Organisations often have staff scattered to the four winds, so Peter White asks how HR can pre-empt employees’ needs to help them feel safe and secure when away
If you read nothing else, read this …
- Managing an employee’s purchasing power, either through cost of living allowances or exchange rate mechanisms, is key to keeping them happy abroad.
- Healthcare costs can be expensive but new technology enables expats to find treatment quicker and more easily than before.
- Driver training programmes can help employees to learn the ways of their host nation’s roads.
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Are your employees prepared to work abroad? Following this summer’s terrorist activities in London, staff based in the capital may be more willing to move on to increase their sense of personal safety. Elsewhere in the UK, it is likely to depend on the location and incentives offered.
Moving abroad, however, doesn’t comes with a safety guarantee. So mobile employees need to be both protected and rewarded.
Where international HR and benefits policies were previously often founded on the relationship between the employer and the employee, there are now other important elements to take into account, such as families, international laws and of course, terrorism. And those going to countries with rampant inflation or heavily fluctuating exchange rates will need the security of knowing their cost-of-living allowance will be carefully managed.
Top of the list of perks that will help expatriates if they have an accident or pick up an illness is healthcare insurance. Mark Coleman, international sales director at medical insurance provider Cigna International, says that in the UK most healthcare benefits are offered against the backdrop of the NHS. “The big difference internationally is that you have to work on the basis that there isn’t a state system there.”
Cost can be an issue. An international medical plan is considerably more expensive than a UK plan, especially if it includes family cover. “An average three year assignment costs in the region of £1m for a company to send its staff abroad. Healthcare costs are probably 1% of that, [and] it’s less price sensitive compared with the other costs of moving abroad,” says Coleman. A number of PMI providers are now using the internet to make it easier for staff placed abroad.
Consumer goods firm Unilever is moving around 100 of its senior managers to Switzerland to centralise its European decision-making process. It hopes that alongside the tax benefits it will reduce costs of nearly £500m. But, it will also incur more expensive healthcare cover. “There are certain countries like Switzerland that are exceptionally high in terms of general healthcare treatment. There’s 26 [Swiss constituency regions] cantons; it’s federalism gone mad and each of these has their own particular rules. [Switzerland] is an absolute minefield,” says Coleman.
If expats are eligible for a company car, there can be issues around driving in unknown environments. Driver training programmes that familiarise employees with the driving etiquette of the host nation can be a useful tool to keep insurance premiums and accident rates down. Printer manufacturer Epson launched such a scheme for workers that moved to its UK office from its Japanese headquarters and its European sales offices. Fleet manager Cathy Allen says it launched the scheme to ensure its foreign drivers were aware of UK road risks.
It is important that organisations which send staff abroad on a regular basis have procedures in place to ensure safety. Employers have the same duty of care for employees whether they are based in Brighton or Baghdad. Global project management firm Amec employs an occupational health officer to check each of its locations and plans each job very carefully. And once such issues are taken care of, employers can rest safe in the knowledge they have done all they can.