A reader writes:
I work as a consultant for a firm in Southern California and my main client is based in Alaska. I’ve been at this job for just about a year and recently had some issues with my salary (the firm lost some big clients and couldn’t afford to give me a raise). My client is our firm’s biggest source of revenue and now they have asked my boss if they could relocate me to Alaska. I know my boss is concerned about losing more accounts, so he’s really pressuring me (and making me quite uncomfortable, if I might add) to consider the move, but he has not offered me more money or any kind of deal.
He has been rather vague about how long it would be for, but when he saw my hesitation he said, “Well, if I were you, I would jump at the chance to live in Alaska for a year.” Also, considering I would be relocating to support my client, not my actual firm, I’m going to assume it’s for as long as the client continues to require our services, which in my client’s business — natural gas pipelines — could be a few months or a few decades.
I was wondering if there is some kind of standard deal when relocating someone or if it’s something I’m supposed to negotiate. If so, is it my firm or my client that I’m supposed to negotiate this with? Also, I’m unmarried, but in a relationship. Is it reasonable to request that my boyfriend be allowed to come with me and either be given a job or have the company pay joint expenses?
Well, first, do not be pressured into doing this if you don’t want to! Relocating is a pretty big deal generally, but relocating to Alaska is a really big deal. You’ll be far away from friends and family, and Alaska — from what I understand — is pretty damn different from southern California. Do you want to do this? Because you certainly don’t have to, and your letter sounds like you don’t feel you have much of a choice.
It would be entirely reasonable for you to say, “Sorry, but I’ve thought about it and moving to Alaska isn’t an option for me.” In fact, I’m pretty sure that that’s what most people in your shoes would do (with the exception of an adventurous few). Now, it’s certainly possible that your boss could make moving a condition of your job (unlikely, but not impossible), and it’s also possible that if the firm loses the client over this, that could result in you losing your job, so you want to be prepared for both of those possibilities – but I can’t get behind anyone moving to Alaska because they feel forced into it. (And frankly, your job could be in jeopardy anyway, if the firm is losing big clients.)
However, if you do want to go — and only if you actually do, not just because you feel pressured into it — you should absolutely negotiate more money in order to go. You’d be uprooting your life after all, and moving to a very, very different place, one that you presumably wouldn’t have chosen on your own. It’s reasonable to expect compensation for that. (No slam intended against Alaska here — just acknowledging that it’s not like moving to, say, Seattle.) As for your boyfriend, there are some industries that pay for spouses or spouse equivalents to relocate along with an employee, although I don’t know if you’re in one. Spouses aren’t generally given jobs (again, with a few exceptions, like academia) although, hell, if that’s one of your conditions, say so. You should also insist on a clear timeline for return. And get this all in writing.
Of course, making all of these things conditions for being willing to move could be useful in getting your boss to drop the plan, so if you’re willing to go but not super invested in it, laying all these out as conditions could be interesting. (And you’d negotiate this with your boss, since he’s the one who employs you, not the client.)
But really, this is not something you should do simply because you feel you have to.