Dominic Niebler, Startup Consultant with statutory health insurance provider, BARMER, shares his expert views on how organizations can better promote the health and well-being of their global employees.
1. What are the health and well-being challenges that global employees face?
There are many risks to health and well-being for expats moving abroad, starting from the moment they leave their home country, regular routine, and established support networks, and settle into a completely new and unfamiliar living and working environment. This upheaval can cause a lot of pressure and mental stress — not just for the expat, but for their families as well. Furthermore, the importance of proving themselves to their new employer or getting their assignment off to a strong start can mean that their work-life balance suffers, producing further challenges to their well-being.
2. What is your expert advice to employers looking to address these challenges?
It is critical that organizations do not underestimate the difficulties that relocation pose to expats and their families. Employers need to be able to put themselves in the shoes of their global employees, and ask themselves — what types of support do they need to provide to help their expat employees and their families to feel at home in their new location, and to promote their general health and well-being? It is important that their needs are met in order to facilitate successful onboarding and foster positive work and personal relationships. In this way, supporting the well-being of employees is not only an instrument that looks good on paper, but a critical strategy for improving the return on investment of foreign assignments and international recruiting.
3. How do you define peer-to-peer support, and what is your view on utilizing this type of support within an expat health and well-being context?
Peer-to-peer support involves empowering employees to help one another, and is an effective and cost-efficient way of delivering health and well-being initiatives in the workplace. Google provides a great example of a successful peer-to-peer support strategy with their internal g2g (Googlers-to-Googlers) program. Volunteers within the program deliver courses, mentoring, and learning materials to support their colleagues to learn and grow within the organization. Apart from the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of peer-to-peer initiatives, they also serve to empower employees and strengthen the team spirit, and should therefore be a real consideration for employers. Programs such as g2g can provide inspiration to employers looking to implement similar programs within a health and well-being context. An example of such an application would be an organization supporting an employee who is interested in becoming a yoga instructor, and in return for financing their training the employee could then provide free classes for their colleagues. Using peer-to-peer support in the workplace plays to the strengths and interests of employees, delivers valuable health and well-being initiatives, and greatly increases employee satisfaction as a result.
4. What types of support can employers provide to facilitate the social integration of global employees and their families, and how does social integration contribute to their health, well-being, and happiness abroad?
Taken from their established support networks, the social integration of expats in their new location is crucial to settling down and finding happiness abroad. Employers need to turn their attention to providing support to their global employees to facilitate this, and be creative in coming up with strategies — such as hosting team events, organizing family BBQs, or implementing a lunch lottery scheme. Supporting the social integration of employees and their partners beyond the workplace is also important, and can be facilitated, for example, by funding memberships in sports and social clubs. All of these initiatives involve providing a platform for global employees and their families to connect with and help one another, both inside and outside of the workplace, and therefore also utilize the strengths of peer-to-peer support. Such support contributes directly to the mental health and general well-being of employees and has a positive impact on the employee’s personal as well as professional life. This not only creates healthier employees, but a happier and more productive workplace as a result.
5. How do organizations benefit from providing their global employees with comprehensive health, well-being, and integration support?
Happy and healthy employees are more motivated in the workplace, and deliver a high quality of work. This leads to increased customer satisfaction and has a direct impact on business goals, and so the benefits are far-reaching. What’s more, healthy employees are less likely to take absence due to illness. For employers looking to foster a positive work environment, while also improving the return on investment of foreign assignments and international recruiting, promoting the well-being and social integration of their employees should be a top priority.
6. When it comes to promoting the well-being of global employees, what are employers doing well?
Very often, we are seeing organizations offering their employees benefits such as fresh fruit and vegetables and healthy snacks in the office, which is a great start. Employers also seem to acknowledge that flexibility is important when delivering health and well-being programs in the workplace, allowing employees to choose the benefits on offer that suit their individual needs and desires best. This is particularly important for expat employees who are often coming from different cultures and backgrounds, which can result in greatly varying needs.
Some organizations are going the extra mile and have really creative Feel Good Managers in place, implementing a wide variety of interesting initiatives. An amusing example I have seen is the creation of a ‘dancing zone’ in front of the HR desk — people come with their challenges and leave feeling energized and with a smile on the face. While such initiatives won’t work in every workplace, it is all about employers understanding their workplace and the needs of their employees, and thinking outside the box to meet these needs.
7. What gaps in support would you like to highlight to employers and what should they do to close these gaps?
Supporting the health and well-being of employees is still not as much of a focus for organizations as it needs to be, and there often seems to be a lack of creativity in coming up with initiatives to foster healthy workplaces. I think most employers are yet to tap into the true potential of peer-to-peer support to promote the health and well-being of their employees. Such innovative types of support should be a strong consideration for employers, as they play to the strengths and interests of employees and empower them to connect and support one another in a sustainable and cost-efficient way.
About the Expert: Dominic Niebler is a Startup Consultant at statutory health insurance provider, BARMER. He has been with the company for almost twelve years, having worked in a number of different roles and departments. In his role as Startup Consultant, Dominic specializes in corporate health management and the onboarding of expat employees.