International assignments present a unique set of challenges for the health and well-being of expatriates Image Credit: Shutterstock

Moving to another country, whether on assignment or independently, can be incredibly rewarding. Such a move offers the opportunity to experience a different culture, a new city, new people and an alternative working environment. However, international assignments present a unique set of challenges for the health and well-being of expatriates and their families, who must cope with the emotional stresses associated with moving overseas.

The UAE is one of the most preferred destinations for expatriates, according to HSBC’s latest Expat Explorer survey published in September.

For employers, global mobility provides the opportunity to expand into new and existing markets, while utilising and developing the skills and experience of their top talent. International assignments are an expensive endeavour, often costing companies more than three times an employee’s total annual compensation when compared with their remuneration package back home.

Employees with high levels of stress are less likely to perform at their best Image Credit: Shutterstock

With so much at stake, employers must consider how they can support their globally mobile employees. By identifying the reasons why international assignments fail, they can help to ensure more successful placements in the future.

Employee health and well-being

Life as an expatriate can require significant effort to adapt to new social and cultural environments. The most common difficulties experienced by expatriates stem from adapting to these environmental changes, while balancing taking care of themselves, their families and work responsibilities.

Some expatriates can be overwhelmed by the stress of living and working overseas. Securing suitable housing, meeting new people and settling in to a new job and way of life can result in emotional distress which impacts on physical and mental well-being. This distress can leave expatriates and their families more susceptible to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, affecting the employee’s well-being and possibly the success of their assignment.

One of the main stresses for expatriates is the lack of a support network due to separation from family and friends while away from home. The absence of a support network can compound the feelings of stress and anxiety expatriates may feel in adjusting to their new environment. Emotional upset may also be heightened for those relocating with their families, especially if the employee’s partner and children encounter difficulty adjusting to the new country.

Many expatriate spouses can suffer from feelings of isolation, putting relationships under strain. If a partner is having difficulty securing employment or has trouble establishing a social network or developing a sense of purpose, this can make matters worse.

One of the main stresses for expatriates is the lack of a support network due to separation from family and friends while away from home

- Cheryl Beattie, Head of Sales for Middle East and Africa at Orient Insurance

Employees experiencing high levels of stress personally and/or professionally are less likely to perform at their best and may struggle to meet expectations and targets. Left unchecked, these stresses can result in assignment failure and premature repatriation. The consequences for an expatriate when an international placement fails may reach beyond their current assignment.

Premature repatriation with their family may mean another period of upheaval, which in turn could affect their professional confidence and self-esteem. It is possible that they could also encounter dissatisfaction returning to work in their home country.

Employers need to manage the risks associated with international assignments from the outset. Implementing a comprehensive healthcare strategy, which highlights and caters for the physical and mental well-being of their employees, can help to mitigate these risks.

Employee Assistance Programmes

Taking responsibility for the well-being of expatriate employees benefits both the employee and the business.

Global assistance and wellness programmes help expatriates take positive steps to improve their physical and mental well-being, reducing the impact of stress, poor health and lifestyle choices while living and working overseas.

The Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), powered by Allianz Care, helps companies support their employees in work and life abroad. Offering a 24/7 multilingual support service, this programme helps employees and their dependants address a wide range of challenges from work-related stress and relationship concerns to major life events like births and deaths.

Expatriates and their families may experience challenges in their new country, while also trying to address ongoing issues back in their home country. The EAP ensures vital support is provided for local issues in their new country, in addition, users can choose to speak to a trained counsellor back in their home country to support any issues they may have there.

The Expatriate Assistance Programme, powered by Allianz Care Image Credit: Supplied

An Expatriate Assistance Programme, powered by Allianz Care, is also available to expatriates who may not be part of an employer healthcare plan. Offering the same services as those provided to employees, to avail of this programme it is necessary to purchase an international health insurance plan as an individual or as a family, through Orient Insurance, Allianz Partners Designed Products.

International health insurance

At Orient Insurance, Allianz Partners Designed Products, we understand the needs of expatriates and their families, when accessing healthcare away from home. Our international health insurance products are designed to cater for these needs.

If something does go wrong while living and working overseas, employers, employees and individuals must be confident that their health insurance provider can provide the right support.

The writer is Head of Sales for Middle East and Africa at Orient Insurance, Allianz Partners Designed Products.