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Taking a proactive approach to traveller and expatriate mental health and wellbeing

Around the world, at least one in four people will suffer from a mental health problem at some point in their lifetime. For frequent travellers and expatriate employees, the likelihood of being affected is even greater.

Whether undertaking short-term travel or longer-term expatriate assignments, pressures can be acute for today’s mobile workforce. Understanding stress factors, identifying symptoms and implementing strong procedures to mitigate mental health and wellbeing risks, are all important in helping organisations to better protect their mobile employees.

Addressing the risks for business travellers

Aside from the fact that the benefits of implementing procedures and programmes to mitigate mental health and wellbeing issues among business travellers far outweigh the costs, employers simply have a legal and a moral duty of care to ensure both the physical and emotional safety and wellbeing of those under their care remit.

Although many business travel programmes may provide advice on immunisations and information about avoiding food-borne illness, few focus on the more common threat to health: the stresses brought about by the travel itself.

Pre-emptive steps

Undertaking pre-travel health checks can help to provide greater awareness of any pre-existing conditions and to facilitate important discussions. Such checks can also enable organisations to ensure they have the right programmes in place to support the needs of those travelling as part of their role. Taking pre-emptive action will not only allow issues to be tackled more effectively as they arise but will also encourage broader employee wellness, reducing the risk of issues arising in the first place.

Providing individuals with the skills they need to manage their own mental health can also provide significant benefits for both employee and organisation. Training them in preventative and coping mechanisms not only makes travelling or relocating more manageable, but also improves knowledge and attitudes towards mental health and wellbeing in general.

Within travel policies themselves, even small changes like allowing time in schedules for travellers to have enough downtime and acclimatisation; encouraging the use of hotels with gyms or opportunities for exercise; and looking for options with healthier food choices can help significantly.

With studies suggesting that 80% of business travellers experience high or very high stress levels, the importance of such approaches can’t be underestimated.

Importance of in-country support

Even with the best preventative strategies in place, those responsible for the wellbeing of  travellers and expats also need to be aware of the differences in the availability of mental health resources in-country in order to ensure that, should an individual require assistance at any point, the right kind of support and treatment is readily available.

With services varying greatly country to country, an increasing number of businesses are now providing employee assistance programmes such as Anvil Assist to help staff who are working overseas either on short-term trips or more permanent assignments. Such programmes enable businesses to offer their employees remote access to a wide range of mental health services, including counselling and coaching, wherever they may be in the world.

Providing employees with direct access to highly skilled clinicians and counsellors, who can support with a number of conditions and can also refer them to local professionals if required, can provide significant reassurance for both individuals and their organisations in potentially difficult times.

The broader business impact

A World Organisation Health (WHO) study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$1 trillion each year in lost productivity. In the UK alone, 15.4 million working days were lost to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2017/18 with an average of 25.8 days lost per case.

As Health and Safety regulators increasingly require employers to manage stress, it is crucial that businesses start to address mental health in the workplace in a consistent and effective way, paying particular attention to their mobile employees.

Looking after the mental wellbeing of travellers and expats is not only good for the employees, but also benefits the business. There’s an accepted direct correlation between stress and workplace disengagement. If an employee is experiencing high levels of stress at work, they are unlikely to be able to perform at their best and there’s a chance that their international assignment may even need to be cut short or terminated, having a direct impact on the bottom line.

How Anvil can help

Through our in-house medical assistance service, Anvil Assist, we provide clinician-delivered medical assistance as part of our fully integrated end-to-end risk management solution. With a team of highly skilled in-house counsellors, we also provide a remote counselling and assistance service 24/7 to support the needs of our international clientele. If you’re responsible for the wellbeing of travellers or expatriate employees, Anvil can help.

Additional resources

For further information, we’ve also produced a useful guide to traveller and expatriate wellbeing and mental health.  Presented as a downloadable eBook, the guide provides key information on:

  • The major contributors to mental health issues amongst travellers and expatriates
  • Pre-travel / pre-deployment measures to address potential issues
  • General wellbeing advice including how to recognise symptoms and support affected individuals
  • How to provide local in-country and active-trip support for those in need
  • How to evaluate the appropriateness of the support measures you may already have in place

 Download your copy of the guide here.