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Employees Declining Relocation

In 2020, the most frequent reason given by employees declining relocation was health concerns/illness/the COVID-19 pandemic, both overall (52%) and internationally (44%). During the previous seven years, family issues/ties took the top spot, while spouse/partner employment held second place as the reasons given for declined relocations. Family issues/ties (41%) and spouse/partner employment (32%) are now in second and third place, respectively. The impact of housing/mortgage concerns falls to the lowest level historically. The COVID-19 pandemic is the prime reason for declined relocations last year, followed by dual-career households with family commitments.

  • Across company size, health concerns/illness/COVID-19 pandemic is the top reason for declined relocations last year. This is cited by more than half of firms across size at similar levels.
  • Family issues/ties falls to the second-place spot among firms of all sizes. It is cited most often by midsize firms, similar to COVID-19 (48% vs. 54%) and spouse/partner employment (44%). However, this reason continues to decline notably overall, from around two-thirds of firms from 2011-2017 and over half (52%) in 2019 to 41% in 2020. Only one out of three large firms indicate it was a reason for declined relocations.
  • Spouse/partner employment continues to decline from the far higher levels recorded from 2013-2018 (52%+) and dips lower than the period of the Great Recession and recovery (39%-48%, 2007-2012) to 32%. The impact of spouse/partner employment had fallen to 39% in 2011, likely due to the Great Recession’s effect on employment opportunities, but it had returned to higher, historically normative levels post-recession. This shift downward may reflect the impact of higher unemployment levels during the COVID-19 pandemic (fewer dual-income households), as well as flexible work arrangements (telecommuting/ work from home) being leveraged by many companies during this time.
  • At its lowest point in more than 15 years, housing/mortgage concerns remains at pre-recession levels for the sixth time since 2007 overall and for the fifth year in a row across company size. Only one out of six firms indicate it still played a role in their employees’ decisions to stay put.
  • One out of three companies say employees expressed concerns about the cost of living in the new location when declining relocation. One out of four say employees stated the destination location was undesirable, they had no desire to relocate, or they had personal reasons for refusing the opportunity. Persuading employees to relocate continues to present many challenges.

6 out of 10 respondents say they had employees decline relocations in 2020, in the midrange historically. Around one in three say the number refusing relocation increased over the previous year. Employee reluctance edges higher and remains above post-recession levels for a third year (31% vs. 29%: 2019, 26%: 2018 vs. 11%-18% during 2010-2013). This comes after employee reluctance trended lower in 2015-2017 (18%-22%) and returned to the higher levels of 2008 & 2014 (28%) and 2009 (29%). Interestingly, a fourth of firms saw reluctance decrease last year as well, a dramatic shift from previous years, indicating the reluctance to accept relocations also saw notable declines. This mixed picture is not entirely unexpected, as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been uneven across many industries, negatively impacting some and dramatically improving others. Coupled with higher unemployment rates, there are likely a multitude of factors at play in making some employees more open to relocation and others more resistant.

  • More than half of small firms saw employees decline relocation last year, similar to 2015-2016, 2018 & 2019 levels (52% vs. 50%, 48%, 55% & 46%), notably higher than 2017 (39%) and above historical norms. Increased reluctance also remains above previous recessionary levels for small firms for a third year (31% vs. 25%: 2019 & 26%: 2018 vs. 15%-19%). However, one in four say reluctance decreased, which is also a notable shift.
  • Increased reluctance at midsize firms also remains notably higher for a third year (34% vs. 35%: 2019 & 32%: 2018 vs. 20%: 2017), staying above the 2014-2015 level (30%) and recessionary ranges (20%-30%) for the previous four years. However, almost one in three say reluctance decreased, roughly three times higher than 2019 (30% vs. 12%).
  • Increased reluctance among large firms is nearly identical to the higher level in 2019 (29% vs. 28%) and above post-recession recovery ranges (7%-21%) following an increase in 2017-2018 (19% & 18% vs. 12%: 2016). However, it remains markedly lower than recessionary levels (40%+) for large firms overall. Additionally, one in five say reluctance decreased, but this is similar to 2019 (15%) and not a dramatic shift.

6 out of 10 firms
saw employees decline relocation last year, in the mid range historically.

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