Overseas assignments can present exciting commercial opportunities, but as a business expands into new territories it’s important to support employees travelling or relocating, says Sarah Dennis, Head of International at Towergate Health & Protection…
There can be sizeable challenges involved in relocating, and for assignments to be successful, it’s important that employees are supported and well looked after, and preparation must start before staff travel.
Key things to consider before sending staff abroad:
Know the location
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.
Distinct healthcare systems
Healthcare schemes, treatment standards and approaches differ around the world. 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, for instance the USA which places a lot of emphasis on diagnosis, testing and health screening.
Employees who have been previously located in other countries might not be used to different types of approach to healthcare, so it’s important employers understand how different healthcare systems operate so they can let employees know what to expect and ensure appropriate cover is in place beforehand.
Don’t dismiss the difference
Healthcare costs differ between countries, for instance in emerging markets healthcare can be more expensive than other markets, and employers need to be aware of this. It’s important to look at exactly what’s needed to ensure cover is appropriate before sending staff abroad. Furthermore, in some regions, such as Dubai, having private medical care arranged prior to travel is mandatory before a visa can be granted to work there.*
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.
Vaccinations before travelling
Different diseases can be contracted in different regions, so it’s important employers are aware of this before staff travel. For example, in 2018 there was an outbreak of the yellow fever virus in South America (in particular Brazil)** so it’s especially important that employers ensure vaccinations are up to date for their staff.
For most people visiting countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the risk of exposure to the Ebola virus is minimal, but as a precaution, employers with staff in these countries need to make them aware of 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.*** Different countries are exposed to different diseases, and they need to be researched well in advance to allow time for arranging vaccinations.
It’s prudent to check for political unrest or potentially violent areas before allowing staff to travel. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office provides country-by-country advice for visitors, including the latest information on potential health risks or local threats. Situations can escalate quickly and it’s important for employers to be prepared in how to react. For the latest information on risks employers can check reputable sources, such as the World Health Organization’s website.
Access to assistance
Assignments abroad can be very different and bring their own challenges, so many companies find that offering access to 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, so staff can talk to people in confidence who have first-hand experience of their challenges. Support can be emotional, practical, logistical and be extended to dependents.
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. Failure to understand how health and wellbeing differs across the world can put both staff and the success of a business venture at risk. It’s crucial that planning is carried out beforehand and expert advice is sought if needed.