What is Relocation Stress Meltdown?
Coined years ago by the Transition Management Group, Relocation Stress Meltdown (RSMx) describes the mental and emotional struggles and anxieties that often accompany a relocation from one area to another, whether it be intra-state, intra-country, or internationally. Organizations are increasingly beginning to understand the importance of addressing this negative side effect of moving.
How can you identify the signs of RSMx? At times, it is in the anxieties and insecurities that inevitably occur before a move such as sleepless nights, sadness, or regret. But what people often don’t realize is that RSMx can last for up to a year after a move is complete. Professionally, employees (or by extension, a member of his/her family) who are suffering from RSMx can experience a variety of negative issues inside the workplace. From distraction to absenteeism, to attitude and leadership lapses, RSMx is not easy to isolate, and its impact expands across all areas of the lives of those undergoing it.
While similar to anxiety in some respects, the core of RSMx is grief. Moving stimulates feelings of loss. To grieve is natural and expected. Depending on the circumstances accompanying a move, your executives may have a member of their family suffering from some degree of RSMx before or after moving for your organization, which can subsequently affect that employee as well. And it is in both your and your employees’ best interest to know how to deal with it.
Addressing RSMx and Helping Employees and Their Families Adjust
Beyond the negative impacts mentioned above, the main concern for HR and other hiring organizations is to help mitigate any regret their employees may have regarding an upcoming or recent relocation for the company. While many relocation benefits packages are designed to help with the upfront logistics of moving (e.g. moving companies or monetary stipends), the settling in process (which, as mentioned before, can take up to 12 months) requires emotional and mental support as well. After the boxes are unpacked and the kids are enrolled in school, the challenging part is not over. For many, it is just beginning. The mental and emotional impact of moving is frequently overlooked, but can make a huge impact long-term.
Moving can often be more emotionally challenging than people anticipate. But before we paint moving in a solely negative light, there are also a lot of positives to moving that can help fend off or fight RSMx such as new opportunities, a fresh start, and unchartered adventures. Correspondingly, having an awareness of the challenges that may lie ahead is helpful. But most importantly, being equipped to handle these challenges when those sad feelings arise is critical to a successful and healthy move.
This is where HR can have a real impact on the success of employees who are relocating. Creating a relocation benefits process and package that minimizes the stress placed on the executive and his/her family will be paramount to ensuring a successful move over the long term. Design a package that fits the needs of your employees and addresses the key components at each stage of the relocation process. Consider these essential areas as you design and refine your relocation benefits:
- Logistics: From packing, movers, and unpacking to storage and temporary housing, helping employees with these initial moving headaches can go far in allowing them to have a seamless move logistically.
- Housing: Housing is often, understandably, a key immediate area of concern for many. Providing a realtor, closing cost coverage, down payment assistance, and (for very high-level executives) a guaranteed buy-out can help persuade leadership to go forward with a move.
- Geographic orientation: Helping your employees and their families get to know an area sets a foundation for steps they can take to start to make this new city feel like ‘home’. Give them a tour, answer questions, or provide local guidebooks on topics of interest (restaurants, hiking trails, etc).
- Emotional/Family support: The most salient and often overlooked assistance you can provide is support or resources for the employee and family at each step of the settling-in process (e.g. care packages to provide them with the information to ‘help’ themselves along the way, access to “newcomers” groups, and career help/placement for trailing spouses, etc.)
- Cultural (if applicable): Critical for successful international placement, additional components for each of the above categories are needed for an international relocation. Additionally, books, cultural acclimation courses or coaching, and a primer in the language for the destination country are often necessary to set up relocators for a healthy and happy move.
The more comprehensive and thought-out your relocation package is, the better you can guard against RSMx for your moving employees. Whether in-house or outsourced, design a formalized plan on how to set your leadership and their families up for emotional and mental success as they relocate.