By Tom Wilkinson, CEO of AXA Global Healthcare
While international working can often be a breath of fresh air, it can also be an isolating experience; one that expats enter into eagerly but might not always be best prepared for. Combined with the expectation of delivering strong enough results to justify the cost of being sent overseas, all while trying to adapt to a new environment, it can be easy for an expat to begin to feel overwhelmed.
With this in mind, it isn’t surprising that a fifth (21%) of all assignments end earlier than planned. Now, this can’t just be down to the work environment expats enter into. And it isn’t.
Research we commissioned involved hearing from almost 600 HR Decision Makers and 600 Globally Mobile Workers, to see if there was a disconnect between what support was being offered to expats and what they felt would actually benefit them throughout their assignment.
The communications gap
We found that 82% of expats felt supported when they had a health issue, but they consistently weren’t aware of the full range of benefits on available to assist them. What’s even more revealing is the fact that HR directors knew, in every category asked, a great deal more than the assignees about the benefits available.
If we dive a bit deeper, it became clear that the most commonly offered benefits were travel insurance (64%), accommodation costs (62%) and international health insurance (58%). Yet for expats, the benefits they wanted the most were international health insurance (39%), income protection (38%) and accommodation costs (34%).
How to close the gap
For businesses, focusing on communication will have a greater effect than they may realise. After all, the differences in understanding of available benefits is something that can be clarified and dealt with.
If employees aren’t aware of what’s available to them, this could be perceived as a lack of support, and in extreme circumstances even contribute to the placement ending. Likewise, if they aren’t drawing on the benefits provided, employers aren’t reaping any rewards and are wasting money. These can both cause major problems for any employer.
So, what should you focus on?
Earlier research we commissioned has shown that assignments are being designed with more of a focus on employees’ lifestyle ambitions. This is a step in the right direction, but further work is needed to ensure the wants and needs of assignees are being met.
Listen to what is being asked
We’ve seen already that international health insurance is the most valued benefit for international assignees, however, it is only the third-most commonly offered benefit. Listening to what is being asked for is an easy win, ensuring happier, healthier expats and then in turn, more successful assignments.
Make it flexible
Each employee has a unique set of requirements and expectations when it comes to their benefit requirements. As an employer, recognising these and providing the right support, can help assignees make the most out of their time on assignment, so if, and when, challenges arise they feel supported and ready to face them.
We found that a quarter (24%) of employees are left having to select their benefits from a pre-set list, and only 29% are offered the opportunity to negotiate the benefits they receive. It seems there is still a heavy reliance on a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to benefits for internationally based employees.
Perhaps put in place a more flexible healthcare package that allows for an assignee to choose which benefits would be best for them.
Check in regularly
In our research, we discovered that two-thirds (64%) of companies carried out a review of the assignment at least every six months.
How often do you check in with your assignees? How often do they come forward to raise a concern? In all cases, better communication, and action off the back of that communication, can help everyone involved, both financially and emotionally. I know from my own experience living as an expat that working around the globe can be hugely rewarding, but it does come with challenges and requires a great deal of planning.
What HR managers do to accommodate and listen to the needs of an assignee, before they make the move, makes a huge difference. As leaders, we must constantly be seeking ways to create an inclusive, productive and supportive work environment. The relationship between HR mobility managers and expats is essential and addressing any gaps in communication will put your business in a better position for success.