Talent Mobility Policy & Trends - Balancing Functionality & Flexibility

Published: Thursday, September 6, 2018
Susan McCune

Talent mobility professionals must strike a delicate balance among meeting corporate objectives, ensuring associate satisfaction, controlling costs, and complying with legal, tax, and immigration regulations. To achieve this balance, companies employ a wide range of mobility programs with varying degrees of flexibility. Some programs are rigid, offering associates a selected number of benefits based on what "tier" they are in. Yet other programs hand relocating associated a lump-sum payment and ask them to manage their own relocation.

Each mobility program model has advantages and disadvantages. Some are too rigid and extend associates benefits they don't want or can't use. Others aren't rigid enough, allowing too much flexibility, which can increase costs and compromise control, consistency, and compliance. Others can overwhelm associates by placing too much responsibility on them and their families.

Start by Establishing Concrete Policies

Companies should first establish the concrete policies that will drive their mobility program and then determine where they will allow for flexibility. Begin by creating policies for each global and domestic relocation benefit such as home-selling and buying assistance, site visits, bonuses or compensation adjustments, moving, and family support.

These policies serve as the base benefit and set the stage for what is available to the associate. Companies should create policies for as many situations as they feel necessary, but understand there is no magic number. Some companies might only want one or two policies per benefit, while others might extend this to cover any situation that might arise. The number of policies should depend on a variety of factors, including corporate objectives, assignment type, employee population, corporate culture, company size, and location.

Companies should carefully consider their employee population when creating these policies, as the workforce is more diverse than ever before. It’s important to keep in mind the various wants and needs of new hires, experienced associates, and senior executives.

After establishing clear policies, companies should then determine if adding a miscellaneous allowance to the policy would be appropriate.  Keep in mind the allowance isn’t a cash equivalent of a particular benefit; it’s provided to cover unique situations not explicitly provided for by the other relocation benefits.

It’s important to note that not every policy component should offer flexibility. Companies should take a more rigid stance in areas such as tax and immigration to ensure consistency and compliance.

Additional Considerations

Companies should keep the following considerations in mind when establishing their mobility policies.

Look to other benefits for inspiration.

All of a company’s benefits should be consistent and reflect their business goals. It’s important for companies to be honest with themselves when creating their mobility program. If they desire to create best-in-class benefits to attract top-tier talent, then all of their benefit programs—from medical to retirement to mobility—should reflect this. It’s not uncommon for companies to go big on more visible benefits, such as compensation, medical insurance, and retirement plans, but not put as much effort into creating a highly competitive mobility program.

Be consistent with the corporate culture.

Companies should create mobility programs that are consistent with their corporate culture. If a company has an inclusive culture when it comes to associate family members, then their mobility program should reflect this attitude as well. For example, companies should consider what level of family support they plan to offer, including spousal assistance and if they will allow family members to accompany associates on home finding or extended business trips.

Define a philosophy on exceptions.

Some companies have a flexible approach when it comes to exceptions, while other companies rarely approve any exceptions. Regardless of where they fall on the spectrum, it’s vital that companies have an established philosophy on what kinds of exceptions they will consider and what exceptions are off limits. One approach is to take a firm stance against “lifestyle” exceptions but allow for flexibility for “logistical” exceptions.

A lifestyle exception might include an associate wanting an off-policy temporary living accommodation because they prefer a property that is closer to the beach than the standard accommodation. Whereas a logistical exception could include an associate needing to stay in temporary living longer than the policy allows because their belongings are held up in customs.

Know your associate population.

Before companies can establish mobility policies to meet their associates’ needs they must know the makeup of their workforce. What percentage of their employee population is made up of renters, homeowners, recent college grads, or senior executives? Each of these segments has different wants and needs which should influence what types of policies and cash allowances companies extend.

Match your suppliers and your relocation philosophy.

Suppliers are an extension of a company’s mobility program, and companies should work with suppliers that match their relocation philosophy. Suppliers such as movers and temporary living providers can make or break the associate experience, and companies should work with quality providers who won’t compromise the mobility programs they’ve worked so hard to create.

Let relocation providers do what they do best.

Companies understand their mobility needs, challenges, and their associates, but few know relocation. Understand that a relocation partner has the network, the operational teams, and the expertise to handle the day-to-day management of the relocation. Companies should delegate these activities so they can focus on crucial pre-move tasks, such as consulting with internal business partners, conducting needs assessments of candidates, and other important factors. Don’t think of “outsourcing” a relocation program; rather consider it as “co-sourcing” the program.

Not an Either-Or Proposition

Companies have different objectives, cultures, and associates, each of which impacts their mobility needs. Some companies believe that offering flexibility in their mobility program can lead to inconsistent benefits, lack of control, and the potential for noncompliance. But, mobility isn’t an either-or proposition.

The Future of Talent Mobility

As companies look to the future of talent mobility programs, it is critical to evolve the talent mobility function into a strategic partnership.  Companies will need a holistic approach around talent, from on-boarding to off-boarding, from sourcing to retaining talent.  There are a few key items which they will want to keep in mind including possible talent shortages and an ever-evolving workforce.  Recognizing that simply offering relocation benefits is not a differentiating factor, but rather flexibility in additional policy benefits can assist in overcoming these challenges.   

A thought to the future of policies is that they may eventually go away, being replaced with a program model that allows for a baseline consistency for all moves and additional flexibility based on the individual employee situation and preferences.  Technology will assist in bringing these policies into reality and predictive analytics will allow for concise modeling of the various benefits needed for success.  While immigration and tax will always be the backbone of any policy, companies with traditional, highly-structured programs may need to rethink their approach and flex to meet employees where they are in their careers. A one-size-fits-all model is no longer sufficient. Relocation policies need to be as diverse as the employee population they serve.

Want to learn more about this topic? Contact Susan McCune, Director, Global Account Management at