How to manage expats in high risk countries

  January 30, 2020
More globally mobile professionals located in higher risk destinations makes managing expats more challenging for international HR professionals. 

An assignment based in a country with low levels of crime, does not mean assignees will come to no harm in their host country. There are a myriad of other dangers above and beyond day to day life they may have to negotiate. Initially, understanding the kind of risk your expat employees may face on their international assignment is important.

Broadly speaking dangers fall into three key areas:  

Security risks

These are probably the first things that spring to mind when you think of the dangers facing employees in your business 

·         crime

·         hostage taking 

·         terrorism

·         piracy

·         political or civil unrest

Health risks

This is anything that impacts our overall health and wellbeing. Some dangers include:

·         poor sanitary conditions

·         infectious diseases

·         epidemics

·         limited access to medical facilities or medication

Environmental risk 

These are natural disasters that could impact expat employees including:

·         fires 

·         flooding

·         hurricanes

·         earthquakes

·         avalanches

·         tsunamis

Nationality: is there a historical or current conflict between your employee’s nation and the country in which they will be living and working? Consider whether this puts them at more danger than other employees. 

Company’s image: is your business viewed favourably in the country your employees are based? If there are areas of conflict with the local population, you may have to look at additional measures to protect your employees.

Employees position: senior executives in your company may be at higher risk of kidnap, blackmail or similar criminal behaviour while working abroad.  

Employee behaviour: last but by no means least your employee’s behaviour in their host country may aggravate their chances of becoming a victim of crime or developing an illness.

In most instances, your business can filter the potential dangers based on the location of expatriate employees. 

When it comes to managing expats in high risk countries, a combination of planning and training will help your business ensure expats feel empowered to do their job no matter where they are living. 


Risk management plan

Although you are likely to have a safety plan for employees while they are at work. It is worth assessing the safety of all the countries you have employees in and give each of them a risk rating.

The higher the risk rating the more support your business should provide to expats before, during and after an assignment.


Safety and security training

Comprehensive safety and security training is essential for employees going to destinations where their wellbeing may be at risk. This training should include:

·         risk analysis and preparing to travel

·         dealing with all levels of aggression and crime

·         gender specific risk

·         how to deal with a medical emergency

·         what to do if there is a natural disaster

·         dealing with hostage situations


Cultural awareness training

Ensure expats have a good understanding of the unique culture in their destination country. Training should help expats understand the similarities and differences in culture when compared to their home country. Most importantly it should provide a detailed overview of acceptable verbal and non-verbal behaviour in their temporary home. 


Expatriate security procedures

Ensure accommodation, workplaces and neighbourhoods are audited from a security perspective. Provide employees with a phone number where they can contact someone 24/7 in an emergency. Expats may be at their most vulnerable moving between one location and another. Provide advice on how they should do this, is there a specific taxi company they should use, will your company provide vetted drivers or security vehicles they can use?


Expat health and wellbeing

Do not underestimate the impact that living in a high-risk area can have on an employee’s health and wellbeing, even if they are not involved in a specific incident. Prolonging periods of stress can lead to problems with anxiety, depression or other mental illness. If they are or have been involved in a difficult experience, post-traumatic stress disorder may be a problem. An expat assistance programme will help them to access the support they need during difficult times while living and working abroad. 


Crisis Procedures

Ensure your business has crisis procedures in place so everyone knows who to contact and what action to take, should an incident occur. All crises procedures should be reviewed and updated on an annual basis to take account of changing political and global situations.

If your employees are exposed to a health risk while abroad, insure they can access the medical care they require by joining a group international health insurance scheme specially developed for employers like you.