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Generation Why Not

Eager to relocate and unencumbered by families and real estate, millennials may be the most self-sufficient crop of transferees yet.

Sunday, October 2, 2011
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In the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, employees grew reluctant to pick up roots and relocate. Still reeling from the horrific events of that tragic day, they clung to the comforts of home and hearth.

Gen-X employees, in particular, rebelled against mobility. Not only were they hesitant to leave family and friends, they also were disillusioned by the promises of career advancement that relocation would supposedly deliver -- the result of a lifetime of watching their parents work their way around the globe, only to find they hadn't advanced as much as they had expected.

A decade later, employers are breathing a sigh of relief as workers are once again exhibiting a willingness to relocate. Not only has time eased the fears brought on by Al Qaeda's actions, but a new generation has entered the workforce -- one that is embracing relocation like none that came before.

Gen-Yers, aka the millennials, are proving to be far more willing to relocate than either Gen-Xers or baby boomers. A whopping 85 percent of millennials say they are willing to move for the right job, with 40 percent willing to move to another country or continent, according to the Kelly Global Workforce Index: The Evolving Workforce, a 2011 survey of 97,000 people across 30 countries by Troy, Mich.-based Kelly Services Inc.

"They are not only open to relocation, many of them are asking for it," says Jennifer Connell, manager of consulting services for Weichert Relocation Resources Inc., based in Morris Plains, N.J. "They realize it's a necessity in today's market and many of them are looking at it to build up their own resumes."

Nina Ramsey, Kelly's senior vice president of human resources, has witnessed a similar phenomenon in the company's own workforce. She even sees a greater willingness on the part of her Gen-Yers to accept one of Kelly's few "very targeted" international assignments than previous generations, with little regard for whether they are being sent to an urban or a rural destination.

"They are a generation who wants to move for more money or for the next opportunity that's going to increase their capabilities," says Ramsey. "Whether it's to a large city or a small town, if it's going to meet their next career-development goal, that's what's going to drive them to move."

Naturally, the high unemployment rate of the past several years has played a role, as recent college grads have found their job prospects are slim to none if they are not willing to relocate. But basic economic survival is far from the only reason today's young adults are so open to relocation.

As the first generation practically weaned on the Internet and social media, Gen-Yers possess a more global view. Not only has social media made them comfortable going virtually anywhere, it has instilled in them a sense of confidence that they can easily stay in touch with loved ones regardless of their actual physical location. 

"Social media has exposed them to options outside their traditional comfort zone, so they are much more open to the possibility of going somewhere else to work," says Julie Roy, vice president of marketing for Cornerstone OnDemand, based in Santa Monica, Calif. "As they move to a new city, a new country, then have the ability to utilize social media to connect with family and friends, it's almost like they haven't gone anywhere."

That dependence on technology translates into the relocation itself, as millennials often expect to simply whip out their smartphones and put things in motion. A fiercely independent group, Gen-Yers are far more comfortable utilizing the latest "app" than they are to pick up the phone and call their company's relocation department or service provider, says Eileen Mullaney, principal in global mobility consulting for PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York.

Recognizing that millennials expect immediate-access information on their destination and all the services required to get them there, Connell urges companies to "push everything up front" and provide employees with a central location where they can access links to all the relevant information.

"They don't want to wait for a service provider to call about their household goods or a destination agent to call about looking at apartments in the new location," says Connell. "As soon as they speak with a counselor, they want to be able to access that information, so it has to be put in place from the very beginning."

Special Handling

While there's certainly a role for technology -- and self-service -- in relocation processes, experts caution employers not to simply hand the reins over to Gen-Yers and let them handle the move entirely on their own.

"Millennials tend to think they can handle their whole relocation through their own prism of how they gather information from the Internet and leverage those tools," says Dave Bencivengo, executive vice president at Weichert Relocation. "Companies have to strike a balance between allowing the professional companies to administer the move, while, at the same time, maintaining flexibility for the employees so they can feel like they are driving their own outcome."

