The pandemic is affecting the emotional wellness of employees in all workplaces, regardless of location. Changes to work processes and environments, lack of job security, fear of infection, the restrictions, and constant misinformation are testing the workforce’s psychological health and their employers are directly responsible for preventing all of these factors from affecting the workforce by investing in caring for their health & well-being in a holistic manner. Above all, in addition to all of these challenges, employees on international assignments also face being far from home and their family, friends and colleagues.
According to the latest round of surveys carried out by Cigna in its most recent study, ‘COVID-19 Global Impact’1, in August 8 out of 10 people worldwide acknowledged that they were under stress. Most surveys acknowledge that these levels are manageable for now but, if they are not properly brought under control and managed, they could end up affecting long-term health. Prolonged exposure to this state of constant tension brings physical consequences – tachycardia, fatigue, nausea and head, muscular and abdominal pain – as well as behavioural effects – nervousness, irritability, apathy, sadness, confusion and decreased concentration. In the worst case, this can also lead to more serious mental disorders such as depression, or cause chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease or Type 2 diabetes.
It is therefore essential that companies pay particular attention to the emotional state of their teams abroad to mitigate these consequences. Proactively approaching this issue from within the company, providing the necessary tools, will not simply result in healthier and, therefore, happier employees but will also reduce the costs linked to absenteeism and presenteeism despite illness and will boost employees’ morale, helping them to adopt a resilient attitude allowing them to combat stress and its effects efficiently. We must not forget that internationally mobile employees are a key part of company’s globalisation and success. Looking after their health will allow them to perform better at work and, therefore, contribute to the company’s growth.
The good news is that companies do not have to face this challenge alone. Through their medical insurance for expatriates and employer services, health insurers offer a vast amount of solutions and tools intended to care for mental health.
Emotional wellness solutions through health insurance for expatriates
Physical and mental health are invisibly linked in that the two are inter-dependent. As a result, conscious of the huge emotional impact of the health crisis, insurers are, more than ever before, strengthening their services focusing on mental wellness, offering companies with seconded employees a wide range of solutions to help them to care for their employees’ health in a holistic manner. This includes:
- Psychological cover. Health insurance provides quick access to full psychological support to treat illnesses such as stress, anxiety, depression and sleep disorders, amongst others, whether covered by the policy or at an additional cost. Expatriate employees will have access to the insurer's global network of specialists and healthcare facilities, as well as customer service available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- Additional psychological services. Some insurers offer prevention and wellness programmes not covered under the policy which include psychological support. Thanks to this type of service, you can access specialists from the insurance company's medical team who can provide individual therapy without the need for a medical referral.
- Telemedicine: psychotherapy by videoconference. Thanks to the free telemedicine services offered by insurers to their plan members, it is also possible to access psychotherapy sessions by video conference on a very flexible schedule and without the need to leave your home. In addition, some of the extra services offering these type of telemedicine tools, such as health tests or online coaching programmes, enable plan members to identify, prevent and learn to manage specific issues related to managing our emotions, such as stress, anxiety or fear. In circumstances like the current backdrop, being able to access this type of service represents true added value, especially if the psychological support is offered from the employee’s country of origin.
- International employee assistance programmes. This is a specialist product for companies with expatriate employees. This includes, amongst other things, psychological advice, together with other guidance services regarding financial management, caring for dependants, physical health (nutrition or exercise, key factors in stress management), employment and legal matters, etc. These are hugely helpful when working abroad in a country one hardly knows, far from family and friends.
- Free online and telephone psychological guidance in the employee’s native language. Additionally, some insurance companies give their plan members access to free web-based and telephone psychological guidance services. The team of experts responsible for this service offers individualised and confidential support in the employee’s native language, providing telephone follow-up and, if they consider it necessary, making a referral to a psychologist in their medical team following an initial assessment.
- Access to tools and resources providing practical advice. It is more important than ever to have reliable sources of information offering practical resources on health & well-being issues. Conscious of this need, some health insurers are offering their clients (plan members and wider companies) informative content supported by the best healthcare professionals: articles, videos, infographics, podcasts, white papers, guides, etc. Currently, the main topics covered are stress, anxiety and depression.
For example, Cigna has developed a white paper for companies with practical advice about providing support to expatriate employees:Guidelines to support employees on international assignments.
- Interactive webinars with professionals worldwide. Since the pandemic began, many health insurance companies have joined the boom in virtual, interactive events, with global experts in the sector and in which users can ask questions and actively participate. Through these webinars, topics of interest, such as the management of emotional health of internationally mobile employees are being covered.
- Advice for implementing plans to manage mental health within companies. In addition to offering companies and individuals a wide range of cover for mental and emotional support, many insurers also offer support to companies with seconded staff to implement health & well-being plans in which stress management is one of the main issues to be addressed.
- Stress visualisation technology. Insurers like Cigna have joined the digital revolution, using cutting-edge technology to measure stress. In this case, the company has decided to combine quantitative analysis with digital arts, creating a tool that allows us to calculate and evaluate a person’s stress levels through a graphic image represented by a heat map: cold colours show low levels, whilst hot colours show higher indicators.
Ultimately, an insurer is much more than simply an intermediary between a healthcare provider and a company. Right now, a company wishing to take care of its international staff, but which does not have the necessary knowledge to do so, can have no better partner than a health insurer. This is because it does not just offer the best health insurance cover, but also provides the ability to access a vast number of tools and solutions focusing on the overall wellness of the workforce, mental health being one of the main issues.
Expatriate employees are also part of the team and have a greater need to feel supported by their employer. Above all, if we consider that mental health is now more precarious than ever, any solution focusing on caring for emotional wellness is particularly relevant.
Health insurers such as Cigna can be a huge help in providing this added value. If you would like to know what it can offer you, this link will give you all the information you need.
Offering added value: ‘Stress 1.5: Check-In’, Cigna’s campaign to reduce stress in the workplace
To raise the corporate sector's awareness of the importance of caring for the emotional wellness of its staff, identifying and controlling high levels of stress affecting the workforce, Cigna has recently launched the global campaign ‘Stress 1.5: Check-In’. Through this initiative, it offers companies all kinds of practical resources helping them to create a supportive culture based on continuous contact (‘check-ins’) and constant support:
- ‘The Cigna Check-In’ and ‘How to’ series of videos, in which Cigna’s experts and other global health and business professionals offer their opinion on the circumstances, provide some practical advice and explain why making a habit of contacting others can help to keep stress at a manageable level.
- “Tool kit” comprising guides and white papers with high-quality information so that employees and managers can understand exactly what stress is, what impact it can have and how to manage it, both on an individual level and in terms of helping others to do so.
- Webpage with interesting articles and resources. This includes the main conclusions of Cigna’s `COVID-19 Global Impact’ study (in three editions: May, July and October) and the ‘See stress differently’ test, which, through a questionnaire, estimates the user's stress levels.
At Cigna, we want to be your partner in helping you to build a happy and healthy workforce because, wherever they are in the world, your people are the foundation of your business’ success. To learn more about health solutions, please visit our website.
1 Cigna. ‘COVID-19 Global Impact’: Resilience and wellness during the pandemic. Dates: August 2020. Publication date: October 2020. Link.