Supporting staff abroad at Christmas

With some of our overseas colleagues now facing a second holiday season away from family, Sarah Dennis reminds us of how we should support them during these difficult times

Christmas 2020 was rather a wash-out in the UK. We all battened down the hatches in the certainty that it was a one-off. Most people probably thought that they would be back working in the office by Christmas 2021, that office parties would return, and that travelling for work and to see friends and family would not be an issue again. 

Of course, the pandemic has continued to wreak havoc and the global situation is still challenging. For those stuck at home, it is far from ideal but, for those stuck in a different country with work, away from family and friends, the isolation may be that much greater. 

For overseas employees in countries banning outbound travel, this will be the second year in a row that they will not be able to return to the UK for Christmas. Some will not have been home or seen family since the pandemic first hit nearly two years ago. 

There is, therefore, a serious concern over employees who are working abroad suffering from isolation. This can lead to mental and physical ill health. Employers need to be more aware than ever of their responsibility to those working overseas and they must ensure strong support is provided over the festive period. 

Communication will help to alleviate any feelings of isolation and will help to identify issues before they become deep-rooted

This may seem a difficult task when the employers themselves are geographically removed from their employees, but there are strategies and actions that can offer practical support for health and wellbeing. 

Maintaining connections

Keeping in regular touch with employees overseas and communicating the health and wellbeing support available to them can help to maintain the connection between the employee, work, and their home country. Frequent communication will help to alleviate any feelings of isolation and will help to identify issues before they become deep-rooted. 

Holistic approach 

Support may be in terms of mental or physical assistance. Often, maintaining physical health can help with a person’s mental health. Offering health screening can help to give peace of mind to employees abroad, and offering access to virtual GPs can alleviate anxiety as well as address physical ill-health. Mental health and fitness apps can address wellbeing in a holistic way and are simple options to encourage employee engagement.   

Comprehensive health and wellbeing 

Mental health issues and feelings of isolation and depression can occur at any time of the day or night, on any day of the year. Festive periods like Christmas can intensify feelings. It is imperative, therefore, that support is available to overseas employees (and indeed all employees) 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Global employee assistance programmes (GEAPs) are used by many companies to help support their staff abroad. They will be available night and day, even on Christmas day, to help with issues as wide ranging as anxiety and depression associated with being away from home, to the financial worries of Christmas. 

Mutual support 

It maybe another tough year. Companies and their employees can get through this if they pull together. Offering mutual support is the key to us all surviving the challenges. So it’s important to stay supportive, and stay in touch.   

Sarah Dennis is head of international at Towergate Health & Protection


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