The start of a new year signals an important marker for many. A reflective time, it encourages people to review their lifestyle and quit the bad stuff (such as smoking and drinking), increase more of the good (exercise and down time) and to find solutions to things making them unhappy (leaving an ungrateful employer). For those working abroad the temptation to return home after a lonely Christmas, or receiving a competitor offer they can’t refuse for example, may be too great – with the new year acting as a catalyst for change.

Experienced overseas staff are highly sought after, and head-hunters are all too aware that the new year presents an excellent opportunity to encourage them to change job. So, it’s vital that employers remind employees why their company is great place to work. Having quality and reliable talent abroad that knows the business, foreign market, opportunities and threats, can make or break an organisation. Many businesses can ill-afford to lose quality talent abroad, so need to do everything possible to retain them.

Employers under-selling benefits

Research* by The Health Insurance Group found that 54% of employers said “offering health and wellbeing support to staff abroad is important for recruitment and retention”. This means that nearly half of employers are seriously missing a trick by not clearly communicating their benefits package to help with recruitment and retention. Employees looking to work abroad expect to be looked after well, and that means more than just a salary, a good benefits package is particularly important to this group.

The benefits need to be right, and they need to be communicated well to support the recruitment stage. Companies can steal a march on their competitors by promoting their benefits package to help recruit talent.

Communication needs to continue throughout employment as well. Reminding employees what they initially signed up to and encouraging take-up rates of benefits is important to aid retention. It’s all too easy for employees to not appreciate what they’ve got with their current employer, and if a competitor is better at communicating it, they can jump ship without realising how well they had been looked after. So it’s important these benefits are regularly highlighted, utilising a mixture of communication methods to ensure the message is understood. Making total reward statements available, sending targeted emails about benefits available, or posting reminders about what is on offer, can all aid take-up rates.

Holistic support

Gone are the days when simply offering healthcare to support physical health was enough. Mental wellbeing needs to be supported too.

For employees working abroad, the initial sheen of working in a new culture can wear off. The hours may be longer than they expected, the heat more stifling or the cold more chilling than they realised, and new friends more difficult to come by than anticipated. Feeling settled can make or break working abroad for many, so it’s important that employers offer support to help individuals feel established.

Even if they have been in role a while, they may continue to face challenges settling – such as newly found friends leaving the country, or a bereavement in the family drawing them back home again. Being able to talk to someone that has been through the same situation can really help, a global employee assistance programme (EAP) can be a great support. Experts can highlight local community groups they could join, to aid integration and help make new friends, that can ward-off feelings of isolation.

Understanding cultural differences

Whilst there is increasing awareness in the UK regarding mental health, it can remain a taboo subject in other countries. Employers need to be mindful of such differences when communicating benefits, such as EAP services, in a bid to retain employees. Where an employee in one country might openly talk about their experiences of using an EAP, it can be a sign of weakness in another. Understand the cultural differences when communicating benefits, to ensure that employees feel understood, whilst reiterating EAP support is confidential in case they are worried about the repercussions. If an employee is struggling with their mental health, they may feel the only option is to move to another company. So highlight that there are resources available to encourage them to stay.

Sarah Dennis, head of international for The Health Insurance Group said:

“Employers that support their overseas staff well, and very clearly communicate what benefits are on offer, and what their total employment package actually looks like, are the ones that have an easier job of recruiting and retaining staff.

“If employees aren’t told at recruitment stage what the total benefits package is, they have less incentive to join. And when they don’t know the total package they are entitled to, it can lead them to feel undervalued and tempted to jump ship. For employees abroad, it could be the difference between searching for a new role or deciding to stay.”