Expatriates face exceptionally high levels of stress on assignments

Programmes and services like health insurance are imperative, study says

By Mark Rostron · January 14, 2014

A study published recently in the International Journal of Mental Health revealed that the high levels of demands on expatriates on assignment are creating high levels of stress, a situation in which access to first rate medical care is imperative. The need for international health insurance, which provides secure access to such care, becomes evident, given that the study shows the much higher rate of mental health risk on expatriate assignments abroad than in working in one’s home country.

The study shows that there are meaningful and powerful links between each expatriate’s internal experience of stress and the ways in which they relate to their assignments. The study insists that there is an explicit need for programmes and services that are comprehensive in scope and sensitive to the personal, interpersonal, and professional dynamics that contribute to the overall well-being of expats and their family members. Access to healthcare, assured by global health insurance, is unquestionably one such service.

The study, conducted jointly by US researchers Chestnut Global Partners and the Truman Group, reveals that expatriates face a higher overall risk for mental health problems, including internalising and externalising problems, and substance use disorders. More broadly, the study found that more than 50% of the expatriates in the study were at high risk for internalising problems (such as anxiety and depression), a rate 2.5 times that of their home-based counterparts. Yet access to much-needed healthcare while on expatriate assignment may not be a simple matter if it is not assured by international medical insurance. Despite this observation, many companies still make the costly mistake of not providing such health plans to staff working in international offices. Certainly workers who are subject to such stressful conditions should have that assurance, especially for psychiatric conditions.

The study points out that expatriates have rates of assignment failure that range from 16 percent to 40 percent, due to a range of factors in which stress and psychiatric issues are significant. The cost of sending an expatriate out, including arrangements for family, are extremely high. HR departments should consider whether the cost of worldwide health insurance, with its assurance of access to first rate healthcare, might not be a worthwhile backstop for the large investment that the department is making in relocating these individuals and more often than not, their families too.

The HR department should, rather address this issue to make expatriate assignments a success, and clearly healthcare is an essential part of it. To get the best results from this rapidly changing context for international workers, the talent experience must be superb. A critical aspect of this experience is the challenge of getting access to first-rate healthcare. With expat assignments getting shorter and more varied all the time, expats must adapt their health insurance so that it will protect them in a variety of climates and conditions. The coverage they choose should take their changing needs into account. The coverage should be portable, so that mobile expatriates can maintain it wherever they go. An international health insurance provider can offer broad and reliable coverage that is dependable and accessible throughout the world.

It should be noted that cover for psychiatric treatment is usually split into in- and out-patient care and will generally be available on mid- to high-level plans, rather than at entry-level. It’s very important for buyers to include cover for common conditions, even if they never expect to suffer

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