In the world of employee mobility, requests for exceptions to policy remind us that transferees and their families are unique, each with their own needs and priorities. A response to these requests can be “Yes”, “No”, “Maybe”, “Let’s see” or “I will need to obtain approval”.
Employers may approach exceptions management in various ways but, in all cases, it is important to keep in mind that the process is about more than dealing with the individual employee’s issue.
Managing exceptions—a burden or an opportunity?
Exception requests help identify employee/family needs albeit not in a particularly proactive way. They are an opportunity to meet the needs, given a specific set of circumstances, without a policy change or widespread visibility.
If not handled in a balanced and equitable manner, over time an atmosphere of cynicism and disrespect can develop. Some employees may feel they have been shortchanged vis-à-vis a colleague and resentment can build over a sense that the relocation process is a struggle. The management of exceptions in this type of environment is unpredictable, time consuming, and costly, not to mention stressful.
Viewed from a different perspective, these requests are indicators of the effectiveness and relevance of the existing relocation policy. Assessing the impact of exceptions helps the company manage risks associated with specific provisions as well as employee mobility in general. For instance, some requests highlight difficulties with spousal assistance, requirements for children with special needs or medical issues, or complications with eldercare. Other cases involve financial risk for the employee and, potentially, for the employer as well.
Policies cannot be drafted to anticipate every need nor solve every perceived deficiency but they can be reviewed and modified regularly to address common or frequent exception requests. For example, if employees are regularly requesting an extra two days for home search, why not modify the policy accordingly. Policies can be redesigned to include a flexible spending account for such extras, i.e., the transferee is probably willing to trade a less desirable benefit for a few more days of home search.
Getting the most out of exceptions management
Many companies approach exceptions management in an informal and unstructured way. Typically, the process is as follows: employee asks counsellor or manager for exception; counsellor escalates to Global Mobility (GM) department; GM department decides on matter or seeks decision from hiring manager; counsellor is advised of outcome; employee is notified of decision.
While this looks somewhat like a process, it is not thorough; once the last step is done, the file is considered closed and there is little, if any, follow-up.
A comprehensive exceptions management process will deal with requests and contribute to ongoing policy maintenance and review:
1. Employee submits request for exception indicating the purpose and rationale;
2. Counsellor documents the request adding an analysis of the cost, impact and recommendation and presents it to GM department;
3. GM decides or escalates based on pre-defined parameters;
4. Decision is logged on-line;
5. Employee is notified by counsellor;
6. Exception decisions are tracked and reported.
The above provides a framework for consistent decision-making and rationales, which employees may not always like but they will respect. The data gathered for the exceptions reports provides the analytics required to support needed policy or procedural changes, relieving the mobility team from having to rely on anecdotal information.
There will always be a need to deal with the unusual or exceptional circumstances and having a decision process in place that all parties understand, including data gathering tools, is essential to effective issues management and policy review.