While the globally mobile workforce tends to report higher rates of satisfaction with their work situation compared to the general population, they also report being less happy when it comes to personal health and wellbeing. In the long-term, employee concerns regarding health, mental health, and general wellbeing can have a significant impact on creativity, productivity and longevity in the workplace. Globally mobile employee success requires a holistic view of what an expat assignment entails.
The Bigger Picture
Looking at the bigger picture means considering where the employee is coming from: how great are the cultural differences — inside the office and outside? Is he or she bringing a family? Are there language barriers, religious restrictions? In short, what is the larger impact for the employee and his or her family? Recognizing that, as an employer, the best way to ensure success is to have a well-established support framework.
In simple terms this framework is based on the idea of Duty of Care. For international placements in particular, this includes not only the work environment itself but rather everything from pre-departure learning, to living arrangements and health benefits, to long-term career and financial planning as well as repatriation issues. Creating a truly productive work environment, where employees thrive means considering a wide array of social factors.
A recent Cigna survey shows that the globally mobile workforce is generally satisfied with the experience of working overseas, they report having higher salaries and better lifestyles. Satisfaction rates when it comes to how they feel about their relationships with co-workers (82 percent) as well as with supervisors (73 percent) are better compared to the general population where the numbers are 71 percent and 65 percent, respectively. Many also feel that they have good working hours, and 56 percent believe that they have an opportunity to learn and grow in their careers, compared to 46 percent in the general population.
So, if the globally mobile workforce feels this good about the work experience, what is there to worry about? Looking at the numbers in the Cigna study, you’ll find that the scores for family health and wellbeing is significantly lower than that of the general population at 56.7 compared to 65.8 percent.
The reasons include a lack of time spent with family and worries about their children’s education. In addition, many are particularly worried about the medical care available and the financial consequences of falling ill. The combination of these factors and not having a family support network add to the stress and insecurity.
An area of additional concern for the globally mobile workforce is mental health. A 2016 study by Aetna International shows that only 6 percent of expats worried about mental health issues before leaving on assignment. As a result, most are ill prepared for the psychological effects of living abroad.
Contrast that with research showing that 50 percent of US expats studied were at high risk of problems such as anxiety and depression. This figure is two-and-a-half times higher compared to their US-based counterparts. The same study revealed that three times as many expats as US-based workers expressed feelings of being trapped or depressed. Again, compounding the problem of mental health is the lack of a regular support system of friends and family.
There are inherent challenges facing the globally mobile population. The good news is that most of them are known, and most of them can be addressed by implementing a support system that spans pre-departure all the way through to repatriation, and that takes into account not just the work environment, but life circumstances as well.
Achieving broader employee wellness means being proactive by addressing issues before they arise through pre-departure training, as well as ongoing training. It means:
- ensuring access to education in areas such as health, mental health, social and cultural adaptation and language learning.
- providing access to quality health care.
- offering resources such as financial planning and long-term career planning.
- extending support to cover accompanying partner and/or family.
- implementing repatriation support.
By: Felicia Shermis