Employers Are Paying To Bring Workers Nearer The Office

Relocation Benefits Reach Four-Year High

Published on Apr 28, 2023

Updated on Jun 1, 2023

Written by Tim Hatton, Julia Nitschke & Layla O'Kane

For months, questions about the future of work have been dominated by two questions. First: will workers return to the office? Second: should they?

Our new Global Skills Marketplace Report gives details on the latest Remote Work trends, including that some politicians are encouraging businesses to ease off on remote work to stimulate local economies. Entire consultancy groups have sprouted up to advise employers on how to create a culture that wants to return to the office—and some companies that have begun a return to office plan have faced strong pushback from employees. Many workers who are back in the office have grown resentful over the requirement, while others say they’re actually enjoying it.

There are as many perspectives to this debate as there are workers and employers thinking about them, but the essential conflict is generally between the organizational efficiency and culture a local office provides on one hand, and the greater flexibility and increased talent pipeline advantages on the other.

As nice as it is for workers to save time and money by not traveling to the office, the upside for employers is potentially much greater: when workers are hard to find, remote work creates avenues to tap into new talent pools without being limited by geography.

Generally, fully remote workers living far from their offices have been excluded from the narrative around returning to the office—if getting workers to commute half an hour is a challenge, getting them to come from further away can seem like an impossibility. 

But job posting data shows that might be slowly changing: the number of jobs offering relocation assistance has reached its highest point in over four years. Remote work, on the other hand, has come down from its peak at the end of 2022. 

The timing suggests there could be a connection between these two patterns. If employers start insisting employees return to the office, they may need to pay them to move closer.

Relocation benefits increase slightly amidst remote work decline

It’s worth noting that the overall share of postings offering relocation is small; just under 2% of all postings. But the share has shown significant growth, increasing 64% from a pre-pandemic baseline (from January 2019 to March 2023).

Postings listing remote work peaked with a share of 8.87% in October 2022—nearly three times as high as its share of 2.32% in January 2020. Even though that share has dipped down to 6.36% as of March 2023, it’s still more than doubled since the beginning of the decade–and it is still more than three times more likely to be cited than relocation benefits.

One of the key themes animating the return to office debate is the fact that offices cost money. Expenses add up, starting with rent or property taxes and increasing with the addition of furniture, IT infrastructure, facilities staff, parking, office supplies, and all the various other costs that come just from occupying space. Any decision made on remote work takes those factors into consideration; a lean startup might go fully remote to save money, while a large firm locked into an expensive lease on office space might insist workers come in, just so the rent money doesn’t go to waste. If a company decides to hire remotely, they can also consider saving money by hiring elsewhere in the country or even internationally, where workers’ cost of living might be lower.

In other words, any business wanting its employees in the office must pay to have them there.The introduction of relocation benefits adds another wrinkle, suggesting that some employers are so dedicated to the idea of an in-person workforce that they’re willing to invest even more money to make it happen.

Those investments can be significant. ARC Relocation, which specializes in this process, estimates that employers should budget just under $20,000 for a new employee who rents their home up to over $97,000 for an existing employee with a mortgage. In addition to plane tickets and moving trucks, relocation benefits can also include paying to assist employees’ spouses find a job and children find a school, according to ARC, among many other factors. 

Some of the companies with the highest number of relocation assistance postings as of March 2023 included Northrop Grumman, Tyson Foods, Pfizer, Sysco, and General Electric, while companies with some of the highest increases in relocation assistance postings from March 2022 to 2023 included Beaumont Health and Norton Healthcare, as well as representatives from other fields including Love’s Travel Stops, the University of New Mexico, and Norfolk Southern railroad. 

Employers with the most remote postings also span several industries, with some of the highest totals coming from firms as varied as UnitedHealth Group, Lincoln Financial Group, accounting firm KPMG, Verizon, Johnson & Johnson, Humana, and Raytheon. Employers generating the highest growth in remote posting share over the same March 2022–March 2023 period include the US Postal Service, Safeway and Albertsons, Cigna, and Geico. While these firms still employ a sizable in-person workforce to accomplish tasks like stocking grocery shelves, their remote listings are for corporate jobs. Safeway and Albertsons’ remote openings include those for software developers, marketing managers, and bookkeepers. 

The pros and cons for any remote work or return to office discussion are extensive and compelling on both sides. But as the share of remote postings ticks down from its record high, many businesses see an opportunity to double down on having employees come in to work—and they’re offering to shoulder more costs to make it happen.