Three people having a business meeting

Caroline Walmsley, Global Head of HR, AXA Global Healthcare

Help employees cope with stress when moving abroad

PUBLISHED: 18 November 2021 | LAST UPDATED: 2 October 2023

Caroline Walmsley, AXA - Global Healthcare

Written by Caroline Walmsley

Global Head of HR, AXA - Global Healthcare.

Moving can be stressful at the best of times, let alone when the move is to a new country. That much change can affect people in different ways, so it’s important to make sure you know how your employee is doing once settled. Occasions like National Stress Awareness Day in the UK are good reminders to check in with your employees. This article summarises some other top tips on how to offer help and support, when it comes to coping with stress. 

The big move

Although there is a lot to think about, having the experience of working in a new country can be exciting. Our research* has found that almost half (46%) of international assignees feel that international working has a positive impact on their mental health, so you may find that employees will jump at the chance of an international placement. That said, it is worth thinking about the challenges your employee could face, and how this could impact their situation. International workers can experience loneliness and isolation, especially if language barriers are involved. When surveyed, 50% of international employees felt that the biggest impact to their mental health happened at the start of the placement, when they were adjusting. Speaking to your employee before the move can help you gauge how stressed they might be feeling while getting the initial elements sorted and helps them voice any possible concerns. 

Causes of stress

One-in-five people experience a mental health issue during their international work placement, and there could be a number of factors causing this. We touched on the stresses that could come from moving country, but it’s worth noting the admin stresses that come with moving in general. If you don’t have a package that involves accommodation for your employee, it could be beneficial to help them find somewhere to live. Finances are also likely to cause stress, if the country they’re moving to is more expensive than where they’re currently living, and their wage doesn’t adjust accordingly. Being away from family and friends can be hard, and the adjustment to this might be more difficult for some. We found that four-in-five employees who experience a mind health issue felt supported by their employer, and so letting them know how you can help is very beneficial.

How can you help?

As an employer, there are various things you can do that will make the move abroad as stress free as possible. Offering a helping hand can make your employee feel looked after, and encourage them to speak up if they need to: 

A good technology package

Technology is so important for those living and working abroad as it keeps them connected to colleagues and loved ones in other countries. For 86% of those on international assignments, technology helped them maintain personal relationships during a stressful period. Making sure your staff member is set up with good quality technology when abroad will reduce stress particularly when they first move and are settling in. 

Virtual mental health support 

Following on from technology, making sure your employee has access to mental health support while they’re away is important in reducing stress. For four-in-five HR decision makers, virtual mental health support is an essential part of their support package for international workers. In fact, most employees prefer to access therapy and counselling online, as they can receive support from someone based in their home country, who speaks their own language. Ensuring your employee knows what benefits are on offer will help them know where to go if they feel stressed.

Communication is key

A positive is that 73% of international workers agree that their employer cares about their mental health and wellbeing. Ensuring that your employee knows they are cared for when moving abroad can help with moments of stress. Keeping in touch with your employee reminds them there is help if needed, especially if they are on a longer assignment. Keep in mind time differences, so your employee is not receiving calls or emails during unsociable hours. 

The opportunity to experience a new way of life for employees is exciting and fulfilling. However, as with any move, a move abroad could increase stress. Considering the steps above and keeping in touch with those on international assignment, will enable individuals to make the most of their work placement abroad. 

The information in this article is correct at the time of publishing.

*Research conducted in April 2020 by Savanta. A total of 543 HR decision makers (108 in North America, 105 in the UK, 51 in France, 54 in Germany, 111 in China, 55 in Hong Kong and 59 in Singapore) and 568 non-native assignees (107 in North America, 113 in the UK, 57 in France, 57 in Germany, 116 in China, 60 in Hong Kong and 65 in Singapore) were surveyed.