Helping international employees stay healthy, especially during a pandemic, is a major challenge for managers. Here healthcare specialist Towergate Health & Protection discusses some of the problems and how to protect overseas workers.
Mental health challenges around the pandemic have been well documented – but businesses must remember to look after the health of international employees holistically. Different countries have imposed different restrictions on their residents - including total bans on leaving home, closing schools, and restricting travel. This has reduced the ability to exercise, created issues with juggling work and children, and created difficulties with supporting relatives. It’s important that employers of overseas staff understand the challenges their international employees continue to face and provide holistic support for their health and wellbeing which includes physical, financial, practical and emotional support to help them deal with pandemic-specific issues.
Sarah Dennis, Head of International Business at Towergate Health & Protection said, “Physical, financial and mental issues are just some of the areas to consider when looking at the wider picture of employee health and wellbeing of staff overseas. The COVID-19 crisis will have impacted many areas of wellbeing, so it’s important that all areas are supported to help employees navigate this challenging time. Providing support for health and wellbeing that offers practical solutions to real problems can help empower employees to regain control, during a time that for many can feel like freefall.”
Getting physical wellbeing back on track
At one point during the crisis, a third of the world’s population was in lockdown due to COVID-19; the largest enforcement of which was in India, where 1.3 billion people were ordered to stay home for 21 days. In Dubai, people were forbidden to go outside to exercise and needed police permission to leave their home, even for an emergency. With fewer outlets available to exercise during lockdown, increased inactivity can negatively impact physical health - with research from Italy finding that muscle wastage can occur within just 48 hours. It’s vital that businesses don’t overlook the impact the pandemic can have on physical health, and that they can support this important area. For example, employee benefits can include online workouts that can be conducted at home; wearable technology can enable employees to track, maintain and improve their fitness; online hubs can provide a wealth of specialist information and help on how to improve fitness.
Equally, increasingly sedentary lifestyles and home working will have taken their toll on health in a way that requires more intervention than just stepping up exercise. Ailments may need medical attention, but employees may be too frightened to seek professional advice in person for fear of contracting COVID-19. Health issues can spiral due to inaction, so it is important that employees are encouraged not to put off getting issues dealt with. Remote healthcare services, such as accessing virtual GPs, can eliminate the need to attend a medical institution, providing support remotely. International healthcare specialists can also provide advice about where to get treatment during the pandemic and the steps taken to reduce the risk of spread within local medical institutions, helping to alleviate employee concerns further, and it’s important that overseas employees are encouraged to utilise such support.
Tackling bad habits, triggered by lockdown
With nearly half (48%) of people putting on weight and 29% drinking more alcohol, the pressures of lockdown can have negative implications for wider health. It’s important that bad lockdown-induced habits are nipped in the bud, such as providing access to quality nutritional information and offering access to professional support for more serious issues.
It can make all the difference when such support is tailored to the individual. Personal profiles can be created within some wellbeing services, such as those offered in global employee assistance programmes, so content and help can be personalised directly to the individual’s circumstances. So, if an employee has expressed worry about smoking too much, for example, smoking-cessation support can be provided. Similarly, help can be provided for those over-relying on alcohol or other substances during the pandemic.
Alleviating external pressures with practical support
Many aspects of life have been affected during the pandemic and it’s important for businesses to remember that for employees, it’s not just their work life that’s changed. Some will have had to juggle work and children during school closures around the world, others won’t have been able to visit elderly relatives due to travel restrictions, and family finances throughout may have been put under strain. At such times, employees need practical help. This might include help with finding support for potential childcare and eldercare, or debt management support. This can all be a great weight lifted and help staff overseas to regain control. It’s imperative that advice is localised too, so staff experiencing issues are given relevant support.
Sarah Dennis concluded, “The pandemic has taken its toll on the health of employees, wherever they work in the world. Whilst countries are in different phases of restrictions and recovery, businesses have an important role to play in holistically supporting the health of their international workforce. Whilst mental health is a crucial element of wellbeing, physical and financial matters shouldn’t be overlooked. The pandemic has thrown down many gauntlets for employees internationally, so by providing health and wellbeing support, it can help them to better ride out the storm.”
Sarah Dennis is Head of International for Towergate Health & Protection, an independent insurance broking service. The company aims to help clients manage their health risks and improve the wellbeing of themselves, their families and employees, resulting in a healthy, motivated and productive workforce.
Photo: Sarah Dennis