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Workers need wellbeing that speaks their language

International and expatriate staff benefit massively from wellbeing support offered in their language.

Migrant workers make up nearly one in five (18%) of all employed people in the UK, according to the Oxford University Migration Observatory, a proportion that has been steadily growing since its records began in 2004.

For many of these people, however, the process of living and working in a new country will provide significant mental health challenges. 

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According to expat insurance firm William Russell, the separation from normal social support structures like family or friends and need for a high level of self-sufficiency can lead to loneliness, anxiety, and depression.

The wellbeing of multinational and immigrant staff, however, could be transformed by language and culture-specific support, according to Fatih Celebi, CEO of coaching and therapy app Meditopia.

Celebi told HR magazine that because of therapy's sensitive nature, it is important to lose nothing in translation: “Crystal clear understanding is very important.

“[This applies] both in spoken language, and in interpreting the overall structure of the [wellbeing] service.”

He added: "[The programme] should be created by people from that region, from that country."

A 2007 study by the American Psychological Association found that therapy is twice as effective when given in clients' native language.

The study also found interventions designed for a particular culture are four times more effective than those designed as a blanket service for multiple ethnic minorities.

In advice to HR leaders, Celebi added: "I should consider mental health as a must have part of my policies, as an important part of defining our company’s identity.

“Not just providing it for the sake of it, but making it an important part of the company’s culture.”

Even if unable to offer employees support in their own language, HR should ask them how it can help, said Celebi.

"If I have international colleagues in my team, I would definitely listen to them and have their feedback about what type of solutions they would like. Listening is crucial."

He acknowledged that maintaining a continuous listening process can be difficult, especially when trying to scale up a wellbeing programme across a whole company, or if a company is growing rapidly.

In that case, he said, it is important to maintain a connection with employees' desires by continuously listening what data you have, from wellbeing apps or otherwise.

"You have to support them and sustain that connection with the workforce."

In the eventuality that HR finds itself unable to offer native-language support, however, Celebi said that support in their adopted language in itself is a positive step: “That’s really valuable, and it makes me personally very happy that there’s a person who cares a lot for my mental health.”

But given the advantages of allowing people support in their native language, he said: “If it’s possible, let’s do it.

“Because why not provide better value for the health of the people?”