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HR needs to be more proactive on expat assignments

There are many considerations, including the impact moving abroad could have on an employee's mental health

HR directors of global companies need to be more prepared when sending staff abroad, according to CEO of AXA Global Healthcare, Tom Wilkinson.

Wilkinson, who has worked in several different countries, said finding the right people for an international assignment is one of the biggest challenges HR directors face. As a result of the financial costs involved, HRDs need to explore how much of the employee's assignment should be spent abroad. Staff could be offered more flexible working arrangements through shorter-term assignments or ones where staff split their time between working off-site and at the job location.

“The first thing HRDs need to do is look at the job and consider whether it needs to be done full-time in another country,” he said. “Talk to the employee and find out whether they wish to live abroad full-time or whether they'd prefer to commute more. It’s about moulding the needs of both employee and the role around each other.”

Wilkinson said it was important to establish whether private healthcare is available in the assigned country, and if the company’s health insurance is compliant with the regulations specific to that region.

“One of the biggest healthcare trends is global healthcare moving towards a highly regulated space,” he added. “Countries have been putting the onus on companies to provide private healthcare for their employees to ensure their health needs are covered, so companies need to consider if their private medical insurance is compliant with the foreign country staff are based in. If it isn’t, companies can face fines and staff visa issues.”

HRDs could also set up online questionnaires for workers prior to them being sent abroad. This, Wilkinson said, would help flag up any potential mental and physical health issues, and allow the company to introduce any necessary support, such as ensuring the family have the right accommodation, healthcare, and can adapt smoothly to the culture and language of the country.

“There are various potential mental health issues that could arise from sending someone into a country with a different language and culture,” he said. “Having some assimilation either pre-departure or upon arrival into the country can help reduce the potential stress or shock of going on international assignment.”

Wilkinson said it is vital Britain has a frictionless transition to different global trade and migration legislation following Brexit. This includes remaining part of the customs union and companies remaining open-minded when employing international employees.

“I don’t want there to be any Brexit cliff edge,” he said. “We [AXA] treasure our international colleagues because they enrich our organisation with different skills and experiences. The world is so heavily connected that if you don’t have a global perspective then you’re really going to struggle.”