Four steps to provide mental health support for overseas staff

There is a great deal of stigma that exists around mental health in the workplace. But, with the prevalence of mental health issues affecting individuals – three out of five employees have experienced a mental health issue in the past year where work was a related factor1 - employers are now actively encouraged to shine a spotlight on the subject and take the necessary steps to support their employees.

Recent statistics suggest that there is still a long way to go. In fact, 61% of CEOs and managing directors believe that employees’ mental health is being looked after, in comparison to only 40% of non-managers.1

Whilst there has been lots of research and guidance in the UK on how to tackle work-related stress and common mental health problems, there has been less discussion around supporting those employees who are living and working overseas.

The pressure of an international assignment

Consider the stresses put on your globally mobile workforce:

  • a permanent or temporary relocation,
  • regular travel away from their loved ones, and
  • changes in cultural norms

All of these factors can put a strain on an employee’s mental wellbeing. Two of the precursors to mental health issues are stress and lack of adequate sleep; both of which can be amplified for globally mobile employees. Regular travel between varying time zones can make a regular sleep pattern difficult to maintain. Plus, there is the stress that comes with relocating somewhere without an identifiable support network and a new culture to adjust to.

An employer has a responsibility to ensure that their employees have all the tools needed for them to transition smoothly. Not only is it this a prudent measure, it also makes good business sense. The happier your staff are, the more productive they will be – ensuring the success of their overseas assignments.

However, a company’s standard policies and procedures that support the mental health of the domestic workforce may not translate to an international, and often remote audience.

So, what can employers do?

Some insurance providers are able to provide a company and its staff with some crucial tools and benefits:

  • International private medical insurance that complies with mental health laws, such as India’s Mental Healthcare Act 2017 by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI).
  • Employee assistance programmes providing 24/7 telephone support, with options for face-to-face or e-counselling sessions.
  • Virtual GPs providing access to experienced doctors via smart technology.
  • Apps to help individuals self-manage their mental health with mood trackers, depression tests, mindfulness and calming sessions, and online platforms.
  • Personalised preventative health platforms, such as iamYiam, which empowers individuals to take charge of their health by tailoring experiences to the individual based on their genetic makeup.

But a successful mental health strategy is about more than access to tools.

A global mental health strategy

A successful strategy for global workforces needs to offer a holistic solution which includes mental health as well as physical wellbeing. Identifying potential problems early and taking prompt action may help to prevent the development or deterioration of poor mental health. A key issue for companies is establishing effective referral lines to tackle mental health issues. Whilst HR teams are often well informed about guidance around mental health, this knowledge isn’t always effectively communicated to line managers.

Here are four steps that employers should consider taking:

  1. Prepare your employees before they embark on their international assignment. The old saying “failure to plan is planning to fail” applies well here. Ensure that employees know about having access to information and resources.
  2. Prevent issues arising. Raise awareness of mental health and empower employees to take responsibility for their own wellbeing. This includes handling relatively minor issues early so that they don’t spiral out of control.
  3. Intervene early. Provide training and communication across all levels of management to create effective reporting lines, help identify mental health issues and enable managers to know what steps to take to get individuals the support that they need.
  4. Protect your staff. International private medical insurance can provide in-patient and out-patient psychiatric benefits.


1Mental Health at Work Report, 2017
Marketing communication Jelf18.508

Article first appeared on https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/voices/comment/four-steps-providing-mental-health-support-overseas-staff 

Doug Rice
Doug leads the international Mercer Marsh Benefits team, specifically focusing on meeting the rising demand for effective UK and international employee benefits management programmes. Doug has over 20 years’ experience in the employee benefits sector, having previously worked for Medic4all, Cigna and Bupa.