Companies aren' t beefing up their relocation benefits packages to attract and retain employees, even in thetight labor market. In fact, the opposite is true. Employers are offering less generous relocation packagesthan they did in 1995.

An in-depth look at relocation practices by Recruiting Trends reveals some important developments.Among the benefits being trimmed is employment assistance for trailing spouses, which can make asignificant impact on the success of relocation, according to an Atlas Van Lines survey. Only 19% ofemployers provide employment assistance for trailing spouses in 1998, down from 21% in 1995, reportsAtlas.

"Most companies are running a leaner, skimpier budget," Doris Applegate tells Recruiting Trends.Applegate is the senior business development manager for Personalized Relocation Management Inc., inGlendale, Calif. "If they are offering anything, they will probably extend temporary housing for maybe a fewweeks or storage, but nothing that will really make a dent in the Relo budget."

She says she finds this attitude surprising, especially in regions such as Southern California, where sheworks. In Orange County, for example, there is a less than 2% unemployment rate. In addition, apartmentvacancy rates and inventory of homes for sale are at an all-time low.

Most corporations appear to be cutting their relocation budgets, leaving many human resourceprofessionals and relocation managers to come up with ways on how to accommodate the family needs ona limited budget. One technique is to increase their investment in counseling and family services.

But another organization says differently. The IMPACT Group, a relocation consultancy based in St.Louis, finds that its clientele of companies seeking its services has been increasing steadily in thelast five years. Its roster of clients has jumped to 165 corporations, up from 150 last year, says LauraHerring, IMPACT' s president and chief executive officer.

Children Seen as Priority

Every five years or so, the relocation industry reinvents itself. But employment assistance for trailingspouses has never become a hot button item, says Applegate. Employers are more inclined to take care ofissues regarding the children than the trailing spouse, who in more than half of the cases is a woman,relocation experts say.

One reason might be that employers don' t have the confidence they can provide adequate support to thetrailing spouse, says Rich Ganley, president of FAS Hotline Inc., a relocation firm in Scottsdale, Ariz.

But Applegate says employers ask her for inexpensive alternatives that she can provide in-house. She saysthat when she tells them she can refer them to a specialized program, which charges a fee, "their interestdrops at that point." Usually her clients will take advantage of her informal resume review process, whichis a free service. But because she doesn' t specialize in headhunting, there are minimal results, she says.

Women Don' t Want to Move

Karen Gillis-Suo, the president of Intercontinental Relocation Systems, a full-service relocationmanagement company in Vernon Hills, Ill., says she doesn' t believe the offer of assistance is down asmuch as it is not being accepted.

"I' m finding, in dual-career couples, the percentage of relocation offers that are turned down is reallyincreasing," Gillis-Suo says. As more women are climbing the chain of command up through the executivelevels of management, they are becoming reluctant to give up those jobs to follow their husbands, sheadds.

Assistance for the trailing spouse is "an issue that begs to be looked at," Applegate says. "If you cannotdraw from the local pool of employees and need to go outside and relocate somebody, the money that youspend is enormous. The small piece of that picture is the trailing spouse. But many times, it' s the strawthat will break the camel' s back."

Often companies will spend up to $50,000 to relocate an employee but decline to spend between $800and $1,500 to help the spouse find a job, she says.

Although the issue is talked about amongst HR directors, it is not a priority with senior level executives,says Applegate, a former relocation manager for a major bank and a relocation manager for a relief anddevelopment corporation.

"I' m not sure HR people have a sense of job security or whatever it takes to push the envelope in thatdirection," Applegate says. "As long as the HR managers are not willing to challenge the people who arepaying for this, these kinds of issues will not be addressed."

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