Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Dion Phaneuf was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs by the Calgary Flames.
Dion Phaneuf was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs by the Calgary Flames.

Relocated employees less productive Add to ...

When Scott Sullivan's company offered him a relocation from Tokyo to Honolulu, visions of languid post-work surfing filled his brain.

But upon closer reflection, Mr. Sullivan, then 36, came to understand that Hawaii would be a "cul-de-sac" for his career.

"I realized it would be a great place to be relocated to when I'm about 62 and ready to shift down."

Unlike Mr. Sullivan, who inquired about the company's other options and ended up in Los Angeles (a better fit for him and his wife), many corporate relocations don't go as swimmingly. Take this weekend's huge Toronto Maple Leafs tradeoff: It sent six players packing, two of them to the Ducks in Anaheim - a city known more for Disneyland than a devotion to shinny.

The move left bruised egos, gossip and questions in its wake - a scenario that is played out across the business world, where CEOs continually have trouble accommodating and motivating relocated employees.

One of the biggest problems: worker output. It's common for corporations to lose up to 40 per cent productivity from a staffer during such a transition, according to career experts.

"Change is going to encroach on where you are today," says Mr. Sullivan, who is now executive vice-president of Brookfield Global Relocation Services. "You're up and running, you're smooth, you know where everything is, you don't have any learning curves. People forget what it took for them to get up and running the last time they moved."

Although moving takes just days, the "logistics and distractions to disconnect and unplug from one location and reconnect to the next are going to take at least three months," he added.

"It's really striking in industry," explained Allan Bonner, a Toronto-based business consultant.

"The average worker's productive for 5.1 hours a day, but in times of turmoil, controversy and change such as mergers, acquisitions and relocations, productivity can go down to an hour a day."

Why? "People resist change and they're used to the same old thing."

Once at the office, a relocated staffer faces contextual hurtles: Sometimes the new location is more intense and fast-paced; other times their performance becomes barely an issue.

In the latter case, "there is perhaps a sense of demotion," said Stephen Cryne, president and CEO of the Canadian Employee Relocation Council.

"The company needs to ensure that the position is a fit for the individual, and meets career goals" or a relocation will falter, he added.

For relocated employees who end up with fewer responsibilities and less scrutiny, the problem might be "ego gratification," Mr. Bonner said.

"If [work]is how a person derives a significant portion of their self-worth and feeling of wellbeing, then that's gone and they will need something else. The wise employer will give them that positive feedback or that gratification in some other way - maybe it's even in company events and dinners."

Of course, "It can be equally traumatic to go from being any-sized fish to any-sized pond," he added.

Beyond shifted corporate expectations, the No. 1 reason employees reject a relocation is family, according to the Canadian Employee Relocation Council.

"We've seen several situations where senior management moves have failed ... because the softer issues have not been considered," said Mr. Cryne, noting that 75 per cent of corporations give less than two months notice of moves.

"Organizations are wise to invest upfront time addressing these issues with the individual, since it's often the family issues that distract the employee and result in failure of the assignment or relocation," Mr. Cryne said.

Family is "really where the productivity bogs down," Mr. Sullivan concurred. "The individual going to the office is not going to be able to focus on the responsibilities at hand if they're getting calls and there's stress or dissatisfaction or confusion or resistance back home."

He encourages employees to look into the benefits a company offers for the move. These can include career counselling and support for a spouse, managing the sale of an old home and the purchase of a new one, moving possessions and helping find a neighbourhood that is suitable in terms of children's schooling and commute time.

"There are different levels of generosity and protection, and each company has its own cultural regard for that. Everything is - to some degree - negotiable, but you need to play an active role and the family needs to play an active role," Mr. Sullivan said.

Mr. Sullivan added that the point to stress is your own output: "Make sure you get the things you need so that you can be productive: 'If you just did this, this and this, then I guarantee I could hit the ground running.' "

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular