International wellbeing support during Covid-19
For employees working abroad, the Covid-19 pandemic can be an isolating and fearful time. Now, more than ever before, they will be looking to their employer to provide support, whether physically or emotionally. Whilst employers may feel as though their hands are tied, particularly with border and flight restrictions in place, there is still a lot they can do to provide valuable health and wellbeing support to overseas workers.
Letting staff know they are not alone in this and their health and wellbeing remains the top priority is a message that all employers need to be sending right now. Overseas workers can be even more vulnerable to the strains of a global pandemic, being separated from all they find familiar, and knowing that their health and wellbeing is supported can help alleviate some of the pressure.
Employees may well be concerned about their own physical health, as well as that of any dependants, during a time when medical establishments are stretched due to Coronavirus. Whilst medical facilities and treatments might not be as readily available as before, now is the time for companies to talk to benefits providers and advisers to see what options are available within existing schemes or what can be included. Where physical support for new or ongoing medical conditions can’t be administered in traditional ways, advisers can highlight alternative options. Solutions such as virtual GP services and online physiotherapy sessions to treat musculoskeletal injuries, for example, are just some of the innovative ways care can be provided when face-to-face options are limited.
When medical treatment is needed - for instance in the case of an emergency - international private medical insurance schemes (IPMI) in particular, can really come into their own. While repatriating people to another country may be difficult in the current climate, healthcare providers have good networks and can advise on the best course of action, including availability and appropriateness of potential alternative medical facilities depending on the specific need.
Continuity in chaos
Providing continuity and consistency of benefits is particularly important during a pandemic. Some employees, and possibly their families, may be undergoing treatment via their IPMI, but due to confidentiality obligations owed by the insurer to the claimant, employers will not know which employees or family members are receiving treatment or the reasons why. So, this is a time to ensure such benefits are continued, and not scaled back, or employers risk leaving employees to fend for themselves to try and continue treatment - which can be particularly difficult overseas.
Importance of supporting emotional wellbeing
When the world has turned upside down for many people, it’s crucial employers provide emotional support for staff. Global employee assistance programmes can be extremely valuable as they can provide a helpline for employees to talk to someone during an uncertain time. Providing emotional support can make a significant difference to how they cope in a volatile situation.
Simple cuts, complex ramifications
Some businesses may consider suspending health insurance policies as a cost-cutting exercise, with the view to reinstating them later, but they may find this is much more difficult than they realise. Premiums reinstated later may be at an increased rate – as possible changes in employee health since original agreements were made will need to be reviewed and taken into consideration. And health issues that occurred during existing contracts, that have been supported through IPMI cover for example, may be excluded in new agreements.
It’s also important for businesses to remember that having cover in place is a prerequisite for work visas in many countries. So, great consideration must be taken before making any changes – as it may have more complex and costly ramifications that employers are aware of.
For staff working overseas, actions taken now will leave a lasting impression, so it’s important that businesses act responsibly, or risk irrevocably damaging their reputation. Governments have warned that there isn’t a quick fix solution to Coronavirus yet, and for people to prepare themselves to play the long game. The same can be said of businesses; quick solutions – such as scaling back wellbeing solutions – won’t reap the benefits in the long run, of an engaged and fully supported workforce when the world re-emerges from this pandemic.
The Coronavirus pandemic has brought the health and wellbeing of overseas staff to the forefront of many companies’ minds. Now is the time to demonstrate that this is a top priority, and that message needs to be communicated loud and clear to a workforce.
Sarah Dennis is Head of International at Towergate Health & Protection, which she joined in 2014 following over 17 years working as a consultant and in senior management roles in international health insurance companies including Jelf Group, Norwich Union Healthcare (Aviva UK), HealthCare International, Goodhealth Worldwide Ltd. (Aetna...