Bristol News


Employee-Initiated Relocations: A New Frontier in Mobility?

Bristol’s opinion: Integrate "Volunteer" assignments with Remote work policies. Develop policy framework providing selective, limited benefits.

8 September 2020

A client recently raised the question: “I am trying to gather information on ‘Hand Raisers’ since we are likely going to receive more and more of these due to remote work.  Do you have recommendations on common practice/trends for employee-initiated relocations?  What benefits should be offered?”

We have some thoughts and experience on this topic.  "Volunteer assignments” have been discussed mostly in the international realm but it may have growing domestic application as well.

In Bristol’s view this is about to become a more interesting and increasingly-discussed area as we might anticipate an exodus of people seeking to relocate from cities to suburbs, to rural areas or just any chosen place in an environment that increasingly allows “work-from-anywhere” (WFA).  Companies will need to assess what -  if any – support they may provide for these in-effect employee-initiated moves.  We believe most will probably not be supported with expense reimbursements but we may see companies approve “partial benefits” such as home-office stipends or miscellaneous allowances (MEAs) designed to assist in setting up work spaces with technology, equipment, wifi etc.  This will be another of many considerations as we ponder the “future of relocation”.


Policy Considerations:  Looking back at pre-COVID competitive practices, Bristol works with a number of clients that have documented policies for volunteer, accommodation or “hand-raiser” assignments. Observations:

  • A broad question is whether to provide any benefits at all to voluntary transferees.  Many of these are case-by-case determinations depending on business needs (more below). 
  • Many/most companies do very little or nothing in support of volunteers but some do, especially for a valuable role with strong mutual interest in having the volunteer fill the role. In that case we sometimes see small lump sums or budgets amounting to $2,500-$5,000 and/or a modest offset of HHG moving costs like a self-move/U-Haul. 
  • The availability of benefits is often linked to a management review of the business need for the role (hence case-by-case). If there is mutual business need (for example, the volunteer has skills that may suit an open role) and management approves, the policy is triggered. 
  • Benefits are less likely to be provided if there is no open role but the business may still accommodate the individual’s desire to perform their current role at the requested destination location, while providing no monetary support.
  • When provided, the benefits we most often see include:
    • Tax preparation assistance  (for international – critical because it is in the company’s interest to ensure compliance);
    • Immigration support (work permits, visas - for international  - again in the company’s interest to ensure compliance);
    • Final move expenses – one-way airfare or mileage reimbursement;
    • HHG move ( e.g. often a U-Haul for domestic; small air shipment or excess baggage for international) ;
    • Miscellaneous Expense Allowance (MEA)  - usually in addition to some of the benefits mentioned above.  Flat amounts ranging from $1,500 - $5,000;
  • Less often provided but may be considered, include:
    • A home finding trip
    • Destination services / orientation program
    • Temp living

Making the case:  A company may want to encourage volunteerism in support of good employee relations and set an example for the company’s commitment to engagement, development and retention.  A  well-developed, carefully considered volunteer policy will demonstrate that commitment.  In turn the company can reap productivity and cost-savings benefits from offering such opportunities to valued internal candidates who are often cheaper than recruiting and training new ones!

Integrating voluntary relocations with work-from anywhere / remote policies. It is more important than ever for mobility directors to liaise with the broader business. Employee-initiated relocations should be considered an integral part of each company’s wider remote working guidelines now under development and should be discussed within that context as these are evolving.  This discussion should include:

  • clearly defining what virtual mobility means for your specific business(es);
  • identifying all roles that may be suited for work-from-anywhere (and those that are not);
  • assessing the current incumbents and potential candidate pool, along with their personal interests in office vs. remote working;
  • assessing the circumstances under which relocation support may be provided and the forms of that support - lump sums, direct/defined benefits, reimbursements, etc.

Talk to Bristol!

We hope the above discussion helps frame the issues while sketching out some possible benefits for your consideration.  Please contact your Bristol client engagement director if you would like to further discuss these issues or assistance in establishing policy.


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