13 August 2018

Only a third of employers with overseas staff provide policies that support mental health

New research* commissioned by The Health Insurance Group reveals organisations with employees working overseas are falling short when it comes to providing dedicated mental health support. Only 34% of employers were found to have a specific policy in place, such as an employee assistance programme. This means thousands of employees could be left vulnerable, with no clear idea of where to turn to for help if they suffer mental health problems while many miles from home.

Relocating overseas is about far more than doing the same job but from a different location. Not only do employees need to deal with the pressures of a new job, they must settle into a new home and adapt to a different culture and way of life. If they have a family with them they also have the additional worry of making sure they get settled too. If their family remains at home, that can bring different stresses, including feelings of isolation and trying to maintain long-distance relationships. Such enormous changes can create stress and anxiety for employees, which could have serious consequences if the right support is not available.

Employers of all sizes could do more

Perhaps surprisingly, with such a prominent recent focus on the importance of mental health, less than half of large organisations with over 250 employees offer dedicated mental health support. The research shows 43% of large employers provide dedicated support for mental health, compared to 28% of SMEs. With more companies seeking business opportunities overseas, this is an area that requires serious consideration if organisations are to give their employees the support they need to both settle in a new environment and work to their full potential.

How can employers support employees better?

When looking at mental health support, organisations should look at a specific policy that is tailored to the needs of the employees within the country that they will be working in. Staff may also have different requirements depending on their age or personal circumstances, all of which need to be considered.

Help can be needed at any time during an assignment. Employers may recognise that employees need support when they first arrive in a new country, but support also needs to be offered before departure to help employees prepare for the assignment ahead.  Employees can also be vulnerable when they return to the UK, struggling to make the transition back to their previous life, so support is often required then too.

Global employee assistance programmes are available which can cater for these specific needs and offer support from experienced experts who have worked abroad themselves and understand the issues. It’s important that support is offered 24/7 so employees can access help when they need it, this can make a significant difference, especially to those who may not have someone close at hand they feel comfortable confiding in.

Sarah Dennis, head of international for The Health Insurance Group said: “Today’s employees want to work for employers who take their wellbeing seriously. Forward-thinking organisations understand the importance of providing a complete package for staff which looks after both physical and mental health. This is even more important with overseas employees, given the additional stresses involved. Paying particular attention to mental health signals to employees that they can be open about any issues they are facing and know where to turn to for help. Early intervention with mental health problems is vital and often leads to a quicker recovery, so it’s in everyone’s interests to provide it and make sure staff know how to access it.”

*The research was conducted in July 2018 for The Health Insurance Group by Opinium, it surveyed 102 HR decision makers in UK businesses, representing between 17,418 and 25,912 employees,