Managing the health and wellbeing of employees overseas

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• Where possible, multinational employers should choose a single provider for healthcare provision.

• Using an online portal can help ease the challenges of managing health and wellbeing benefits from a central location.
• EAPs and health screening can be offered internationally.


It is becoming easier to provide health and wellbeing benefits for employees working abroad, says Jennifer Paterson

As workforces spread to satellite global offices, it is increasingly challenging for a centralised HR team, that may be based in the UK, to manage the health and wellbeing of international employees effectively.

But these challenges have become more manageable thanks to employers’ greater use of technology and benefits providers expanding their offerings internationally.

A good starting point for a multinational employer is to choose a single provider for its healthcare provision. Sarah Dennis, international healthcare director at Jelf Employee Benefits, says: “When everyone is insured by the same provider, the employer can see if there are, say, a lot of psychiatric claims, which generally relate to stress and anxiety, and can then break that down into regions.”

Wolfgang Seidl, head of health management consulting at Mercer, has just completed a project to design wellbeing and resilience workshops for an employer’s global workforce. “The main workshop has been developed centrally, and will now go out to its global workforce through webinars and face-to-face workshops, delivered by centralised HR and local managers,” he says.

The scope of benefits now offered internationally is also making it easier to address health and wellbeing. Perks such as employee assistance programmes (EAPs) and health screening can be provided in most locations. Dennis adds: “It is important that EAPs and occupational health are available, because private medical insurance can only cover up to a certain limit and has a lot of exclusions, which sometimes means stress and anxiety are not covered. It is not only about employees’ current health and wellbeing, but about their future health and wellbeing as well.”

Web portal helps management

Managing a global strategy from a central location is also simpler when a web portal is used, but it must be relevant locally for each country. Colin Bullen, head of global benefits at Aon Hewitt, says: “Employers cannot just roll out a UK or US platform and say ‘use this’.The tools they will want to apply in one country will not apply in another. Whether focusing on activity, nutrition or health screening, that message must be consistent, but how those are implemented should vary according to local cultures and customs.”

HR should also be aware of possible cultural barriers. In European countries such as France and Germany, people may want to keep their health as private as possible.

Bullen adds: “Employees need to be introduced to the concept gently, with the employer explaining why it is interested in improving their quality of health. Some countries will be more difficult than others. Eastern Europe will come on board, but employees in France and Germany will say ‘this is not an area I want you to be engaging me with’.”

Stress is also treated very differently in different cultures. In the Middle East, it is not even be recognised as an ailment. But Dennis says stress should be one of the top priorities for any employer that sends staff overseas. “It is about the duty-of-care element,” she says. “It is not just about health and wellbeing, but also that the employee knows about any [local differences] and gets that information before going overseas.”

Stress is also an area where employers can implement a level of consistency, for instance through an EAP provider. Bullen says: “It has to be adjusted in each country, but there are genuine global providers that can support employers in delivering an effective campaign. Whether it is culturally accepted or not, stress is there and is a key driver of increasing rates of sickness absence or disability. Employers should address those trends.”

Many providers also offer health risk assessments internationally, but the central HR team should select the global supplier, says Bullen. “The good providers are already delivering different services in different countries, but with the same theme.”

Read more about international benefits