Expats not immune from financial stress and wellbeing worries

Two surveys highlight the wellbeing challenges globally mobile people face on assignment. More bespoke health and wellbeing benefits better communicated to globally dispersed workforces could be the answer.

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With wellbeing a key focus of Relocate Global’s annual awards and the Future of Work Festival this June, the conclusions from Axa Global Healthcare, a cross-border health insurance company, and Towergate Health & Protection, an independent global insurance broking service offering specialist health and wellbeing solutions, quantify the additional stress international assignments, hybrid/remote working and relocation can put on globally mobile populations - and employers' difficulty communicating the support available.The findings are especially important given the fundamental importance of employee health and wellbeing in building and maintaining resilient organisations, which a recent CIPD and Simplyhealth survey calls out.
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Expats’ struggles 'not a surprise'

The surveys also highlight employers’ vital role in supporting expatriate, globally mobile and international remote workers, with communication a key area for improvement, according to Towergate Health & Protection. Settling into new job roles and routines in an unfamiliar location and often language is hard when people are isolated from their usual support network and in a different time zone – especially with Covid-19 continuing to see border closures and relocation or extended business travel plans having to change at short notice.“We mustn’t underestimate the impact that being far from home, friends, family and familiarity can have during such difficult times,” says Rebecca Freer, Head of Global Healthcare Marketing at AXA Global Healthcare.“It’s unsurprising that many expats are struggling with their mental health, given the tremendous and rapid changes we’ve all experienced due to the pandemic. However, managing mental health isn’t just for times of crisis. It’s important that we make regular efforts to monitor our feelings and take action to make small improvements in everyday life too.” 

Surviving or thriving?

AXA Global Health’s survey of 11,000 people in 11 countries in Europe and Asia, including from Hong Kong, China, Japan, Spain and Germany, found that more than half (59%) of the close to 1,500 expats included reported being stressed at five or more on a scale of 0-to-10 over the last 12 months. This compared to 55% of local nationals. The finding is similar to data Relocate Global reported last month from global health service company, Cigna.The report also found that over a quarter (28%) of expats are currently experiencing at least one mental health condition, with depression (13%) and anxiety (11%) being the most common.  Almost one in four (37%) of the non-native residents surveyed said they were feeling pessimistic, compared to just 31% of locals. Only 17% of those living abroad were said to be “flourishing,” compared with 24% of local respondents.Investigating the reasons for their worries, AXA Global Healthcare found many were concerned about making ends meet. With the cost of living rising around the world and inflation predicted to continuing to rise, a third reported that their financial security (35%) and job and income security (31%) had a negative impact on their health and wellbeing.Others were concerned about their career prospects, with two-in-five (39%) feeling uncertain about the future of their career and more than a quarter (27%) losing all or part of their job as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Supporting remote employees’ wellbeing

The research further revealed that international residents lacked support when it came to mental health and wellbeing, which AXA Global reports contributes to their pessimistic views on their future.  Three in five (59%) agreed that they would turn to friends and family first when seeking mental health support. Only a third (35%) felt the public health care system in their country could provide timely support. Furthermore, only around half (45%) claimed to have a great support network, compared with 52% of local nationals. “With large numbers of expats worrying about their finances and career, we need to ensure they have the support they need to keep their mental health in check,” says Rebecca Freer. “Throughout the pandemic, virtual tools, such as AXA’s own Mind Health service, have become widely adopted, with features such as quizzes to measure your levels of anxiety providing an effective means of supporting employees around the world. We hope that organisations will continue to roll these virtual support tools out, as many have been doing over the past two years, and that those expats who are struggling will feel as they have a place to turn for help.” 

Online options and more focused communication 

Echoing the value of online tools, Towergate Health & Protection’s survey of 500 HR decision makers conducted in February this year, reports the use of online options to manage support is rising. Six in ten (62%) employers say they now concentrate more on digital health and wellbeing communications. However, even with this route, 40% still state they do not communicate health and wellbeing support as much as their colleagues would like them to. Moreover, almost 45% of employers said they find it difficult to make communication of health and wellbeing support relevant since the pandemic began. 

Iain Laws, CEO at Towergate Health & Protection, says: “Our research tells us that employers are finding it harder to target specific messages at specific groups of their workforce. This has been the case since the start of the pandemic and is perhaps an indication of the challenge in keeping up with the rapid changes in working habits. Health and wellbeing support and its communication must be agile to adapt to these altering needs.”

The majority of employers (56%) state they have changed the way they communicate health and wellbeing support since the pandemic began. Hybrid working is a major factor, with 44% of employers saying they find it more difficult to communicate the support they offer employees because many work from home all or some of the time. 

Personalised solutions 

Towergate’s research results also suggest that personalised support is the most effective solution in meeting the needs of employees now that so many circumstances have changed with the pandemic. Relevant benefits are more valuable, but communicating to different groups, across different channels, can be a challenge, says the broker, and also means offering tailored communication.While the pressure is on employers to provide ever wider choice of channels of communications, as the upcoming Relocate and Think Global People Awards will no doubt highlight, there are now a great number of apps, hubs, and online options to cater for communication preferences. Says Towergate Health & Protection, while the demand for communication channels is growing, and hybrid working is making a mix of options even more vital, technology is keeping up so employers can have access to powerful tools to make the challenges of communication easier.Concluding, Iain Laws says: “The clear need for health and wellbeing support to reach more people on a more individual basis means that effective communication of this support is critical.” 

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