For more than two decades, Steve and Ranu Hubbard built their lives in Richmond, Virginia, where they owned a house and raised three children.
So it was hard to decide what to do when they learned Steve's job would soon relocate 700 miles away. His company was shifting its headquarters to St. Louis. Employees had a choice: Move to Missouri and keep their jobs, or stay put and lose them.
It was the middle of the Great Recession, so job opportunities were scarce. There was no telling how long it would take Steve to find another comparable position. Just as difficult to predict was how their kids would adapt to different schools and new classmates.
"For us, the evaluation was, 'What's the negative impact of moving away from family and a place we had been for over 20 years versus the negative impact of staying there and maybe having to take a significant pay cut or not being able to find a job for a period of time?'" Steve Hubbard recalls.
Ultimately, the Hubbards decided to move, Steve says: "Staying was a bigger risk than going."
Whether your entire office is moving or you're the lone employee offered a promotion far away, it's rarely easy to decide whether to stay or go. Relocating affects more than your career and your physical location. It has implications for your personal and professional relationships, your lifestyle, your finances, your legal status, your future job prospects and, if you have a partner, his or her career, too.
When deciding whether to relocate, "think through all the different aspects for these parts of your life," says Lauren Herring, CEO of IMPACT Group, which coaches employees through career transitions. "That can help you assign priorities to the decision and also help with figuring out what's the most important thing to focus on right away when you do get there."
Why Relocations Happen
Corporations are on the move. The past few years have seen several large companies, like Aetna, General Electric and McDonald's, relocate their offices from suburbs into cities, hoping to attract the young, technology-savvy workers who prefer to live in metropolitan hubs. These shifts force workers to decide whether to join the mass migration or remain where they are and look for new jobs.
Relocation offers are made to individuals, too, sometimes with career advancement opportunities attached. Twenty-two percent of people who relocated for work did so for promotions, while 51 percent cited "personal career development," according to a recent IMPACT Group survey of more than 3,000 workers.
Nearly a decade after the Hubbards made their decision to leave Richmond, Pretlow Moring and his wife Chelsea are preparing to move from the city, although under different circumstances. After working for nine years in Trader Joe's locations throughout Southeastern Virginia and turning down bids to relocate for lateral opportunities, Pretlow recently accepted an offer to become the captain, or manager, of a store 100 miles north.
The couple may have to sell their house and will likely spend more time apart, since Chelsea will return frequently to Richmond to run her wedding coordination and party planning business.
Despite these inconveniences, Pretlow says, the promotion was an "offer I can't refuse."
"This has been my goal," he says. "The increase in salary is a big factor; ultimately, everything comes down to how you can support your family."
Gather the Facts
Getting as much information as possible about your relocation offer will help you make an informed decision. As soon as your company proposes the possibility, head to your boss with a list of questions, suggests Karen Chopra, a career counselor in private practice in Washington, D.C.
"Look at everything as an opening gambit or discussion about your career," she says, suggesting the follow questions: "Why me? What does the company need? What are my options if I say no, or not now? Is this an offer or an order phrased as an offer?"
Make sure to figure out whether the proposed new job location is negotiable: "Can this be done remotely? Can it be done from a different location? Could I move to a different branch instead?"
Compare Job Markets
Learning more about the job markets where you currently live and where you may soon move are important next steps to take when considering a relocation, Chopra says.
If passing on the offer means you'll be out of a job, you should determine how easily you can find new work where you live now. Some companies offer outplacement services to help workers who make this decision find new jobs; find out if yours provides this benefit.
If you do have the option to stay put and keep your job, your refusal to relocate could make you susceptible to future layoffs, which means the state of the local job market still matters in your decision.
And if you take the offer and move, there's no guarantee that your employment will last forever, "because companies often move staff to the new headquarters and then continue the winnowing process," Chopra says. "If your job disappears for any reason, are you going to be OK to be in that part of the country and doing your job search there?"
Think About Your Partner and Family
Making big decisions collaboratively is critical to successfully planning your career with a partner. So if you're one half of a couple, present your relocation opportunity to your significant other and keep his or her priorities in mind while weighing your options.
"If your spouse isn't happy, nobody's going to be happy in the new destination," says Dan Bolger, vice president of business development at REA, a company that offers career coaching to spouses of workers who are relocating.
Among the reasons employees give for declining to relocate, the second-most frequent is a partner's employment situation -- right after "family issues/ties," according to the 2018 Corporate Relocation Survey of more than 400 companies conducted by Atlas Van Lines.
