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Global firms not linking employee health with meeting global strategic goals

PUBLISHED: 22 January 2018 | LAST UPDATED: 15 April 2021

Global firms are failing to recognise the impact employee mental wellbeing could have on meeting their strategic goals, according to new research from AXA’s global healthcare specialists. Thirty-five per cent of corporates stated that they view global mobility as critical to achieving core objectives, with over half saying it is needed to improve operations. 

However, the research also showed that global firms are not recognising the impact employee wellness has on their success. Of the assignments that failed, on average 11 per cent were due to employees’ personal reasons, with this rising to 23 per cent in the United States and 12 per cent in the UK. The top three reasons cited for assignments failing included family concerns (54 per cent), assignee health concerns (42 per cent) and the assignee having trouble adapting (28 per cent). This compared to just eight per cent of assignments failing due to commercial reasons – highlighting how employee wellbeing could impact topline growth.

Despite more projects failing due to personal rather than commercial reasons, almost a third (30 per cent) of global firms said they were unconcerned around the risk of international assignments failing due to staff suffering from mental health issues. This attitude differed regionally, with the United States the most concerned, with 91 per cent stating they were concerned or very concerned. However, this attitude was not the same in Europe, with the United Kingdom (42 per cent), Germany (55 per cent) and France (56 per cent) all stating they were very unconcerned.

Tom Wilkinson, CEO of AXA’s global healthcare business, commented: “Even if mental ill health is not immediately responsible for the failure of an assignment, it may still be an underlying problem. Such issues can manifest themselves in other ways, such as physical illness including musculoskeletal problems or by making social situations more challenging. This can adversely impact the extent to which the employee or their family settles into their new environment. If businesses don’t re-evaluate the importance of mental health, it could be a potentially costly mistake to make, as the firms researched confirmed it costs on average over $50,000 to send an employee abroad, and that’s not including their salary. Therefore, investing time and effort in employee wellbeing could pay dividends, and prevent some instances of poor employee health terminating assignments, or the employee leaving the business altogether.”

The research also identified that global businesses are facing challenges when sending employees abroad. 46 per cent said they struggled to attract the right talent and 36 per cent said it’s a challenge to incentivise employees with the right package. There were also challenges highlighted around employee wellbeing, with 36 per cent stating they were struggling to help assignees align their work abroad with family life, and a further 32 per cent saying it’s a challenge to help assignees and their families adapt to life abroad.

Tom Wilkinson concluded: “The research highlighted the issues firms are facing, but despite these hurdles there is still a disconnect between what firms are saying is important and what they are currently doing. If they consider global mobility to be a business imperative, then they need to address the problems they face. That includes putting greater importance on supporting the mental wellbeing of assignees and putting measures in place to truly support employees from before they leave through to repatriation to improve their chances of adapting. Having worked abroad myself, I know the benefits it can bring, so I urge businesses to rethink their approach and consider how they can make the employee the centre of the assignment, not the outcome.”