The Human Side of Relocation

Updated: Dec 18, 2019


At a time when virtual emails and social media appear to have replaced personal human contact, in 2019 never in the history of the world have more employees resided in a foreign country to support business efforts than now. Indeed, if all the international assignees in the world were gathered in the same country, it would rank as the 20th most populous country on earth just ahead of Great Britain and France with approximately 70 million individuals. Those assignees are considered mobile talent. They have been transferred with their company to an international destination in order to fill a critical skill gap. In countless cases, this mobile talent relocates with their families, raising the tally of international persons transferred abroad by a corporation to more than the population of Japan.


Since 2002, the mobility of global talent has augmented by about 6% annually. In the wake of this mass talent migration from principal outbound countries such as India to leading inbound countries like Saudi Arabia and Germany, an entire industry of relocation professionals has been fashioned out of the necessity to support assignees and their families. As lofty as those numbers are, all assignments concern just one induvial employee.

On June 4, 2019 the New York City Organization of Relocation Professionals, NYCORP, will assemble Global Mobility leaders and experts to share insights on best practices into the human side of relocation.


Successful multinationals emphasize the wellbeing of the individual employee. Prudent companies understand that by improving the comfort level at the work place, the employee is happier, works more efficiently, and the company gets an excellent return on its investment. They adapt a Feng shui approach to their offices by introducing open spaces, natural light, and recreational areas. Thanks to relocation conferences such as NYCORP, this Feng shui ideology now extends to the spaces where employees transfer abroad.

Given the opportunity to transfer abroad, employees accept or decline international moves based on comfort and ease of a transition. Assignees wish to be reassured whether the company will make travel provisions, help secure housing, support obtaining a visa, and assist the family in placing children in appropriate schools, and support language and cultural education.


Karen Ginsberg, a Regulatory Business Analyst at a major multinational pharmaceutical company, was sent on assignment from New Jersey to Paris.  Karen was promised a handsome income and the advantage of multinational experience. The global mobility team took care of her travel arrangements and found her a chic apartment in Neuilly sur Seine. Unfortunately, Karen’s company did not consider the timeliness of the school year transition of her children from an American School to an international school. Not only were her children unable to secure a space during the spring of 2019 but Karen was linguistically ill prepared to cope with the challenges of using French in daily life.


Karen’s company had made a major investment to send her to Paris but had not supported the personal side of her transfer. Multinational companies must follow through on their aim to create an international corporate culture allowing employees on assignment to develop both personally and professionally. Employees are expected to form personal relationships, broaden business acumen, strengthen leadership skills, and achieve strategic and business goals. Unfortunately, Karen was culturally ill prepared to perform simple tasks such as ordering food at a restaurant, going shopping, or going to the bank. At the office, there were cultural differences. Karen confesses that, “I felt like I was just dumped there. No one spoke to me and I felt alone. I tried to dive into my work, but even emails relating to projects we were working on seemed a little combative. I began to wonder if I had done something to offend my colleagues.” Furthermore, her concern for her children’s school weighed heavily on her professional performance.   


Karen was uncomfortable both at home and at the office. Rather than cultivating a cohesive corporate work environment, Karen’s company inadvertently fashioned a polarizing atmosphere. At the end of her two-year assignment, she had built relationships only with other expats and she was glad to return home


Until recently, more 63% of corporate global mobility teams organized only the physical logistics of moving an employee from point A to point B. Companies considered Global Mobility but neglected Human Mobility. These companies ignored the human interaction aspect of foreign assignments and forgot that families were an integral part of the transition equation.


New York Corp’s emphasis on the human side of relocation presents practical solutions to a very personal experience: moving. Companies are recognizing that the employee’s well-being extends further than the physical move- it’s emotional and psychological transfer. Assignees’ familial and cultural concerns need to be addressed an in doing so will improve the comfort level in their surroundings. 


A company’s success is inextricably linked to the wellbeing of its employees. By emphasizing family support and multinational cultural understanding, employees on foreign assignments will be able to concentrate on the business at hand and build personal relationships, broaden business acumen, strengthen leadership skills, and achieve strategic and business goals. In short, by treating global mobility as human mobility, employees are prepared, are happy, and productive- that’s the human side of relocation.


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