Wellbeing workshops help expats impacted by COVID-19 feel less alone
Living and working overseas during a global pandemic can be extra stressful.
Learning about coping strategies, and hearing the stories of others in the same situation helps—according to feedback from expats who participated in wellbeing workshops being delivered by New Zealand company Mobile Relocation.
Principal of Mobile Relocation, Bridget Romanes, joined forces with psychologist and expat mental health expert, Dr Sonia Jaeger, to develop the online workshops designed to safeguard international employees’ wellbeing during the global crisis.
“When COVID-19 started to rear its ugly head, we were in close contact with corporate clients and wanted to help them with the practicalities of dealing with international employees in isolation and in extremely stressful situations,” Bridget said.
She said the workshop concept was an adaptation of Mobile Relocation’s award-winning Mental Health Toolbox sessions for internationals launched during Mental Health Week 2019, which took out TEMI’s 2019 Wellbeing Initiative of the Year Award.
“We identified three groups of people in need of support in order to do their jobs effectively: people stuck offshore who can’t travel to take up their new role in New Zealand; existing expats worried about family overseas or without support as they face a new work from home reality; and offshore employees of New Zealand multinationals,” Bridget said.
“Participants say it helps them make sense of what they’re going through and see that it’s something that many expats face—this is what it looks like, and this is what you can do.”
Augmenting employee wellbeing initiatives in unprecedented times
The one-hour online interactive workshops are delivered to teams virtually and have been run across corporate and government organisations, including Deloitte and Fonterra.
Global Mobility Consultant for Fonterra, Nina Gadd, said the 30 or so Fonterra expat employees and family members who attended felt it was a great way to informally ‘check-in’ with each other and find ways to handle ‘bad days’.
“It’s great to know the workshops provided a sense of connection as well as some practical tools for our people in market, especially where some are going through the COVID-19 challenges alone,” Nina said.
“For our recent movers especially, settling in to a new city amidst the unprecedented challenges that came along with COVID 19 made this settling in period especially hard.
“An example of a challenge one family faced included navigating new shops in a new city that was in lockdown when they arrived, coupled with not being able to head into the Fonterra office to meet their new team members.”
Nina said Fonterra places a lot of importance on employee wellbeing including through formal support such as an EAP service, and cultural initiatives like their recently launched ‘Good Together’ guiding philosophy.
“The efforts senior leadership and other members of the co-operative have made to bring this guiding principle to life has played a key part in ensuring our people feel genuinely connected and supported,” she said.
“For me this truly emphasises that employee wellbeing is ‘just a given’ when considering our expatriate population, making implementing workshops such as these an easy sell.”
Employers benefit by proactively supporting employee wellbeing
Bridget Romanes said that workshop participants valued the fact their organisation was ready to invest in wellbeing. “They were so appreciative of employers for providing the service—which is huge for the employer brand,” she said.
Ms Romanes knows better than most of the struggles that expats can face, having experienced depression while on assignment in Singapore early in her career. She sees her role in bringing wellbeing workshops to the market as “paying it forward”, ensuring businesses can address the emotional impact of an overseas posting.
“Unless businesses shine a spotlight on mental health, people are unprepared to deal with it. That’s my personal motivation to raise this issue.
“Relocating people is not just putting their stuff on a ship and finding them a place to live—that’s just the first tier of what you need to create success for employees. Beyond that they need a high level of emotional support.
“It’s an inherently stressful process, and these are valuable people who are expensive to move around. Employers need to make sure people are in the best place they can be to perform well in their roles.
“From an employer perspective, the investment in our workshops is tiny compared to the cost of having assignments fall over or having to provide comprehensive mental health support for employees if things go wrong.”
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The TEMI 2020 Awards Program is sponsored by Cigna and Quest Apartment Hotels. Visit their websites to learn more about the key role they play in supporting the global workforce. The Employee Mobility Institute: Uniting employee mobility professionals and suppliers dedicated to global workforce management.