Article written by Tristan Cleaver, Managing Consultant International, Punter Southall Health & Protection
Our national mental health is firmly under the spotlight. And with the latest statistics revealing that 1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year1 and mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, account for almost 70 million days off sick per year, it makes for unsettling reading for employers. The estimated annual cost of poor mental health to UK employers stands at between £33billion and £42billion2.
But what about those employees who constantly travel? Mobile workforces can often be overlooked when it comes to supporting mental wellbeing. As well as the usual causes of workplace stress, frequent business travelers can also experience:
- Isolation and loneliness whilst away from family and friends
- Language barriers
- Poor sleep patterns
- Jetlag and the challenge of working across different time zones
- Poor diet and increased alcohol consumption
- Adjustments to climate and local cultures
All of these factors can have a detrimental effect upon their mental health and overall wellbeing. So what can employers to actively support their travelling staff?
Here are some top tips to look after health & wellbeing:
Ensure the employee is medically fit – a medical screening programme will help companies predict, prevent and reduce the risk of problematic health risks occurring. They check someone is fit for assignment and provide a clear audit trail of proactively managed duty of care.
Recognise that travel is lonely. When visiting other company offices, give the traveler the opportunity to socialise with a colleague by arranging a dinner or trip together.
Give cultural training prior to travel – in countries where there are marked cultural differences, training can prepare the employee for the culture. So they know what to expect, preventing surprises and helping them to settle in.
Ensure your travel policy includes a wellbeing programme – this should include supporting mental health with Mental Health First Aiders or line manager training to recognise the early signs of mental health concerns.
Language skills – consider offering intensive language courses if appropriate for the destination. This will not only help in the business environment, but also make accessing other services less daunting.
Consider an expatriate Employee Assistance Programme (EAPS) – often employees receive very little support once they are abroad. They can feel alone should anything happen. EAPs provide 24/7 support, reassurance and peace of mind. They are a cost-effective benefit – costing as little as £15 per year – and they provide online support with options for face-to-face counselling.
McManus, S., Meltzer, H., Brugha, T. S., Bebbington, P. E., & Jenkins, R. (2009). Adult psychiatric morbidity in England, 2007: results of a household survey. The NHS Information Centre for health and social care
2 Thriving at work: The Stevenson / Farmer review of mental health and employers