Temporary Relocation for Work: Career Benefit or Major Hassle?

For organizations with multiple locations or clients distributed nationally, or globally, asking employees to take short-term relocation assignments can be a great solution to a temporary need. Relocations might occur when a new office is opening, to cover a critical open position throughout the hiring process, or to deliver on an important project for a client.

While the opportunity may be exciting, with interesting skills to gain and contacts to be made, not everyone looks upon this kind of assignment with joy. What will the living situation be like? Is there a language barrier? What aspects of home life will be impacted? Will the workload be manageable? A daunting list of logistical obstacles might make some say “Thanks, but no thanks.” But will turning down this kind of opportunity ultimately put you—and your career—at a disadvantage?

A request to undertake a temporary relocation represents a huge vote of confidence in an employee from the company. Some people may be reluctant about the prospect of moving across the country—or to another country altogether—but it’s very important to consider the benefits and learning opportunities of the situation. Gaining experience across cultures and geographies is a valuable, long-lasting career advantage that many employers value, so exploring this option is well worth it.

There are certainly valid reasons someone may need to turn down a relocation request, but anyone experiencing hesitation at the prospect should ask themselves: “Why don’t I want to go?”

Is there a concern that it will be too much work? No one can do two full-time jobs well, so before accepting the assignment, you should discuss your employer’s expectations around job responsibilities. Depending on the reason for the relocation, there may be some responsibilities of your current role that you would take with you, while others might be temporarily delegated to others until your return. Getting these details first is important, so schedule some time to work out the details and gain alignment on expectations, deliverables, and anticipated project timelines.

Is the travel itself and time away from family and friends off-putting? If so, it’s very reasonable to ask for financial accommodations and travel benefits to maintain a personal life while you’re away. Depending on the distance, regular return trips might be reasonable. Organizations who move employees to distant locations always provide support with their living situation, whether it’s through company housing or financial support for finding and renting accommodations. Learning more about how temporary housing and moving expenses are handled by the organization will help clarify if the benefit is greater than any fear or risk.

Of course, some situations present legitimate barriers to a temporary relocation, and if that’s the case, communicate them clearly to your manager and the organization. Perhaps you are the primary caregiver for ill or elderly parents or have young children. There are always circumstances that others can relate to and people will understand that relocation might not be possible for you. That said, family circumstances that seem like non-negotiables don’t have to be deal breakers—your organization might just offer to include the kids and pay for a nanny, too. If it’s a good opportunity, explore every option to make it happen.

For better or worse, opting not to pursue a chance for growth and advancement—which is what a temporary relocation ultimately is—may mean that you become known as the person who turns down opportunities and who isn’t supportive of the organization. This means you may find yourself being passed over for other opportunities within the organization where you actually have interest. The senior leadership may view you as someone who isn’t a team player, isn’t serious about career advancement, and isn’t committed to the organization. These are the potential consequences of saying no when asked by the organization to help in a time of need.

Many people may lack sufficient information about what a temporary relocation involves, and the gut reaction might be to say no. Listen and ask questions first—find out more about the role, what the goals and timeframe are, how compensation is handled, and any other concerns that may be on the table. Identify potential obstacles and have a candid conversation to see what mutually agreeable solutions can be found.

If an employee is asked to take a short-term relocation, they should know that they were chosen for a reason—that they’re the best person for the job. Deciding not to go may result in missing something terrific, culturally and career-wise. There’s no need to abandon your own life for the needs of the company, but always explore fully before you make a final decision.

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