29 March 2022

Employees overseas need help to improve health and fitness

Maintaining good health can help to minimise the risk of more serious illnesses. Around the world, those with heart disease, lung disease, diabetes or high blood pressure are all at increased risk from coronavirus. Other factors also increase the risk of being affected more seriously, including being overweight, obese, or smoking.1

Employees working abroad can particularly struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle. They face quite specific challenges, be it from the traditional high-living expat lifestyle, working long hours, or not knowing how to access support. Employers are often remote and don’t have direct sight of any issues, but they do have a responsibility to assist where possible.

Sarah Dennis, Head of International at Towergate Health & Protection says: “Keeping fit and healthy is vital in minimising the risks of being affected by serious conditions. Employers have the ability to help their overseas staff to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and to do so, it is important to understand the impact of living in a different country.”

Global differences

Life expectancy is linked to lifestyle, and can be increased when lifestyles are healthier, and this differs significantly around the world. Life expectancy is highest in Hong Kong, followed closely by Japan, and Macao, then Switzerland, Singapore, and Italy. The countries with the lowest life expectancy are Central Africa Republic, then Chad, Lesotho, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.2 It is important that employers are aware of such facts if they have employees in these areas so they can tailor any support accordingly.

Healthy body

For a remote HR team, keeping overseas employees physically fit may seem a challenge, but there are now a wide variety of apps and programmes that help to introduce health and fitness routines to staff. These may be as simple as step counters, or include at-home fitness apps, with goals and rewards.

For overseas staff, it is particularly important that they are able to visit a GP if they need to. This may be more difficult than it is for domestic employees: there may be language barriers to overcome, and the process may be more complicated. Virtual GPs have become popular during the pandemic for those working abroad, with the advantages that they can be consulted quickly, easily, and in the employee’s native language

The other major factor that can affect health is the substances we put into our bodies. It can be hugely valuable to offer support for areas such as smoking cessation and managing alcohol intake.

Healthy mind

Research shows that longevity links to not only physical but also mental and social health.3 Providing mental health support for overseas employees is a vital part of supporting health and wellbeing holistically. This may be in the form of mindfulness apps and relaxation techniques to try to manage stress and stop issues from escalating. Or it may be in terms of access to online counselling to help staff who are suffering with their mental health and need coping strategies.

Small changes, big impact

Sarah Dennis says: “Small changes can have a big impact. Employers do not have to commit to a large-scale health and wellbeing programme. Providing support to promote seemingly small things like fitness, healthier eating, or mindfulness can make a big difference to employees’ overall wellness.”