There is a common response to people who are experiencing adverse reactions to moving–walk it off. Unfortunately, such attitudes ignore the significance of this life changing event, as well as the level of stress and risks involved to both employees and their employers. As it turns out, there are numerous personal and social costs to moving, some of which may adversely affect multiple areas of the individual’s life, including assimilation to the new work environment. These include personal, familial and social costs, and the potential for harm, sometimes serious, to physical, emotional and cognitive well-being.
Personal and social costs to relocating
Research findings have indicated that as many as one-third of all moves typically do not go well. Part of the reason is because there are numerous personal and social costs to moving. These include starting over with friendships, proving one’s competency and efficacy in the new job environment, overcoming resentment from children who left friends and schools behind, or a spouse who had to leave his or her job, family members’ failure to make new friends, adjust to new schools, or feel comfortable in the new environment, the cumulative psychological toll successive moves can have, unexpected and non-reimbursable financial costs, guilt experienced by the person precipitating the move, remorse at leaving old friends and family behind, and the loneliness experienced during the initial adjustment period. To top it all off, the average adjustment time it takes to settle-in and establish new roots and deep friendships can range from 6 to 18 months. All of these personal and social costs and more can have a cumulative effect that can add to the stress surrounding a move—and can adversely impact the speed and level of employees’ acclimation to their new home and work environments.
Costs to well-being of your employees and their family members
There have been numerous research studies, including our own, which have examined the impact relocation can have on well-being. The results are alarming. The stress from relocation has been linked to coronary heart disease, depression, substance abuse, and high blood pressure, just to name a few. Additionally, relocation stress—the significant stress people experience as a result of the major life changes following a geographic move—can bring on a range of illnesses including stomach aches and digestive problems, ear and eye infections, joint pain, backaches, headaches, dental problems, chest pains, sleeplessness, and anxiety.
Cognitive effects may also be experienced as a result of the intense and prolonged stress surrounding relocation. Difficulty concentrating, confusion, and memory impairment are all common reactions to stress.
But the bad news does not stop there. Researchers in this area, including us, have found that people who have recently moved are susceptible to a broad range of psychosocial problems as well. And those people who are under increased stress because the move is perceived as involuntary (due to a spouse, employer, or personal conditions responsible for the move) are particularly vulnerable to emotional and/or social problems during the relocation process. Symptoms of psychosocial problems related to relocation may include depression, lowered involvement with the new community, over-dependence on the marital relationship for emotional support, alcoholism or abuse of prescription and other drugs, pervasive feelings of isolation and social anonymity, destructive aggression, marital discord, and increased incidence of divorce.
Unfortunately, adverse reactions are not just limited to new hires or transfers, but can frequently spill over into employees’ home life as well. Overall, the research findings indicate a correlation between moving and problems for adult family members and their children.
Relocation stress can have a negative impact
on company functioning and profits
While it is commonplace in U.S. workplaces to expect employees to maintain clear boundaries between their work and personal lives, the fact is that in extraordinary circumstances, including the stress surrounding relocation, this is an artificial separation at best. None of us live in a vacuum and when there are profound challenges in one area of our lives there is bound to be some spillover into the other areas. Common ways in which new hires and transfers who have difficulty adjusting following the move can impact employers include reduced performance due to difficulty concentrating, failure to adequately bond with colleagues and become an active team member, increased time off and sick days, increased use of health insurance, and if left unchecked and adaptation and adjustment fail, increased turnover rates. When these costs are added to the search costs, including lost time of management and other key employees for choosing, interviewing and meeting about final candidates, relocation costs, training costs, and costs to overall morale of team members when they have invested time and energy in new employees only to have them leave in a relatively short time, the costs to employers can be substantial.
The Good News: Relocation
Does Not Have to be Harmful
The good news is that not everyone experiences serious adverse physical, social, emotional and cognitive consequences following a move. Some individuals, in fact, appear to thrive from the challenges, new experiences, and changes brought about from relocation. Our book * explores the scientific research findings on relocation stress as we examine the many factors that can determine who gets sick—and who doesn’t—following a move.
More specifically, our findings suggest that healthy adaptation during the relocation process is affected by multiple personal, social and environmental factors. The book explores key factors that the research findings suggest may affect how well your new hires and transfers are likely to fare during and after the move. Just as important, this book offers insights and time-tested strategies and techniques for helping employees adopt perspectives and behaviors that not only help them survive the move, but actually thrive from it–a key element in increasing productivity and decreasing turnover rates.