With 50.5 million expats globally, it’s clear we live in an extremely mobile world. For these individuals, starting a new role in a different country – and perhaps having to settle their family into an unfamiliar culture as well – can clearly take its toll on the health, happiness and wellbeing of everyone involved.
To find out about the key aspects that tip the balance between success and failure on an overseas assignment, a survey was recently carried out amongst 2,000 expat employees across the globe. Respondents came from a variety of backgrounds, and were living in 10 different countries including Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, the UK and UAE. They had all been living abroad for less than five years.
The data revealed that men are more likely to say that challenges relating to settling into a new job have a negative impact on their wellbeing – 88% vs 75% of women. Significantly, this appears to be more challenging to individuals than the actual professional requirements of their post.
The gender difference is also reflected in the finding that 33% of men and 26% of women said work/life balance in their new country had a negative impact on their wellbeing. In fact, wage levels had the only significant positive impact on overall well-being within the workplace, suggesting that improved pay comes at a price.
Perhaps unsurprisingly workers with families highlighted that the happiness of their children has a significant impact on their own wellbeing, and again there was a clear gender difference: 77% of respondents suggested that settling children was a hurdle when moving abroad, with women significantly more likely to feel a negative impact from the challenge (88% vs 66% of men).
For those without a family, however, socialising is a primary focus: 76% said that dating is the most challenging aspect of moving overseas, and two in five (41%) noted it took up to six months to feel part of the local community. In fact, most “first experiences” for expat workers happen in the first six months, but over a fifth reported taking over a year to try food from the region or make local friends.
Path to health
Access to quality healthcare is clearly important, with over four in five visiting a doctor in the first six months of moving abroad. In fact, simply having access to the right healthcare has a positive effect on the wellbeing of a third (32%) of global workers. This had the biggest positive impact on wellbeing after children’s education (39%).
It goes to show that, as populations become more globally mobile, it’s vital that businesses think beyond the workplace if they want to fully understand the challenges their employees face.
Providing adequate care for physical and emotional wellbeing can make all the difference when settling into a new life abroad. And given a failed overseas assignment can cost a business anything between £460,000 and £770,000, it certainly pays to ensure employers look after their staff.
Catherine Darroue is the senior director of customer proposition, EMEA at Aetna International.