The recent case of a British woman[i] arrested in Egypt for entering the country with a prescription painkiller that is legal in the UK but not in Egypt, is a stark reminder of the importance of individuals being medically and culturally aware when travelling aboard.
Punter Southall Health & Protection, a leading employee benefits consultancy, warns that companies sending employees on overseas assignments have a duty of care to ensure employees understand the legislation and cultural differences in that country.
With the average expat assignment costing $311,000 (£217,000) per year, the cost of failure is high. 40% of all overseas assignments are judged to be failures and most fail because employees and their families can’t adjust to the local culture and environment.
According to KMPG, only 38% of companies offer cross-cultural training to the assignees and family and 35% do not offer any cross-cultural training at all. Punter Southall Health & Protection believe that companies could provide greater levels of support for expatriate employees.
Audrey Rowley, Managing Consultant International at Punter Southall Health & Protection says, “Failed assignments cost businesses thousands of pounds and create huge emotional stress for employees and their families. Individuals selected for overseas posts tend to be high fliers, so it makes real business sense for companies to ensure they fully prepare and support them pre, during and post their international assignments.”
“There are many affordable expatriate services available today to help companies get it right. These include pre-assignment health screening to ensure someone is fit for the assignment, cultural training for the whole family, comprehensive travel and medical insurance packages and access to Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) throughout the assignment. Such services are relatively cost effective for Employers, and the assurance and value they give employees is priceless.”
Here are Audrey’s tips for companies relocating employees aboard:
Ensure the employee is medically fit – a medical screening programme will help companies predict, prevent and reduce the risk of problematic health risks occurring. They check someone is fit for assignment and provide a clear audit trail of proactively managed duty of care. A medical screening costs just £65 through Punter Southall Health & Protection.
Make sure any drugs that the employee/family needs are legal – it’s crucial to ensure an individual’s medication is legal and easily obtainable in their destination country. The medical screening will highlight if ongoing medication is needed and if the employee is suitable for the assignment. Ruling out unsuitable candidates at this stage will save a huge amount of money.
Give cultural training prior to travel – to support the employee/family and prepare them for the culture and way of life when they relocate. Cultural workshops will ensure families know what to expect, prevent surprises and ease their settling in.
Language skills – consider offering intensive language courses for the whole family, if appropriate for the destination. These not only help in the business environment, but also make accessing schools, hospitals and other services less daunting.
Consider an expatriate Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) – often employees receive very little support once they arrive abroad and they can feel alone should anything happen such as divorce, health problems etc. Expatriate EAPs provide a family with 24/7 support, reassurance and peace of mind. Costing just £15 per family unit per year, they provide online support, including options for face to face counselling.
Provide international medical insurance – gives employees reassurance their medical costs will be met and they will have support sourcing care. In most countries there is no NHS equivalent so medical insurance is essential. Employers should check their policies include repatriation costs in the event of an employee death whilst abroad.
Audrey Rowley concludes, “Successful overseas assignments depend on the individual and the support they receive. After the initial honeymoon period, it is common for employees to feel isolated because of the cultural and language barriers and the separation from friends and family. Having a benefits and support programme that starts in the UK and continues throughout the assignment can alleviate the risk of failure, provide employees with support to address any issues and ensure the assignment is a success for the company and the employee.”
Punter Southall Health and Protection offers a suite of expatriate benefits solutions. These services include pre-assignment screening delivered by Healix International, cultural training and expatriate Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) from Morneau Shepell, and international medical insurance through Bupa Global. In our experience, the cost of these services combined typically represents just 1% of the total cost of an expatriate assignment.