In the era of remote work, persuading employees to relocate is a challenge for CHROs. Despite return to office mandates from employers—many want staff in the office at least some of the time—the mix of financial climate and a booming ‘work from anywhere’ trend has led to many workers choosing to decline job offers or quit existing roles rather than uproot.  

Hiring trends reveal that only 2% of Americans are now relocating—while a third of workers say they’d turn down an office-based job, even if it had a good salary, benefits, and holiday time. By comparison, in 1986, 45% of Americans moved home to be close to their place of work. 

Companies are exploring ways to adapt businesses, attract quality talent, and entice employees that have settled into a remote-working routine back into the office. Korn Ferry’s 2024 Talent Acquisition Trends Report cites the ‘relocate or resign’ talent conundrum as a big challenge facing recruiters. So, what can they do?  

Assess the Talent Needs

CHROs say flexibility and location of work continue to have the biggest impact on people strategy, according to a recent Korn Ferry straw poll on C-Suite opinions on People Strategy conducted in December 2023.

It is therefore crucial to evaluate the business case, and whether the position actually needs to be in-office or not. Every organization is built differently, and the degree to which remote work trends are suitable can vary tremendously.  

 “In the aerospace and defense community, for example, we can’t easily outsource as we almost always require US citizens, and they have to work in secure environments,” says Dave Bakkeby, Korn Ferry Professional Search, North America, Aerospace & Defense Sector Lead. “It’s also very difficult to pull roles away from location wherever there is a product supply chain, say in manufacturing.”  

Not that this stops potential talent from wanting to work remotely. “Whatever the industry, there’s probably not one salesperson out there today who won’t ask if it’s a remote role,” he adds. “We see that almost 100% of the time.” 

“Millennials make up about 50% of the workforce now and they have a very clear perspective about not wanting to go into the office,” notes Korn Ferry’s APAC President Esther Colwill, speaking to Bloomberg about the 2024 hiring trends

Before shaping staff relocation policyor enforcing a return to office mandates, the CHRO and C-suite must evaluate the wins and losses of a more remote workforce in the short- and long-term. They must consider both the management of existing employees and any recruitment needs, plus future talent pools for executive positions. 

Understand the Financial Hurdles

According to Bakkeby, the sheer cost of relocation is one of the biggest problems facing the workforce. In a time of soaring mortgage rates and living costs, the bill to relocate just a few miles can stretch into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And long gone are the days of generousrelocation packages. “We see companies able to offer just $50,000 relocation bonus towards a move," says Bakkeby. "It’s a non-starter.” 

Meanwhile, existing employees who relocated from cities to inexpensive areas when remote work polices were lenient have seen their pay packets go further—and they’re unwilling to give this up. While some companies have floated the idea of pay cuts for remote-based employees, this is a morale-killer. More subtly, organizations might consider a pay freeze for these employees until wages catch up with inflation. 

Companies who need employees back in the office—but can’t swallow the full cost of relocation—are investigating other financial incentives, from sign-on and retention bonuses to other unique benefits.

“In one case an employer paid $55,000 a year for a private school for the employee’s child,” notes Bakkeby. 

CHROs are also experimenting with alternative accommodation options to promote staff relocation. These include corporate apartments that remote workers can use occasionally, multi-year rent stipends and even building company-owned accommodation near headquarters.  

“Companies who need employees back in the office—but can’t swallow the full cost of relocation—are investigating other financial incentives, from sign-on and retention bonuses to other unique benefits.”

Be Flexible 

Talent acquisition trends show that at least some company flexibility is required. A future of remote workremains likely as staff have become used to not commuting, and like it. “It’s hard to reign back the freedom that we’ve got working from home,” says Bakkeby. 

Being flexible doesn’t have to mean an entire ‘redesign’. One middle ground can be allowing employees to work remotely a certain number of days a week or month, but to mandate essential in-office days for all. This way everyone goes in for some face-to-face time, without exception. 

Another option for organizations with tougher return to office policies is to open up satellite offices or talent hubs, so workers in different parts of the country have a choice of workspaces. “I love this strategy, particularly in the defense industry,” says Bakkeby, citing how mobile SCIFs (secure rooms) can foster new employee pools.  

“Opening in software hubs like Austin or the Bay Area—which traditionally don’t have a big presence in defense—means tapping into pools of software engineers that may have normally gone to large tech companies,” he explains. “This could be a huge win for the right company.” 

Foster a Positive Workplace Culture

For businesses keen to enforce a return to office policy, it’s important to help employees see the value of coming in. At a time when 52% of people feel disconnected from their employers, building a shared workplace culture allows employees to reconnect. 

“We’ve all had remote happy hours and virtual socials, and they work ok. But companies need to put more effort in,” notes Bakkeby. Social activities such as lunches or end-of-day drinks on office days can go a long way towards helping workers bond. Monthly events centering around the likes of wellness or learning, with a catered meal, can also help. 

Expand Recruitment Criteria

Even with the best staff relocation perks or hybrid office structures, attracting the right person for a role can be tricky. It helps to think outside of the box when recruiting. 

Talent trendsshow sometimes you won’t find a candidate with the exact required experience who’s willing to relocate. Consider instead: who can be trained internally? Don’t discount executive-style relocation packages for mid-grade employees either; they are the leaders of tomorrow and may be more easily incentivized to move. 

Finally, hunting out candidates with a background of relocation can help. “People who have immigrated to the US or perhaps done a degree overseas can be much more willing to relocate than someone who has grown up, gone to college and always worked in the same area,” says Bakkeby.

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For more talent acquisition trends, watch Korn Ferry’s talent experts discuss our 2024 Talent Acquisition Trends report in this on-demand webinar: New Tech, New Talent, New Tactics

There’s no one-size-fits all approach to tackling the ‘relocate or resign’ conundrum. But that’s where the talent acquisition experts come in. Get in touch with our team to explore the best strategies for your organization. 

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