That means figuring out how moving will affect your partner's career is very important, especially since the average salary for an accompanying partner involved in a relocation is $71,500, often a significant proportion of household income, according to the IMPACT Group survey.
Many companies offer spousal and family support services during the relocation process, Bolger says, such as helping partners find jobs and pointing families to neighborhoods and school districts that meet their needs.
Assess Financial Concerns
Moving is expensive. Before you accept a job transfer, do the math about how much it will cost to uproot your life and replant it elsewhere.
Many companies offer relocation resources to decrease the financial burden; Hubbard and Moring each received relocation financial assistance. Some packages are just lump sums of money that employees can spend however they wish. Others include an array of benefits, such as help selling your house, extra vacation days to facilitate the move or assistance figuring out the tax obligations of your new city, state or country.
Relocation packages can have significant value, and play a big part in the expenses companies pay in the relocation process. The average cost for moving a homeowning transfer employee is $79,425 and a renting transfer employee is $24,913, according to the 2016 U.S. Transfer Activity, Policy & Cost Survey of 133 companies, conducted by Worldwide ERC.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in December 2017 eliminated the moving expense deduction previously available for people who relocated for work, so make sure to check whether your company will "gross up" their relocation packages to cover the tax burden, advises Michael Keaton, senior director of communications at the American Moving & Storage Association.
Other companies don't offer relocation funds, though. For example, when Motorola Solutions moved from an Illinois suburb into downtown Chicago in 2016, it didn't provide incentives for workers to move, in part betting that it would be easy to find new employees in its new location, the CEO told The New York Times.
If turning down a relocation offer means losing your job, don't assume you'll have to take a big financial hit. Many companies offer severance payments for workers who stay behind during mass migrations, Herring says: "Most large companies are pretty generous in these situations."
Of course, the cost of living in your potential new home is another financial factor to consider. Living expenses vary widely among U.S. cities and towns, and your salary may not go as far in the new location. When Moring moves to northern Virginia, for example, he'll find housing prices much higher than those in Richmond.
Consider Career Implications
Relocations can be good for your career. They may be tied to promotions, as in Moring's case. They can also help you forge new relationships within your company and provide you with new work experience that "helps build your resume," Herring says. "Even if you're not going for promotion after promotion, that helps set you up for success."
As noted earlier, even if you have the option to turn down a relocation offer while keeping your current role, doing so may adversely affect you. More than a quarter (28 percent) of company respondents said declining a relocation offer "usually hinders an employee's career," according to the Atlas survey.
"There are some companies where relocation is a part of the culture, and if you want to progress in a particular organization, you need to be mentally prepared to relocate with your family," Herring says. "Career relocation is a career accelerator. You might not get promoted at the same rate if you don't relocate."
That was the case for Herring's husband, who used to work for an international bank that expected employees to move around. Because he didn't desire that lifestyle, he didn't remain in that industry.
"These things are important to understand early in your career so you can make some of these decisions about what your opportunities are and what your trajectory is," Herring says. "If you want to be CEO but don't want to move, you need to think, 'I need to be involved in more local companies.'"
It's hard to anticipate all the risks involved with moving and all the ways living in a new place will change your life. Rather than wrack your brain to try to analyze all of them, Chopra says, it may be simpler to ask yourself, "How quickly, easily and cheaply reversible is that decision?"
Your age, relationship status and property ownership all affect the answer to that question. If you're in your 20s, not married, and live in a rented apartment, it will be easier for you to return in a few years to recreate your current life than it will be if you're in your 40s, have several children and a spouse and own a house you'll have to sell before you move.
Sometimes, relocations are intended to be temporary and provide a built-in opportunity to return to your original destination, Bolger says. For example, some companies send employees overseas for two or three years to work on specific projects, then bring them back.
[See: How to Quit Your Job.]
Finalize Your Decision
As with every change at work, treat your relocation offer as a negotiation opportunity, Chopra says. If you plan to accept, you might want to ask for a bigger relocation package, a higher salary, or extra time to prepare for the move. For example, Hubbard was able to delay his relocation from Richmond to St. Louis for almost a year so that his oldest child could finish her final year of high school.
If you plan to turn down a relocation offer and will subsequently be out of a job, ask for a severance package and outplacement assistance, Chopra says. Start looking for new work as soon as possible, Herring says: "It's always easier to find a job while you have a job."
Whether you stay or go, you'll never quite know what would have happened had you chosen differently, Hubbard says, noting each option has pluses and minuses.
"It definitely comes at a price. You change things," he says. "On balance, I'm glad I made the move."
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