Sarah Dennis

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Accepting an expat position can have huge benefits for an employee and their family. The breadth of experience it brings is difficult to rival but there is another side too. The pressure of taking on a new job with the added upheaval of an international move can be really demanding for the employee and stressful for their family too. A spouse may have to significantly change or give up their own job, and children will need to adjust to a new school and find new friends.

Why should employers review how they support expats?
It is in everyone’s interests that the whole family settle well in a new location and the employee becomes productive as quickly as possible. Supporting the whole family to adjust makes good business sense, as family issues are a common cause of overseas assignments failing. Preventing issues ahead of time helps everyone get the most out of the experience.

For support to be effective it is essential that we think about the mental, emotional and physical wellbeing of employees and their families. In this blog, we look at five key areas employers should consider when arranging support for expat employees.

What can employers do to support expat workers?

1)    Get advice to ensure you have the appropriate levels of support in place for the employee and their family.
There is a wealth of employee assistance programmes (EAP) on the market that can provide support for expats and their families so it is important to get some advice on the best solution for the business so that you can offer the right levels of support in the areas where it is needed most.

EAPs can offer support in a range of ways, including education and care advice, local legal expertise, assistance with daily living and counselling to support the whole family, which can be provided by professionals who have first-hand experience of what it is like to be an expat in the destination country.

2)    Offer logistical, physical, mental and emotional support
Many providers offer destination services to help expats sort out all the logistical aspects of a move, and international private medical insurance can offer comprehensive health cover, but supporting staff’s emotional wellbeing should not be overlooked.

Being able to access support 24/7, via experienced expats with first-hand experience makes a real difference. Employees who are taking on an overseas assignment want to know that they will be looked after if it becomes very stressful. This gives confidence to employers too, knowing that their staff are being supported.

3)    Provide support for each stage of an overseas move and return to the UK
Most employers think about supporting the employee as they make the move but that’s only part of the picture. Reintegration to the UK can be surprisingly stressful, as much as the pre-departure stage. Every stage can have a significant impact on emotional and mental health for staff and their families.

Putting preventative measures and support in place to help them at every stage demonstrates a company’s care toward its staff and plays an integral role in increasing employee engagement. It also makes good business sense, as it supports productivity throughout all the stages of an overseas assignment, as well as helping to ensure valuable staff don’t leave a company when they return.

4)    Offer cross-cultural support
Even where the destination country speaks the same language as an employee there can still be a big culture shock.  Supporting employees during a change in culture can help to increase the pace of integration into a new environment as well as develop intercultural understanding, communication and teamwork. All areas that ultimately make the assignment more fulfilling.

5)    Communicate, promote and measure the use of employee support services
Communicating and promoting the use of support programmes is also vitally important because even the most comprehensive programme will be ineffective if staff don’t know about it or are worried about using it. In an expat context, this also needs to include communications aimed at the family too.

Good packages will also offer anonymised reporting, allowing employers to see if the support they have put in place is being used.

Offering a package of support to cover all aspects of an overseas assignment and the return home for an employee and their family makes good business sense. It reduces the risk of things going wrong and promotes employee engagement and productivity.  I hope you find these top five areas to consider helpful in reviewing the support you have in place for your expat staff.

Sarah Dennis, Head of International, The Health Insurance Group