Managing expats through difficult times 

  February 20, 2020

If an employee is moving to a dangerous or unstable location, they are more likely to require additional support.

Many businesses compensate globally mobile employees financially in the form of a ‘quality of living allowance’. While monetary compensation may be helpful it should not replace the emotional support an expat may require if they are impacted by things they see or experience inside or outside work. International health insurance helps expats access medical treatment as soon as possible. Ensure your expat insurance programme includes medical evacuation or repatriation should suitable treatment not be available locally. The treatment of physical injury is not the only requirement when an employee experiences trauma. An expat assistance programme (EAP) allows an employee who has been through a difficult experience to speak to a trained professional soon after the event. 

Due to increased expectations, stress levels and culture shock, studies have found expats are at a higher risk of substance abuse than those who remain at home. There are a couple of steps you can take as a Human Resource manager to mitigate against and help those who may be susceptible to expat addiction:


Relationship difficulties can be common amongst expats, if an employee and their spouse decide to divorce they may require additional support, especially as they are away from their usual support network. In addition, it may well pose additional complications from a HR perspective if that employee travelled with their spouses and particularly if children are involved.  To further complicate matters, a divorce may have an impact on benefits an expat is entitled to, particularly if they were on a family expat health insurance policy or similar. 

You may be able to help them navigate this very difficult time by explaining to them what their options are. Also provide them with contact details for your company’s EAP, particularly if they offer counselling, financial advice and family support through this kind of event.

As a HR manager, we are sure you are aware of expat depression . Moving away from friends and family, culture shock associated with living in another country and the stresses of a new role can leave expats feeling drained and exhausted. If left untreated this can quickly turn into expat depression. Encourage anyone who may be struggling with expat depression in your workforce to seek out professional help from their doctor. Encourage them to talk to family and friends as much as possible about how they are feeling and if possible, enable them to take some time away from work to begin recovery.
Serious illness while on assignment can be one of the most challenging issues for an expat and their employer to face. If an employee suffers a heart attack, stroke or cancer diagnosis the outcome may impact the rest of their lives. If the implications of illness are going to be long-term then steps may need to be taken to provide an employee with help and support. Your company’s international health insurance plan should help expats receive the immediate treatment needed. 

Facing terminal illness or the death of a loved one while you are living and working overseas is very challenging. If an expat in your company finds themselves in this situation do what you can to help by having a clear bereavement leave policy. This should contain procedures on what happens if a relative becomes seriously ill or dies while the employee is away from home. Topics to cover include:

  • any leave entitlements before and after a bereavement
  • who covers the cost of travel in these incidents 
  • any additional leave that may be required to execute a will or grieve
  • supports available to grieving employees on their return to work

No matter what challenges expats in your business face, your companies reaction to them will be key to the success or failure of their time on assignment.