Kelly Services uses a "core set of offerings" that can be customized to meet the needs of the individual as well as the business. While one employee may need help placing children in school, another may need help addressing dual-taxation or cost-of-living concerns. Yet another may simply need help moving household goods. According to Ramsey, that built-in flexibility has enabled the company to meet the needs of Gen-Y transferees without making any actual policy changes.

Granted, it's typically easier for millennials to relocate because they come with less baggage, so to speak. The majority have not yet married or had children, and they tend to be renters, rather than homeowners. As a result, the amount of assistance needed to get them from point A to point B is significantly lessened. That's not to suggest they don't have needs, though. It's just that what worked for Gen-X and the boomers won't necessarily work for Gen-Y.

"Traditionally, a transferee would fall into a particular policy tier, typically based on a pay grade or title," says Laura Matrisciano, vice president of global business development for Xonex Relocation in New Castle, Del. "That doesn't work for Generation Y."

Matrisciano suggests companies adopt policies structured around a point system in which a different value is assigned to each relocation benefit. The employee is granted a certain number of points, which can then be used to create a custom relocation experience. Such an approach satisfies the Gen-Yer's need to be in control, says Matrisciano.

For the employer, however, it can be an "administrative nightmare," she says, particularly during a time when HR is increasingly being expected to do more with less. Still, she feels it's an approach worth exploring because the talent millennials bring to the table is worth the extra trouble. Besides, she says, companies can overcome many of the related challenges simply by "aligning themselves with good, quality providers." 

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More commonly, companies have opted for lump-sum allowances to cover these younger workers' moving expenses. Lump sums have proven an effective means of moving millennials because of their abilities to keep a lid on costs, while also allowing them to have some control over how the money is spent.

"They want the ability to be more involved in the decision-making on how they spend their funds and where they allocate those resources," says Connell.

Still, Connell says, it's critically important for companies to provide them with guidance and a "human component." Having never coordinated a move before, millennials may not necessarily realize how expensive it can be to get set up in a new location, how much it costs to ship household goods or how long it may take for their property to arrive in the new location. Because they are unlikely to call and ask questions, it's important to have a counselor check in with them frequently.

"Generation Y tends to say, 'Just give me the technology and I'll manage it myself,' but they may not have the experience and knowledge to do so effectively," says Margery Marshall, president of Vandover Relocation in St. Louis. "There still needs to be some support and coaching to help them navigate how to use those funds, how to make certain decisions, so they use the benefits and the dollars successfully and hopefully ended up planted with a successful relocation."

A Little Overconfident

Because they've grown up with a more global view -- often due to international travel, semesters spent abroad or simply communicating with those in other locales via social media -- millennials are typically more comfortable and confident about their overseas assignments.

That confidence can be somewhat detrimental, however, not only because they often feel "more seasoned than they are," says Matrisciano, but because that heightened sense of themselves can lead millennial expats to refuse cross-cultural training, a key component in the success of any international assignment.

"It's easy to see how this generation would think it's possible for them to skip some steps because they lived abroad in college or traveled extensively, but clearly, that's not in their best interest and definitely not in the company's best interest," says Bencivengo. "If they go to Singapore and don't fit in after six months, they are not going to grind it out and make it work. They'll just move on."

While Roy feels such needs can be met by providing access to a "portable learning" solution, like a smartphone app, Matrisciano stresses the value of counseling young expats on the "potential pitfalls of being on assignment" rather than leaving it to them to educate themselves via technology.

She recommends companies counter millennials' overconfidence by engaging in "very strong counseling up front to help set the expectation so that they understand the importance of some of the benefits being offered to them."

Likewise, Bencivengo cautions employers not to simply refer expats to a "cross-cultural app on an i-Phone."

"Even this group, as tech-savvy as they are," he says, "should not endeavor too far down the path of not having that level of control and confidence that they've got somebody to reach out to when they need support."

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