Happiness away from home: taking care of your assignee’s mental health

If there is one thing that we need to take care of wherever in the world, it is our health. When we talk corporate relocation, employers usually take care of the basics of the move, but that doesn’t always help employees’ mental health.

Moving abroad or even going away on an assignment can be taxing on our mental stability. The Covid-19 pandemic proved that being away from our family can be exhausting, and “expat depression” is a trending expression.

All of these things need to be thought through by the employer. So have we prepared a guide to help you take care of your employee and find professional help in another country.

What do you need to know before relocating?

Both the company and the employee have a lot to prepare before travelling, and mental health can be an afterthought. If you provide healthcare to your staff, you should consider adding preparatory therapy sessions to your relocation policy.

If the assignee has any underlying mental health issues, it is important to gather prescriptions and discover if it is possible to travel with their medicine. Regardless of travelling with medicine, it is also important to know the legislation of the new place and how the health system works. Some medication that is sold over-the-counter in one country may not be in another – this can even change between provinces.

As a company, if you relocate between predictable locations, you can provide guides with these pieces of information. If you relocate a lot on the Canadian-American border, it may be nice to have specific contacts with healthcare providers and mental health professionals in the other country. Or, of course if you have an EAP program, make sure it is promoted to your expatriates.

What do you need to prepare for?

No one is exempt from having depression or anxiety, but there are a few issues that may appear because someone is away from home.

Stress

People forget that so many things happen at once during a relocation.  Everyone is in a hurry, timing goes wrong, things get misplaced. And then there is the fact that you have to find a new home, job and school for the children. And…not everyone in the family may be “on board” with this relocation (i.e. kids), so an assignee or spouse may have that to juggle. All in all, there are a lot of tasks and challenges before the assignee gets settled.

Culture Shock

Culture shock is a common issue, especially if the relocation is to a brand new country. It’s easy to feel out of place and that no one understands you, which can increase a sense of depression.  Cross-cultural training is reassuring and pays for itself in terms of an employee’s productivity at destination. Culture shock often sets in shortly after the exhilaration of adventure is behind the assignee and spouse, and then it becomes clear that they are not in Kansas anymore.

Homesickness

The first little while in a new place are usually the most exciting because everything is still new. However, after weeks or months, homesickness is a natural reaction to a new environment and is one of the most often encountered difficulties among assignees and ex-pats.

Signs of Anxiety and Depression

  • Loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities
  • Fatigue or a lack of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or shame
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Insomnia (inability to sleep) or hypersomnia (sleeping excessively)

What can an assignee do away from home?

  • Seek connections and friends in the new place;
  • Have a healthy routine, with work-life boundaries;
  • Sleep, exercise and good nutrition;
  • Find a community of people living away from home;
  • Limit their time online, and do outdoor activities;
  • Seek professional help, even if it is by phone.

The employer should give a high degree of connection to the home country, if they have sent an employee on an assignment.  HR can play a huge role in making sure that the assignee feels connected to the home location. Some HR’s even ensure that assignees (even with time zone differences) are part of regular management meetings with the same people they used to meet with in the old location.

Ask your employee about how the family is doing, and work with your destination services partner to see what type of community engagement can make the family feel engaged and excited about this assignment. 

HR’s have become accustomed to considering Duty of Care issues for their employees, and certainly this can come up multiple times in a relocation.  Good mental health should be one more Duty of Care issue on the list. 

Are you ready to play an active role in your assignee’s mental health? All Points can help you develop a comprehensive Relocation Policy and practices to assist. Contact us to learn more.

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