Mixed feelings swirl around IBM’s recent employment program, called Project Match, which grants some laid off North American employees the chance to transfer to IBM’s offices (Stock Quote: IBM) in lower-income countries like India, Nigeria, Brazil, the Czech Republic and China and earn local wages. The news begs the question, Is it worth speaking to my boss about moving to a lower-cost region and earning a smaller salary, be it India or even North Carolina?
In times like these, some career experts say this may be a creative strategy to try to hedge losing your 9 to 5. IBM is also offering to help pay for employers’ visas and for the relocation costs.
“Sounds like the best of both worlds,” says Rosanne Knorr, author of The Grown-Up’s Guide to Running Away from Home. “You’re not going to get a pay cut because you’re living in that economy, and you get to keep your job. It’s a wonderful chance to build your experience and build credentials internationally.”
But not so fast, others say. There’s still no guarantee that moving around for your company won’t result in a layoff down the road. “If you’re let go, you’re on your own…in a foreign country,” says Richard Nelson Bolles, author of the best-selling career guidebook What Color is Your Parachute? Don’t expect any help with your exit strategy, he says. “Companies don’t feel any compulsion to be generous with severed employees other than giving them a package for not complaining too loud.”
Even if the financials make sense for both you and the company, voluntarily asking to be relocated may be a risky request. First, you need to sniff out your manager, says Bolles. Sure, moving from Chicago to a branch in China or Chatanooga may save your firm thousands of dollars in annual wages, but saying you want to work remotely may not reflect well on you, especially if you still have to report to a boss in your current town. In some cases, where face-to-face communication is critical for team productivity, expressing a desire to relocate may be a dangerous route to explore.
“I would immediately, in my mind, think of that employee as…second tier… for not wanting to stay with me,” says Bolles. “Proposing that idea can be a dangerous one…if [your employer] is trying to think of people to let go, [you’re] going to rise at the top.” On the other hand, if your employer knows you well and is open to new ideas, you may feel comfortable suggesting the idea. You need to judge your boss’s comfort zone.
You also need to judge your own comfort zone. Are you up for the challenge and embrace the prospects of living in a new location, having a new experience and skirting a layoff, even if it is just temporary? “For the person with a little bit of adventure in their soul, why not?” says Knorr.
Making It Work
When 41-year-old Chris Weilding began doubting his job security last summer at Credit Suisse in Manhattan, he suggested to his boss that he be considered for a position in the bank’s Raleigh, N.C., office. There, salaries average about 15% less, according to Salary.com—a plus for his employer. But the cost of living is about 40% less than in New York, meaning Chris and his family could actually have a higher standard of living. Six months later, the married dad of two received an offer to move down South. His work hours would change from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to midnight to 8 a.m., and relocation costs would not be included, but, he says, they didn’t hesitate to pack up and head down.
How did this work out so well? He gave his boss an honest heads-up that he was interested in moving down there, but only pushed to be considered for the next appropriate job opening in North Carolina, rather than asking to simply get transplanted to the other zip code.
"And because [Chris] was coming from New York City, from a busier office, he was coming here with skills others don’t have,” says his wife, Kara.
The move has been a win-win for the family. Their young boys, ages 2 and 5, have better schooling options. As for living space, the kids now have room to run around. “You get twice the amount of space for half the rent [you'd be] paying in New York,” she says. “We have a washer and dryer and dishwasher in our house. It seems petty, but it feels like such a luxury.” Not to mention, it was 70 degrees there yesterday (in the dead of winter).