Preparing staff for international assignments
There can be sizeable challenges involved in employees relocating for work purposes, so it’s important that staff are supported and well looked after throughout their secondment, and preparation must start before staff travel.
Relocation, relocation, relocation
There are several things to consider before sending staff abroad and the careful planning and management of relocation can help to retain key staff.
Working practices differ from country to country, so it’s important that staff are briefed on where they’ll be living and working to help them prepare for any possible cultural challenges, both in and outside the office.
Planning appropriate healthcare
Healthcare schemes and treatment standards differ around the world and employees previously located in the UK might not be used to the different types of approach to healthcare globally. Singapore, China and Hong Kong have become extremely popular places to send employees, and the focus in these regions is on alternative healthcare and traditional Chinese medicine. This can be quite different from other countries, most notably the USA which places a lot of emphasis on diagnosis, testing and health screening. It’s important to understand how different healthcare systems operate so employees can be briefed on what to expect and appropriate cover is in place before they travel.
Similarly, healthcare costs can also differ drastically between countries, for example in emerging markets healthcare can be very expensive. It’s important to look at exactly what’s needed to ensure cover is appropriate before sending staff abroad.
Having appropriate health cover in place before travel to some regions isn’t a nice-to-have it’s a must, or a work visa won’t be granted. For example, in Dubai having private medical care arranged prior to travel is mandatory before a visa can be granted to work there.
Pre-travel health-related matters
Different diseases can be contracted in different regions, so it’s important to check staff vaccinations are up to date or to allow enough time to arrange vaccinations before travel. In 2018 there was an outbreak of the yellow fever virus in South America (in particular Brazil) and more recently the Philippines announced a new outbreak of Polio demonstrating how important it is that vaccinations are kept up to date.
Different countries are exposed to different diseases, for most people visiting countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the risk of exposure to the Ebola virus is minimal, but as a precaution, staff in these countries need to be made aware of taking extra vigilance with hygiene, such as washing hands frequently, washing/peeling fruit and vegetables before eating them, and avoiding physical contact with anyone who has possible symptoms of infection.
Identify political risk
It’s not just the business opportunities that need to be researched before sending employees overseas, it’s vital that many other areas are considered too so that the health and wellbeing of staff is appropriately supported. It’s prudent to check for political unrest or potentially violent areas before allowing staff to travel, as situations can escalate quickly and it’s important for employers to be prepared in how to react. For the latest information on potential risk employers can check reputable sources, such as the World Health Organization or Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s website.
Supporting the health and wellbeing of staff
Assignments abroad bring their own challenges, so many companies find that offering access to holistic support, such as via a global employee assistance programmes (EAP) can be helpful to employees. These can be staffed by personnel who have relocated before and know what it’s like to live and work abroad, enabling employees to talk to people in confidence who have first-hand experience of their challenges. Support can be emotional, practical, logistical and be extended to dependents.
Employers who are not prepared when it comes to how different approaches to health and wellbeing vary around the world may not only be putting their staff at risk, but also the success of an international assignment. To avoid this, businesses must research and plan appropriately, seeking expert advice where necessary.
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...