EMPLOYEE RELOCATION – Making a smooth move

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Gibraltar’s economy heavily relies on non-domestic employees to fill vacancies particularly in the construction, online gaming and finance sectors. Indeed, looking at the National Employment Survey of 2015, there were 26,144 employment jobs in Gibraltar. Gibraltarians accounted for 42% of total jobs, with Expats (British, Other EU and non-EU) accounting for 32% of jobs. Spanish employees accounted for 25% of total jobs and Moroccan workers represented 2% of total employees.

Breakdown of Gibraltar employment jobs by nationality

In total, excluding Spanish and Moroccan workers, there were 8,312 expat employees in Gibraltar in 2015, just about one third of the workforce.

Bringing over employees from other countries is not a simple task for Gibraltar-based corporates. Gibraltar is a small and very often unfamiliar place for many prospective employees, making the entire relocation proposition a relatively “hard sell”. Many people may know what to expect when relocating to places like Paris, New York, or Berlin, but Gibraltar is a complete enigma for them.

A failed international relocation is likely to have a devastating impact on the employee, the employee’s family and to the employer itself. While none of these parties will want to dwell on the reasons for failure, it is particularly important that companies understand the financial (and non-financial) costs of failure, in order to assess the overall return on investment, the viability of their international assignment program – and to help plan more successful assignments in the future.

The financial aspect, falling primarily on the employer, includes transportation costs such as several international flights, short-term accommodation, rental on long-term housing, at least two household goods shipments (to and from the destination),  insurance fees, and miscellaneous ancillary charges. The cumulative cost can mount up quickly. Studies have shown that when a relocation assignment is terminated within the first year, salary costs account for just about 60% of the total cost of the relocation. Since the assignment was cut short, it is unlikely that any objectives were met. The other costs – which account for about 40% of the total – deliver nothing to the organisation…

What are the causes of failed relocations?

Studies have shown that a staggering 70% of failed relocations are due to the family not settling in and adapting. Indeed, the most often cited cause of a failed relocation is the family’s inability to adjust to the destination country environment. This far outweighs pure job performance. The typical adjustment problems include a spouse that doesn’t fit in, doesn’t create a social network, and becomes disengaged. Less often, but still of major concern, are kids that do not adjust well among their peers.  Families often cannot find the support services they require for special-needs children. It all boils down to an overall inability to fit in and assimilate with the local culture and language.

Even if the relocating employee is happy at the new location, if one member of the family struggles during the transition, the employee’s on-the-job focus and engagement can suffer accordingly. This may have some potential side effects on the organisation itself:

Distractions in day-to-day tasks— when an employee is pre-occupied with an unhappy pre-teen or feels like they are not forming friendships in their new location, this level of distraction may result in potential mistakes or overlooked solutions.

Disengagement—as employees adjust to their new setting without guidance, they may feel disconnected from their work life and lose their previous sense of loyalty to the job and the company.

Unhappiness—dissatisfaction can flow from their personal lives to their office lives and eventually can be contagious, impacting not only their work, but also their interactions with their team or direct reports.

Turnover—as discontentment lingers, there is increased risk of quitting or asking for a transfer back to the previous location, leaving a hole to fill and adding to company’s recruiting costs.

What can be done to minimise the risks?

Having relocated to Gibraltar ourselves (ten years ago already) we know exactly what many of the relocating families are going through. Indeed, in a recent novel published by Ayelet, titled “Relocation Darling Relocation!” the entire relocation experience is described, including the dilemmas, struggles and ups and downs in this emotional rollercoaster. The book has inspired many relocating families and has driven Ayelet to establish the “International Relocation Day”.

It is true that a key factor to success is the mindset of the relocating employee and his/her family- their attitudes, openness and willingness to learn about the local customs, culture, food, and etiquette. However, another key is to provide appropriate, professional relocation support services for the relocating family’s personal needs. Cross-cultural and often language training are likely to be major components. Finding the right accommodation for the family can be a tremendous challenge and can take up considerable time to determine the right fit. Similarly, navigating through the different Government departments, obtaining residency cards, enrolling kids into schools and handling the shipment of personal effects can all be daunting and frustrating tasks. Preparing the employee for all the challenges and providing ample information well in advance can help minimise any expectation gaps and reduce stress for the entire family.

Having assisted online gaming and financial services companies with the relocation of their staff to Gibraltar in the last few years, our biggest advice to the companies has always been to guide and accompany the employee from the stage of planning, while still in the country of origin. If planning to bring to Gibraltar several employees from a branch of the same company in another country, consider giving them a group seminar about relocating to Gibraltar in their country, right from the outset of the process. Supplement such seminar with one-on-one consulting with the relocation advisors for each relocating family (or individual), as each family has its own personal needs and objectives. Finally, provide tips and advice from your own experience on day-to-day things such as places to shop, places to visit, after school activities for kids etc. It is these seemingly small actions that ultimately determine a successful relocation by ensuring the happiness of the entire family.

If done professionally with the correct support and assistance, relocating to Gibraltar can be viewed as an epic journey. And although it initially comes with many stresses, it can be reflected on as a momentous time when an individual and their family had the opportunity to become part of our wonderful community in Gibraltar, from all corners of the world.