protecting a company’s investment in mobile employees.


Fostering People-First Relocation Experiences

Why the Human Element Matters

Choices can often be reduced to the cheapest option, fastest route, quickest delivery, etc. — but these selections aren’t necessarily the right decision for everyone. Consider this example: If you were purchasing a flight for an upcoming trip, would you simply select the cheapest airfare or would factors like departure time, arrival time, number of connections, and comfort level influence your decision? The same can be applied to mobility. When the individual needs of employees and their families are supported, they’re able to settle in quickly and meaningfully — enabling employees to focus on their roles and the wider goals and objectives tied to their relocation. What’s more, dedication to meeting employee needs impacts how the employee views and talks about the company, contributing to retention, positive reviews and referrals. Companies who understand this invest in their employees because the experience matters.   

In fact, Graebel’s 2023 State of Mobility Report explored in part the positive correlation between a company’s investment in relocation and subsequent benefits to the company. A few key findings include: 

  • 80% of mobile employees agreed they’re more likely to remain with their company long-term because it invested in their relocation
  • 85% said they’re more loyal to their company because of the company’s investment in their relocation 
  • 74% believe they’re more likely to be put on a track to be promoted, building a leadership pipeline  
  • Other top benefits to companies include more cohesive teams, employees better equipped to help the company grow, and expertise and knowledge-sharing among teams and offices    

These State of Mobility Report findings point to the fact that when companies are willing to invest a little more in delivering comprehensive, people-first support for mobile employees and their families, the result leads to greater job satisfaction, higher retention rates and more successful relocations. This benefits the company’s bottom line. Simply put, if you’re going to invest in a relocation, make sure it’s a positive experience – or run the risk of a failed or low ROI relocation that will end up costing the company more in the long run.     

How to Create People-First Relocations  

To create that positive experience, start with the end in mind. During an uncertain and complex journey, help mobile employees understand the process, what’s expected of them and when, and get them excited about their new role and the destination city. By anticipating needs and staying two steps ahead, mobility professionals can create a more seamless, enjoyable experience from the get-go that helps mobile employees and their families feel at home in their new location.   

When painting a picture of the end goal – the mobile employee settled in and productively working – it’s vital to remember family members that will be joining the mobile employee on the relocation. Family members feeling unsettled or unhappy with the move or destination city is a top reason relocations fail. Compare Arjun and Guo’s stories from the State of Mobility Report to see just how much of an impact family support can have on the success of the relocation.  

Partners, spouses and children (and pets!) also need to feel engaged in their new community, whether that’s through finding the right school or after-school activities for kids or helping the partner find a job or expat group, even though meeting these needs may require a little additional investment. If not, the uncertainty, uneasiness or even outright unhappiness the family may feel will impact the mobile employee, whose first priority most always is their family. The result? Mobile employees may be distracted, not contribute at the expected level, ask to terminate the relocation early or leave the company all together – in which case, all the time and money invested in the relocation will be lost for reasons that could have been mitigated.  

There are two guiding approaches to people-first relocations that should be incorporated into each assignment: 

  • Providing tailored assistance: Every mobile employee, and their family, has unique needs that can’t necessarily be met with standard benefits or support. Taking the time to get to know the mobile employee and their families’ needs – putting them first – enables mobility professionals to tailor benefits to ensure those relocating feel seen and supported. For example, someone moving with their partner and two children will have a different set of challenges – like schools, a job for the partner, etc. – compared to a mobile employee relocating alone.  
  • Data-driven decision-making: Mobility professionals should consistently work with relocation management company (RMC) partners to aggregate and analyze program data on relocation successes and failures to make informed decisions, adjustments and investments. Data can also help mobility professionals guide mobile employees toward smart decisions that will foster a positive relocation experience.   


Redefining Relocation as an Investment  

Equally as important as fostering people-first relocation experiences is demonstrating their impact to company leaders, to positively reinforce the investment and secure leadership buy-in for talent mobility. The most successful mobility programs result from senior leaders viewing relocation as an investment, rather than as an expense. As leadership teams continue to seek ways to manage costs and tighten budgets, mobility professionals need to make the business case for the organizational value of talent mobility to protect their programs and budgets. 

The first step for mobility professionals is to change their mindsets to think like the business leaders they’re trying to persuade. That means talking about relocation as an investment (which it is!) rather than as a cost, line item or expense. If talent mobility is presented to leaders as a cost center, that’s how executives are going to see it; if it’s positioned in alignment with corporate strategy and presented as an investment in achieving corporate growth and profitability goals, mobility professionals can start to transform decision makers’ perceptions. 

Business leaders expect investments to produce a return, and investments in mobility are no exception. Here’s a five-step approach to defining and demonstrating Return on Mobility to company leaders: 

  1. Identify which internal audiences in your leadership ecosystem you should be connecting with to create a culture of “relocation-positivity” or “relocation-encouragement.”
  2. Seek to understand how those audiences, including the finance team, define success and measure investments; this can mean everything from presenting a mobility investment business proposal in the CFO’s preferred planning currency to understanding which company goals the C-suite is prioritizing (growth, revenue, talent acquisition and/or retention, etc.). 
  3. Leverage data to help prove the point on investment; this should align with leaders’ priorities but could include job completion and job rating scores, comparing mobile employee engagement scores to investment, mobile employee trajectory or promotability, productivity metrics, business or revenue growth, job satisfaction, etc. 
  4. Build and share a memorable success story to illustrate the point and prove the value of the investment. Here’s a short example: an executive whose relocation required a policy exception, and who later delivered tens of millions in shareholder value. 
  5. Aggregate that success story to the broader picture. Mobility programs are bigger than just one relocation experience, so combine all the positive results from relocations to show the broader business impact of talent mobility. For example, consider taking the best success story and then multiplying it by the scale (or potential scale) of your program.

Then, rinse and repeat. Make deliberately telling those stories (and learning others) a muscle you use on the job every day. This will help you feel more comfortable, and the storytelling process will become second nature.  

To learn more about how to move in lockstep with company goals and effectively demonstrate to company leaders the Return on Mobility of their investment, contact us or your Graebel representative to get connected with our Mobility Strategy team.