Two-thirds don’t offer specific mental health support for workers abroad

Just a third of businesses with staff who work abroad have a specific mental health policy in place, a survey has found, suggesting that hundreds of employees could be left feeling vulnerable when miles away from home.

The survey of 102 HR decision makers, commissioned by The Health Insurance Group, found that less than half (43%) of organisations with more than 250 employees offered dedicated mental health support, such as an employee assistance programme, to staff on overseas assignments.

The proportion of smaller businesses providing such a benefit was even lower, at 28%.

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.”

The Health Insurance Group suggested that organisations should consider implementing a mental health policy tailored to the countries their staff are working in. Staff may also have individual requirements, depending on their age or personal circumstances.

It said that, while help should be offered at any time during the employee’s stay overseas, they should also help staff prepare for their assignment before their departure. They might also require help transitioning back into their previous life upon their return to the UK.

It highlighted that working abroad often meant employees had to settle into a different culture, as well as the pressures of a new job and working environment, which could create feelings of stress and anxiety. If their family remains in the UK, they might also feel isolated and experience challenges in maintaining long-distance relationships.

“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,” added Dennis.

A recent survey by the British Chambers of Commerce and insurer Aviva found that one in three employers had seen an increase in the number of employees who had taken time off to deal with their mental health – but only half had sought advice from an external occupational health service.

Meanwhile, a separate survey by learning provider Obby revealed that 48% of UK workers did little or nothing to relieve work-related stress.

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