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Different Strokes for Different Folks: Relocation and the Generational Mixing of the Workforce

CompassGUIDES - Dec 2005

By Paul Francis, Vice President - NuPAD Solutions Canada,

“It takes different strokes to move the world...”. The classic TV theme song relays this message, and apparently the same applies to today's mobile workforce.

Traditionally, most relocation policies were developed with a reward-based focus, and were largely balanced on the candidate's status and position in the company. However, as the employer/worker relationship shifts from a hierarchical culture to being much more transactional in nature, today's workforce looks for policies that are geared to their individual circumstances.

Relocation policy is now recognized as a much more important aspect of return on investment, productivity and the success of an organization's larger mandate. In order for companies to remain successful, they will want to consider adopting a more ‘generational’ approach.

Relocation Trends

The Vanier Institute of the Family recently found that 55% of people who are under 30 years of age, 54% of people 30-44 years of age, and only 29% of people 45-64 years of age changed addresses at least once between the years 1996-2001. These statistics support the notion of a difference in generational willingness to relocate, and reflect a need for 'different strokes' when approaching a candidate for a move. The same study showed that a mere 15% of households have only one working spouse, and 46.4% have children at home.

According to another recent industry survey, "Emerging Trends in Employee Mobility", companies still have a way to go in order to meet their employees’ need for home/work life balance when considering relocation. The same survey tells us that only one in four employers offer spousal employment counseling or family/child support services. In addition, only 2% of employers compensate for lost spousal income, and only 3% of employers offer elder care on house hunting trips.

Current Workforce Demographics

Today’s workforce age makeup no longer directly corresponds to the standard terms 'New Hire', 'Mid-Management' or 'Executive', which assume that everyone in these categories are of the same age bracket with very similar needs. According to a recent article at, statistics show that employees under 40 years of age will represent a significant portion of Canada’s workforce by 2010, with a fair portion of that influx into the middle and executive management of business. This shift will impact how the policies and terms of reference that companies use to classify their employees, are applied.

The Under 30’s

Twenty-something employees are typically very confident in their ability to be mobile, and actively seeking out the opportunity. They are looking for experience and challenge in an assignment, with the prospect of career advancement and personal growth. A common reaction to a relocation proposal is the question “Will this be good for my career, and will my lifestyle be supported in the new location?”

Companies can respond to this age group’s needs, regardless of their position in the organization, by including provisions for temporary accommodations and home/rental search in relocation policy. To make the relocation more appealing to the Under 30’s, companies can place more emphasis on quicker personal gratification, in place of policy addressing household and family dynamics, which are usually not of interest to this age category.

The 30-50 Year Group

The 30-50 year demographic group typically asks the question “What will this relocation mean for me AND my family?" They are less confident in their ability to be mobile because of family roots in their community, however they also do not want to miss out on an opportunity. As such, these employees are looking for tools to help them engage the other family members and facilitate a move.

Assistance with a home purchase, spousal career support and educational assistance for children are all very appealing to 30-50 year olds considering a relocation. Companies are currently finding that they can successfully reach this group with a relocation proposal by acknowledging the candidate’s complex family considerations and providing ways to balance career growth.  

The Over-50’s

When faced with a possible relocation, employees nearing retirement are more likely to ask the question “Where will this LEAVE me? And how will I be able to take care of aging parents from a distance?” This age group is typically hesitant about their ability to be mobile, and they are seeking to retain their vested career path.

Companies can address these particular needs for support during a period where careers are being rounded out by providing assistance for home search, elder care and retirement/repatriation.

Demographics in Action

Andrew is a 57-year-old ‘New Hire’, a career Marketing Manager hired by a pharmaceutical firm to spearhead a new division. Relocation will be required from Calgary to the UK for up to 5 years. The company is very confident in Andrew’s fit for the role and has pledged support accordingly. With kids already married or in college, his main concerns include elder care for an aging parent, pending retirement during or immediately after completion of the mandate, and critical support for repatriation. Andrew is an example of an emerging demographic as baby-boom executive management reaches retirement range, and it is support that is still lacking from most traditional policies.

The same office relocation will also affect John, a single 27-year-old Sales Manager who is looking forward to the challenges and added responsibility of the assignment. His needs are geared toward access to information on his own terms and support for the living costs of a progressive lifestyle in the UK. John is an example of a management employee that does not fit the traditional framework of relocation policy.

One of the pharmaceutical company’s salespersons who will also be involved in the restructure is a long-term employee with a working spouse and two teenage children. Marie is concerned about her husband’s career-tracking to the UK and retaining her children’s advanced school curriculum, both issues of which will be critical to the success of her personal relocation. Marie’s case is a common relocation demographic, yet traditional relocation policy does not address these needs.

Providing Workable Solutions

A tailored approach is vital when initially approaching the employees in the above examples to consider relocation. If companies consider a generational/demographic viewpoint when developing and delivering policy, they will be in a better position for recruitment, retention, productivity and successful employee transfers. With group moves in particular, it can be a compound problem if individual needs are not met, or at least identified.

In Summary

The Vanier Institute of the Family indicates that work/life balance is a major societal priority. Perhaps it is time that companies re-evaluate their approach to relocation policy, and respond with ongoing success to the generational-intermingling of today’s workforce.

With more than 10 years of experience in Canadian relocation, Paul Francis is currently Vice President of NuPAD Solutions Canada – Mr. Francis is a graduate of Business Management and Law/Criminology, with Leadership designation from the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Training. He is also a standing member with various related Organizations and Councils, including the American Chamber of Commerce in Canada (AmCham) and the Canadian Employee Relocation Council (CERC).

Paul can be contacted at (416) 847-3360 or

Tel: (403) 531-2200 
Fax: (403) 263-1826

Suite 600, 1333 8th Street SW
Calgary, Alberta Canada  T2R 1M6

Tel: (403) 531-2200 
Fax: (403) 263-1826

Suite 600, 1333 8th Street SW
Calgary, Alberta Canada  T2R 1M6