Expat stress levels ‘hit all-time high’

The traditional, global mobility lifestyle "might have changed forever" because of the pandemic, according to global health service company Cigna.

expat burn out
After its latest survey of 11,922 expats across the world, Cigna said burnout among overseas staff had become "endemic" and that organisations would have to fundamentally rethink welfare policies.

The US health company's annual 'Global Wellbeing Survey' found that over the past two and half years, overseas assignees had seen many of their assumptions about expat lifestyle challenged.

Has Global Mobility changed forever?

"The world of easy travel, with the ability to visit family, friends and colleagues disappeared suddenly, and many found themselves separated by long quarantines, disrupted flights, job losses and visa requirements," said Cigna.

The report said that while memories of the pandemic were fading, its enduring impact continued to be felt with stress levels among expats having reached an all-time high, with 90% affected - significantly higher than the 77% of people living in their home market reporting such feelings.

Perhaps more worrying, Cigna added, was that 98% of respondents said they had experienced symptoms of burnout, "driven, most likely, by the fact that 89% said they are ‘always on’, constantly connected and unable to switch off from work".

Jason Sadler, president of international markets at Cigna, said: "Many expats saw their lifestyles completely up-ended by the experience of the pandemic, separated from family, friends and colleagues. The challenge now is to rethink the expat contract to reflect the experiences, and the new priorities, of those living overseas."

Did the pandemic make you feel isolated?

Feelings of isolation were reported by the vast majority of expats with rising financial concerns contributing to feeling of burnout. Only 38% said they were confident about the current financial situation, falling to 19% for overseas workers resident in high-cost Switzerland.

"We also saw concerns about the long-term financial situation linger, with only 33% saying they felt they had sufficient savings for retirement, marginally higher than in 2021 when most of the world was in lockdown, but still a very low figure for a group that traditionally have been able to prioritise long-term savings," said Cigna.

"The exciting, rewarding, globally mobile lifestyle that used to sum-up the ‘expat dream’ has changed and more people are now prioritising lifestyle, family and friends when planning future moves."

Almost three-quarters of respondents said they had spent time re-evaluating their life priorities since the onset of the pandemic, with 76% saying that being close to family and friends had become more important than before.

Arjan Toor, CEO of Cigna Europe, said: “The last few years have been especially challenging for the globally mobile.  As global issues continue to hit the headlines daily, it’s no surprise that they are taking a toll on the wellbeing of expats.

“The exciting globally mobile lifestyle that once appealed to so many, may have changed forever.

“These figures are concerning, and it’s more important than ever that people are taking time to look after their 'whole health'. They must take positive actions to reduce stress and avoid burnout."
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Read more news and views from David Sapsted, July articles.

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