Project-based Work = Steady Relocation in Downturn

Friday, October 2, 2009
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While the economic downturn has taken a bite out of many relocation departments, Bechtel Group Inc. is seeing its relocation numbers hold steady. That's because of the nature of its work -- if it wins a project, it sends workers to that site. If not, it doesn't.

"We expand and constrict based on the jobs we win around the world," says Sharon Lyon, who serves as Bechtel's policy, process and operations manager (part of HR).

With roughly 44,000 employees and 4,000 relocations per year to regions all over the world, San Francisco-based Bechtel, an engineering, construction and project-management company, has a steady stream of backlogged work. That means it has not been forced to curb the budget or volume of its relocation department -- even in a downturn, says Lyon.

That's fortunate since the company has a culture that stresses the importance of having its workers develop through transfers, says Lyon.

"[Relocation has] stayed pretty consistent in our company," says Lyon. "What conditions people go under is slightly changing, so rather than the entire family unit going, I think that's evolving to where some employees are opting to go unaccompanied. The volume is the same but the components are different."

With the demand for relocations holding steady, the company needed to keep its workers accepting assignments -- even though they might not be able to sell their homes in a struggling real-estate market. So, for domestic moves, it instituted a "living away from home" allowance, which offers extra money to those who leave their current location and have duplicate bills for things such as utilities or phone service.

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"We give them a cash allowance and that gives them flexibility in how they want to spend their money," says Lyon, noting that the program has been well received by employees.

The benefits for the company are high too, since it not only saves workers money, but alleviates the burden of having to assist in home sales which -- in this market -- would most likely sit in inventory for months on end.

"Is it harder now? Sure," she says. "Some houses are just not moving."

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