Talent   //   May 31, 2024

Employers boost incentives to get staff to relocate

Getting employees to relocate so they can spend more time in the office is like pulling teeth for some employers. That’s why many are still offering incentives to sweeten the trade-off.

Some 64% of companies said an employee declined relocating for work last year, which is up from the year prior, according to a survey from Atlas Van Lines including responses from over 500 company leaders. In 2019, 57% of companies reported an employee declined to locate.

It comes as more companies are forcing staff back into offices they may not even live near, like Walmart, which laid off hundreds of corporate staff this month and said those remaining in remote roles needed to relocate to its Bentonville, Arkansas headquarters or other primary offices in New Jersey and San Francisco. 

Employee views around moving for work have shifted post-pandemic as staff place more value on work-life balance, family and community, but they also have far less leverage than they did during the Great Resignation. While some may be forced into moving closer to work, companies are still trying to entice them a bit, and upping the offer when asking current staff and candidates to make such a major life change. 

Companies are incentivizing staff to relocate with more offering to cover travel expenses, giving relocation sign-on bonuses, and offering guaranteed employment contracts for a specified amount of time than they did the year prior, according to the Atlas report. Almost all companies reported boosting their nonstandard relocation incentives last year.

Some 44% of companies offered sign-on bonuses for staff relocating in 2023, up from 42% the prior year, and 42% offered contracts guaranteeing employment for a certain time period, up from 34% the prior year. More companies also offered cost of living adjustments — 42% in 2023, up from 39% in 2022. And overall relocation volumes did rise last year, along with budgets for relocations, which are expected to increase again this year, the survey found. 

Another way employers are sweetening the deal when asking staff to move is by ensuring they’ll have more flexibility around the time they spend in the office, for instance allowing them more control over which days and during what hours they choose. “Job seekers are saying that a flexible work arrangement is one of the top three incentives that would attract them to a new company, ” said Rhea Moss, global head of workforce and customer insights at iCIMS. “I absolutely think candidates are now considering it a perk or a benefit just as much as things like paid time off and 401K matching,” Moss said.

“I think increasingly more [job seekers] are open to it, but it's not their preference."
Samuel Dunsinger, job developer at an employment agency.

“I think increasingly more [job seekers] are open to it, but it’s not their preference,” said Samuel Dunsinger, a job developer at an employment agency in Ottawa, Canada. He moved to Ottawa this March from his hometown, Toronto, about 200 miles away, after landing the role he’s in now. He did not receive financial assistance from his new employer to help cover the move though, he said. 

“I wasn’t really getting anywhere in my city,” he said about his lengthy job search prior. “But there were definitely some risks involved, like if it doesn’t work out, for instance.” He’s hearing that same fear from clients, he said. In the Atlas survey, safety and family reasons were cited most often by employees declining to relocate for work, followed by a lack of assistance from a spouse or partner.

Ultimately, out-of-state hires have remained steady over the past year, making up about 11% of hires on average, according to another report from iCIMS which included responses from over 1,000 U.S. CHROs and chief people officers. And applications from out-of-state job seekers have also been steady, accounting for about 22% of applications, that report found.

Another survey from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas found relocations, which hit a record low at 1.5% of all job seekers, rebounded to 2.4% in the first quarter of this year. The rise was even more pronounced among high-salary job seekers, or those making over $200,000 a year, with 3.7% of them moving for new jobs in the first quarter. 

“Despite the slight bump in relocation, it is unlikely job seekers will ever relocate at the rate they did in past decades, as technological advancements and generational shifts continue to shape the workforce,” Andy Challenger, senior vp at Challenger, Gray and Christmas, said in that report. 

“The future of work will continue to evolve, with remote and hybrid models becoming deeply entrenched. Even with the current trend of return-to-office mandates, workers already know most jobs can be done remotely. That genie is out of the bottle,” said Challenger.