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How to prepare staff for international assignments

As a business expands into new territories, for the assignment to be a success it’s important that employees relocating are supported and well looked after, not only during their secondment abroad but before they travel.

As a business expands into new territories, for the assignment to be a success it’s important that employees relocating are supported and well looked after, not only during their secondment abroad but before they travel.

It’s not just the business opportunities that need to be researched before sending employees overseas, it’s vital that many other areas are considered too so that the health and wellbeing of staff is appropriately As a business expands into new territories, for the assignment to be a success it’s important that employees relocating are supported and well looked after, not only during their secondment abroad but before they travel. supported.

Preparing for the culture shock
Working practices differ from country to country, so it’s important that staff are briefed on where they’ll be living and working to help them prepare for any possible cultural challenges, both in and outside the office.

How does the healthcare system compare with other countries? Employees who have been previously located in the UK might not be used to the different approaches to healthcare globally, so its important that employees are briefed on what to expect and appropriate cover is in place before they travel.  

Employers who understand how different healthcare systems operate can prepare their staff for the different treatment approaches and schemes that exist around the world. For example, the focus in China and Hong Kong is on alternative healthcare and traditional Chinese medicine, whereas the USA tends to place a lot of emphasis on diagnosis, testing and health screening.

Business healthcare prices
Not only do the types of healthcare approaches differ around the world, but so do the costs. Healthcare costs in the emerging markets can be particularly more expensive than other regions, so it’s important to be aware of this. Before sending staff abroad employers should remember to look at exactly what is needed to ensure cover is appropriate.

Having appropriate health cover in place before travel to some regions isn’t a nice-to-have it’s a must, or a work visa won’t be granted. Employers need to be aware of healthcare regulations and visa requirements which are heavily regulated, for example, in the Middle and Far East. Abu Dhabi stipulates that any foreign worker or resident must have a compliant IPMI scheme and in Dubai private medical care is mandatory before a visa can be granted for workers to relocate there. Workers without the correct cover may be fined or sent back.

The importance of immunisations
Different countries are exposed to different diseases, and they need to be researched well in advance to allow time for arranging vaccinations. In 2018 there was an outbreak of the yellow fever virus in South America (in particular Brazil) demonstrating just how vital it is that employers ensure vaccinations are up to date for their staff.

Potential political unrest
It’s prudent to check for political unrest or potentially violent areas before allowing staff to travel. Situations can escalate quickly and it’s important for employers to be prepared in how to react. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office provides country-by-country advice for visitors, including the latest information on potential health risks or local threats.

Staff health and wellbeing
Assignments abroad bring their own challenges, so many companies find that offering holistic support for wellbeing can be a real help for employees, such as providing access to a global employee assistance programmes (EAP). These can be staffed by personnel who have relocated before and know what it’s like to live and work abroad, so staff can talk to people in confidence who have first-hand experience of their challenges. Support can be emotional, practical, logistical and be extended to dependents.

For companies looking to grow their international presence it has never been more important for them to avoid unnecessary risks. Failure to understand how health and wellbeing differs across the world can put both staff and the success of a business venture at risk. It’s crucial that planning is carried out beforehand and expert advice is sought where needed.

Sarah Dennis, Head of International, Towergate Health & Protection

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