Mindful leadership is essential for the expat workforce

Global mobility means more people are working in different countries across the world. Yet, this demographic faces unprecedented work-related mental health challenges and leaders must implement effective solutions

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As global mobility continues to grow, employers urgently need to get to grips with the right support in order to improve the mental health of their non-native workforce. 

Although the situation is little recognised today, many people who do not live in the country where they were born are struggling in a workplace context. 

In fact, the findings of AXA - Global Healthcare’s A Global State of Mind report reveals that a huge four out of five (80%) non-native employees are experiencing mental health challenges due to their work environment. Compared with their native colleagues, they are significantly more likely to experience stress, anxiety and loss of self-confidence. 

Unsurprisingly then, just under half (49%) of the 1,458 people they surveyed across 16 countries said they had experienced burnout because of their job, 14% higher than for native employees. 

While specific reasons for this scenario vary widely from county-to-country, common causes include language barriers, cultural differences and feelings of isolation due to a lack of adequate social networks locally.

The challenges facing non-native managers

The problem is even more marked among non-native managers. A significant 58% indicated they had experienced burnout, compared with 52% of their native colleagues. Non-native managers were also 23% more likely to have taken sick leave over the last year than native ones. 

Many people who do not live in the country where they were born experience mental health challenges at work

But as Samantha O’Donovan, chief people officer of AXA - Global Healthcare, points out: “It’s a scary situation for businesses. Productivity will be impacted and having people off sick is a big risk.”

The main issue is that not only do non-native managers face the same feelings of dislocation as other non-native workers, but they are also members of the so-called ‘squeezed middle’ management tier. 

This means they are under pressure to deliver operational priorities while also being accountable for leading their team effectively, such as being responsible for employee wellbeing even when they may be struggling themselves. 

Common challenges include adjusting to a new environment, unfamiliarity with cultural codes and overcoming language barriers, often with little support. 

The repercussions of non-native managers struggling in this way can be considerable. Possible knock-on effects among employees include disengagement, poor productivity levels and, ultimately, retention issues.

At a time when people are becoming increasingly mobile and non-native workplace populations are growing, the business risk is clear. So, what can employers do about it?

Creating a culture of trust

A culture of trust in which employees at all levels feel able to share wellbeing challenges must be built. O’Donovan explains: “It’s about  fostering a culture of trust across the lifecycle of the employee. It starts when you’re recruiting, not just when they’re struggling with mental health issues.”

This consideration is especially important among non-native workers. Despite poor mental health rising among this group, only 48% said they would be willing to discuss their problems or ask their manager for help, reaffirming the need for mental health training .

The benefits of mindful leadership

Non-native managers could also benefit from cultural integration and awareness training to support their own wellbeing. 

For non-native employees more generally, international private medical insurance may provide a vital lifeline. Such insurance offers each employee a universal experience of care that is personalised to their own requirements. 

AXA - Global Healthcare’s virtual Mind Health Service enables workers to speak to a qualified psychologist, wherever they are in the world.  This is available without a doctor’s referral and doesn’t require employees to inform their manager, removing the fear factor. 

“Wellbeing is very personal, so creating an environment where non-native employees feel safe asking for support is key. But managers also need to be equipped with  the right skills and information to confidently know where to refer people for professional support,” O’Donovan shares.

Ultimately though, ensuring managers at all levels become more mindful of, and better equipped to deal with, the better the workplace will be for everyone. No matter where they live and work.

For more information please visit axaglobalhealthcare.com