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Lifestyle Ambitions Of Expat Employees Now A Bigger Priority

A major new piece of research* undertaken by AXA Global Healthcare, in which 543 HR Decision Makers were surveyed, has highlighted changes in international working and global mobility, with the main beneficiary being the assignees themselves.

The World of Work research, an in-depth view on international working and global mobility, compares trends from 2017 and 2020, highlighting significant changes in the process of establishing and supporting international assignments. 

Since 2017, there has been a notable change in the rationale for sending employees to work abroad. In 2017, the main reason for companies to place employees abroad was to improve business operations (51%), but in 2020, the priority was instead to build a global way of working and approach to business. In a positive change for the employee, the number of businesses prioritising sending employees abroad to meet lifestyle ambitions of the workforce had increased to 37% in 2020’s research from 23% in 2017.

Another significant change was the increased challenge facing Global Mobility Managers in developing healthcare packages for international workers. Half of the HR managers surveyed stated that some of the biggest challenges facing their organisation were developing benefit packages that are consistent across different employee types and geographies (52% in 2020 compared with 45% in 2017) and meeting demands for a wide range of healthcare and wellbeing services (51% up from 34%).

However, the HR decision-makers surveyed indicated that, compared to other benefits, managing the cost of providing a comprehensive package was considerably less challenging than in previous years, falling from 52% in 2017 to 39% in 2020. Which is positive when you consider that, before the impact of Covid-19, the average cost of placing an assignment had increased from $50,000 in 2017 to $69,000 in 2020.

Andy Edwards, Global Head of International Healthcare, AXA Global Healthcare, commented, “The need for international working has not gone away since our initial report in 2017. If anything, the appetite for it has grown. Undoubtedly, the Covid-19 pandemic, which began as this research was being undertaken, will bring a new perspective to international assignments. But of those Global Mobility Managers we interviewed some weeks into the pandemic, many suggested that it wouldn’t necessarily change their business need for international assignments to take place. Instead, it appeared to be the nature of the assignments that might evolve, with shorter-term assignments and focus on choosing the right person to send becoming even more prevalent. We might even see this evolution unfold differently in individual sectors, depending on their ability to deploy skills and resources when needed.

“We were particularly pleased to see a change in the challenges in developing healthcare packages. Emphasis is now less on managing cost and more on developing a package that meets a wider range of employee demand. This can only be of benefit for employees, as they look for more support from their employer. The concept of offering more specific benefits for individuals with different needs, while challenging for the manager to deliver, will support the specific needs of the employee wherever they are in the world.”

At every stage of the assignment process, changes have been noted. Support available following an assignment’s completion has also improved. A full repatriation package was made available by 54% of managers (up from 43% in 2017), which can include career coaching or preparing for a new role. In addition, over half of Mobility Managers now see international assignments as a route to career progression, with an assignment often ending in a promotion for the employee (up to 53% from 42% in 2017). 

Andy Edwards concluded, “International working has no doubt been hit hard by the pandemic, creating huge uncertainty for those on assignment and those managing the process. As we move forward into 2021, and a new normal is established, we expect more focus to be upon who takes assignments and an increase in specific support to maximise the likelihood of the placement’s success.”

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COVID-19 Deteriorates Expat Mental Health

A major piece of research* released by AXA, in which 578 expats were surveyed, has found that two-in-five (39%) feel as though their mental health has deteriorated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, nearly two-in-three (62%) would have described their general state of mind as good. However, this fell to just one-in-three (35%) during the pandemic. Fewer than one-in-ten (6%) said that their mental health had improved, and more than a quarter (28%) went so far as to say that they have never faced a situation that had been worse for their mental wellbeing.

Andy Edwards, Global Head of International Healthcare, AXA Global Healthcare, commented, “COVID-19 has clearly had a very real impact on the mental health of the expats in Europe that were surveyed. Many will undoubtedly have experienced feelings of isolation and struggled to either return home or visit loved ones. Now, with winter coming and many regions across Europe tackling a second wave of infections, it’s vital that these individuals prioritise their mental health.”

As troubling as these findings are, it seems that COVID-19 has brought about something of a change in the attitudes of expats towards mental health. Three-quarters (75%) of the respondents said that they have never used professional help to deal with mental health issues in the past. However, three-in-five (61%) say that the pandemic has made them reconsider the way they think about their mental wellbeing.

There is still work to be done though, in terms of encouraging expats to accept help when they need it. A quarter (26%) wouldn’t know where to find professional help to improve their mental wellbeing and half (47%) feel that they wouldn’t be able to pay for it. As such, despite the high number of expats who claim to have struggled, only 7% have used professional help to deal with a mental health issue during the pandemic.

Andy Edwards concluded: “While it’s certainly encouraging to see that expats are reconsidering their attitudes towards mental health, it’s clear that further encouragement is required for them to seek support. There have been huge improvements in connectivity and clinical pathways between primary care and mental health services either delivered by the state or as part of a health insurance plan. These improvements may play a significant role in identifying those people who have an underlying mental illness, but unaware, present only with physical symptoms.

“For those that are ready to seek help, this increased connectivity and advancement in virtual services that we’re seeing this year, improves accessibility and ensures that help is available for those that need it, wherever they are in the world.”

*Research conducted in June 2020 by Insights Consulting on behalf of AXA European Markets team. A total of 578 respondents living outside their country of birth were surveyed

**Research conducted in April 2020 by Savanta. A total of 543 HR decision makers and 568 non-native assignees (107 in North America, 113 in the UK, 57 in France, 57 in Germany, 116 in China, 60 in Hong Kong and 65 in Singapore) were surveyed.

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