One of the biggest benefits of relocation is that it widens your talent pool considerably.  Your talent acquisition teams are no longer limited to finding the best engineers in Kent, say, but can now look for the best engineers. Full stop.

This is a major advantage where the right people or skills are hard-to-find.

For example, the UK construction industry is one of many besieged by skills shortages. According to Construction News, 75% of contractors across the UK say they struggle to recruit skilled operatives – and among supply chain firms seeking net-zero skills this leaps to 96%.

Chief Executive of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA), Alasdair Reisner, points out the importance of this not only to individual organisations but to the UK economy:

‘It is the stated ambition of the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments to drive economic growth through infrastructure delivery. But you can only achieve this ambition if your workforce is sufficiently skilled to meet this challenge’.

To a greater or lesser extent, the same story is true of many of the UK’s most important industries and sectors.

The chief of the UK's largest business organisation warned the government recently that the nation’s growth prospects could only be maintained by an increase in immigration, relocating workers from abroad to tackle labour shortages. The latest government data shows skilled worker shortages across healthcare, engineering, IT, welding trades, graphic design and many other roles.

Could relocating employees be an answer to these challenges? And if so, what should your organisation be considering, to ensure relocation is a success?

What HR leaders need to know about relocating employees

Types of employee relocation

Employee relocation happens when an organisation moves workers to a different location. You might be considering how to relocate within the UK (even to a new office within the same city) or internationally. That might look like:

  • Changing office location
  • Moving existing employees to open a new office
  • Changing organisational structure and relocating some teams
  • Relocating new hires who aren’t local
  • Promoting an existing employee into a new location
  • Offering relocation to an employee who is moving for personal reasons
  • Allowing employees to relocate to different locations on rotation

Relocation can be permanent or temporary, and driven by business needs or by an employee’s request.

Understanding employees’ relocation rights

If you’re considering moving, it’s a sensible bet to seek specialist legal advice but in summary: whether or not you can insist your employees move depends on their employment contract. The UK government's outline on their website states that:

‘When an employer moves, employees with a mobility clause in their contract have to move unless they can prove the request is unreasonable’.

Sounds simple enough – but this last clause does introduce some complexity, as employees can dispute what constitutes a ‘reasonable’ request.

If your contracts don’t include a mobility clause, the situation is more cut-and-dried: ‘employees without a mobility clause in their contract can choose whether or not to move’. If an employee does decide not to move, you can make them redundant – but bear in mind they might be entitled to redundancy pay.

If you’re considering hiring someone who needs relocation from abroad, you’ll also need to ensure you’re compliant with the UK government's points-based immigration regulations to secure the right visas.

The above notwithstanding, being legally compliant probably isn’t your only consideration here.

Relocation and employee engagement

Ensuring relocation goes successfully isn’t just about understanding your legal obligations and reducing compliance risk. Keeping your people happy and engaged is also a major consideration.

If relocation hurts employee engagement, you could be causing a longer-term problem for the organisation, even if you’re legally within your rights. Gallup finds that only 9% of workers in the UK are engaged: if relocation makes this situation worse, organisations could face issues like declining productivity and increased churn.

Giving employees a great relocation experience, whether that’s a new hire or your entire office, is important to ensure relocation can deliver its original objectives. For example:

Imagine you’re moving out of the city centre to save on business rental. If 10% of your employees don’t want to move and take redundancy pay, and another 15% move reluctantly but start looking for new jobs, how long before these costs outweigh the savings?  

When weighing up how to relocate (within the UK or internationally), it’s important to consider the support you provide for employees to ensure their move is positive.

87% of UK workers expect their employer to provide relocation support, like travel expenses, moving costs, insurance coordination, short-term accommodation, family support and so on. (Coming back to the legal aspects here: if you do provide relocation support, you’ll also incur certain tax, National Insurance and reporting obligations.)

Relocation support doesn’t only extend to these practical and financial considerations though. Consider the varied needs relocating employees might have – like learning about the area, meeting new colleagues or coping with additional workplace stress

For example, one study of British supermarket workers being transferred to new stores found that relocation was a major driver of stress. But critically, the study also showed that ‘the negative impact of relocation was found to be buffered by perceptions of control and social support’.

By providing strong support and empowering employees to feel in control of the move, then, employers can help make the relocation experience positive.   

Relocation and remote work

The conversation around relocation is complicated by the rise of new working models. If your workers are remote, relocation is a moot point. But what if you subscribe to a hybrid working model? There’s no easy answer here.

If your employees only work from the office once each week, are the costs and effort of relocation really worthwhile? But what if your people work from the office three times per week?

And perhaps we’re thinking about relocation the wrong way. There’s an argument to say relocation is more than a necessary practicality when employees must move. Perhaps it’s more akin to a reward or benefit, offered to all employees if they’d like to move.

We spoke recently about how the shift towards flexibility in the workplace is more than a conversation about where employees work. Rather, true flexibility is a recognition of the changing relationship between employee and employer. It’s an attempt to truly empower and support your people, not just build structures and processes that serve the organisation’s needs.

Offering relocation as an optional benefit could tie nicely into this vision, supporting your people to work from wherever best suits them.

-

For businesses and for the UK as a whole, skills shortages are one of today’s biggest existential threats. In that context, being open to relocating employees might make good sense. But relocation must work for everyone, not just the organisation, or it might turn into a competitive misstep.