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Expats want more choice from their health and well-being benefits

The pandemic has taken its toll on workers. McKinsey reports that employees are tired and disconnected. They are searching for a meaningful relationship with their employer – one where they feel valued – and for more control over their own health care. If an employer fails to deliver, they will move on.

What does this mean for health care and well-being benefits? Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected expats’ attitudes towards their employer-provided health plans? New research from Aetna International suggests it has.

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Key findings

Drawing from a representative sample of expats based in the UK, US, Singapore, Hong Kong and the UAE, our survey reveals that:

  • 9 in 10 expats (92%) regard their health benefits package as more important now than before the pandemic
  • 36% value their health plan more as a direct result of needing to use it during the pandemic
  • 52% regard tailored plans as more important since the start of the pandemic
  • 88% want more control to choose the health and wellness options that are relevant to their lifestyle
  • 40% rank the health care benefits package available as the most important job offer consideration.

The emerging picture is that expat employees are expecting more from their employers.

There is an increased demand for health care personalisation – expats want access to a wider range of benefits than they did before, particularly in the domain of wellness and holistic well-being - counselling, yoga and subscriptions to mindfulness apps all ranked highly among respondents’ wellness wishes.

Not only do expats expect health cover be provided, but they also expect it to be comprehensive and meaningful, too. We explore some of the key issues below.

Continuing concerns over COVID-19

The COVID-19 virus itself has left a lasting impression on the workforce. A study from the ONS (Office of National Statistics) in the UK shows that the virus accounted for some 14% of sickness absence in the UK since June 2020. For many, symptoms persist beyond the initial illness in the form of ‘long COVID’. The REACT-2 studies have highlighted that over a third of people who had COVID-19 reported symptoms lasting at least 12 weeks. However, as highlighted by the CDC (Center for Disease Control), studies are ongoing, and the true impact of the pandemic on long-term health care outcomes are yet to be revealed.

Our survey indicates that COVID-19-related worries are still playing heavily on employees’ minds. Over a third (36%) of those surveyed said that they valued their health plan more as a direct result of needing to use it during the pandemic. Meanwhile, nearly a quarter (23%) considered cover for COVID-19-related illnesses to be the most important inclusion for an employer health plan.

These findings shed light on how the pandemic has spurred employees to pay more attention to what their plans cover. With limited scientific research into the long-term effects of COVID-19 and associated conditions, people want reassurance that they will be cared for not just now, but in the future.

Well-being matters more than ever

It is not just the effects of contracting COVID-19 that play on the minds of expats. The impact of successive lockdowns and restrictions had a negative effect on expats’ mental health. Our Expat Experiences 2020 survey, for example, found that 64% of expats have suffered with poor mental health due to the pandemic. It’s no surprise then, that the pandemic has got people thinking more about wellness.

With an annual growth rate of somewhere between five and 10 percent, the global wellness market is expanding – dovetailing with an increased interest in wellness among consumers from multiple markets. This trend is matched within our own research, which shows that expats’ appetites for an integrated lifestyle-based health care package from their workplace is growing.

Not only is health important to expat employees, in many cases it trumps remuneration. While 52% of our respondents stated that salary is their most important consideration when accepting a job offer, 40% said health and wellness benefits package was the driving force behind their decision.

We asked expats what well-being add-ons they would want to be included in their benefits package if it meant accepting a lower salary. Almost a quarter of expats (24.6%) highlighted counselling and therapy sessions. This was followed closely by fitness sessions and fitness apps (such as MapMyRun, MyFitnessPal) and massage therapy.

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The willingness of employees to sacrifice income for more flexibility when choosing benefits options highlights that employer-provided coverage must be more than a tick box exercise.

As many as 88% of our respondents want more control to pick health and wellness options that are relevant to their lifestyle – expat employees want personalised, wide-ranging health plans. They demand meaningful benefits that reflect the value expats place on their own wellness and the diversity of individuals’ needs prompted by the pandemic.

Meeting the demand

Employees want more from their benefits, but are employers meeting this new demand?

As people seek more ownership over their benefits, we’re set for mature conversations about health and wellness cover between employees and employers. Aetna International’s study Tackling Polarised Perceptions of Corporate Health and Wellness 2022 further investigates and drives this engagement. It found that one in three organisations failed to deliver on past promises to offer better provision for physical and mental well-being.

Employees are becoming more aware of the advantages of comprehensive cover. They’re scrutinising the terms and conditions and they’re being more vocal if their benefits are found wanting in any way.

Not only does this suggest a need for more transparency about the support available to employees, but a need for clearer communication – reassurance that their cover is keeping up with today’s changing health and well-being pressures.

Summary: What’s next?

The emerging trends around health and well-being benefits have been expedited by the pandemic. Expats are already taking a more active role in their own wellness and are more aware of their physical and mental health needs. They are paying closer attention to what their cover includes, and employers can no longer get away with minimum consideration of health plans.

The health and well-being of employees should be front and centre of everything a business does. Expat employees want care that’s available on their terms, that suits their unique needs and is available at their convenience and at an affordable price.

Helping expat employees build happier, healthier lives

Aetna International recognise the individual needs of its members and offer comprehensive suite of wellness resources, including premium brain training, behavioural health and mindfulness tools and apps. Member offers include:

  • Wysa – a conversational well-being app using an AI chatbot and human coaching
  • MyStrength – tools to address a range of physical and mental health issues, including chronic pain, sleep and anxiety
  • EQuoo – delivering game-based stress management skills
  • Comprehensive Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)
  • AWARE – a six-week stress reduction programme
  • Telehealth – available in some regions, we offer expert medical care via phone or online
  • Five For Me – exclusive bitesize wellness guides aimed at helping you make small, impactful changes to improve your health.

Aetna International’s employer plans prioritise personalisation, granting employees flexibility by providing a wide range of services geared towards maximising their well-being. Together, we can help employers work to adapt their benefits and duty of care strategies to help meet the needs of their employees. Learn more about our employer health plans.

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