Spouse Adaptability Can Make or Break International Relocations, While Family Ties Continue to be an Obstacle in Domestic Relocations; All According to Latest Atlas Van Lines Survey


May 1, 1998


EVANSVILLE, (Ind.) -- Taking a job overseas? You might want to check with your spouse first to make sure he or she is prepared for the culture change. According to results from Atlas Van Lines' 31st annual survey of corporate relocation policies, the number one reason international relocations fail is because the employee's spouse or partner doesn't adapt well to the new and often unfamiliar surroundings. Of the 166 U.S. and Canadian companies surveyed, 19.6 percent reported that lack of adaptability by the employee's spouse was the main reason behind a "relocation gone bad." That number is up dramatically from the 8.6 percent of companies reporting this as the cause of a failed international relocation during 1996.

Meanwhile, the major barrier in domestic relocations continues to be "family ties." For the fourth year in a row, family ties was cited most often (73 percent) as the reason for declining a relocation - far out pacing the second-place reason, "spouse's employment" (55 percent). Cost-of-living - which had been, prior to 1993, the main reason for turning down a transfer - is the third most important consideration.

Addressing these "human aspects" of relocation may play an increasing role within corporate America as both international and domestic relocations are on the rise. In what seems to support the move toward a more "global" economy, companies are sending more employees overseas. During 1997, the number of companies relocating 200 or more employees internationally doubled over the same period for 1996. According to the Survey, 12.6 percent of respondents relocated 200-plus employees to foreign soil. That compares to 5.9 percent reporting the same number of international relocations during 1996. And, nearly half of the respondents (46.1 percent) believe the number of international relocations will increase during 1998.

Domestically, more than half (55.1 percent) of companies surveyed reported having an increase in the number of relocations during 1997. Of those, 16.2 percent say they witnessed a significant increase in the number of transfers. Just over 75 percent of companies surveyed say they expect to see even more relocations in the next five years. "The increase in relocation activity coincides with the strong economic growth this country is experiencing," explains Steve Mumma, Atlas' senior vice president of marketing, household goods division. "The result is stiffer competition to attract and retain quality employees. Realizing that a successful relocation is a crucial step in this process, companies are placing increased emphasis on creating programs that address individual employee needs."

One such need is taking care of employee's parents. Elder care inched upward from one year ago, when 18 percent of the responding companies were addressing elder care concerns, to this year's 19 percent.

The trend toward offering expanded trailing spousal assistance may be reversing. Of the companies responding to the Atlas Survey, 87.5 percent - up from 79 percent in 1996 -- indicated that they offered no assistance in helping an employee's spouse find employment in the new location. This decrease may be due to the fact that 89.9 percent of respondents indicated that their programs were used no more than nine times during 1997.

"It's not that companies are arbitrarily doing away with trailing spousal assistance programs," says Mumma. "Instead, relocation professionals are finding that the services just aren't being accessed by employees."

As relocation professionals continue to tighten their relocation cost belts, they are doing away with any excess. For example, fewer companies today are paying to: move a boat, hire a temporary maid service, move highly valuable objects like paintings and antiques, move pets, or move recreation and lawn equipment.

Expenditures on real estate related services are also being reduced. Fewer companies responding to the survey are: assisting employees with the arrangement of a mortgage or swing loan; guaranteeing a sale price for an employee's former residence; purchasing the employee's former residence; or offering a mortgage or cost-of-living differential. In fact, 19.5 percent of Survey respondents say they offer no assistance with selling or buying an employee's home. That's up from 9.2 percent responding the previous year.

As with the rest of the country, the relocation industry is becoming more and more Internet savvy. Just three years ago, 88.1 percent of respondents said they did not use the Internet at all. During 1997, that number dropped to 52.1 percent, indicating a substantial jump in the number of relocation professionals online. According to 18.6 percent of respondents, e-mail is used most often in the relocation process to communicate with employees.

Hard copies of the Survey are available through Atlas Corporate Communications at (812) 421-7183. With its world headquarters in Evansville, Ind., Atlas Van Lines is a major transporter of household goods and special products through over 800 agents worldwide.