HR's guide to combating stress in your expat workforce

HR's guide to combating stress in your expat workforce


With 89% of expats surveyed globally indicating they are suffering from stress, there is a need for HR and business leaders to prioritise adequate wellbeing support systems amid fatigue and uncertainty.

A recent survey of over 18,000 people around the world by Cigna has revealed that 37% of the expat workforce are more likely to relocate to their home country.

However, even with the homeward drift from those who live overseas, COVID-19 has done little to dampen the aspirational nature of the expat lifestyle. On the contrary, the appetite to experience life overseas has increased — with nearly a quarter (23%) of people currently based in their home country expressing a desire to relocate.

The survey further identified the following as key motivators for moving overseas:

  1. Better job opportunities and career paths - 35%
  2. Desire to broaden cultural experiences - 35%
  3. Learning new skills - 27%

Other reasons also include higher salary and developing a more international perspective. 

Top contributors to expats' stress, and how to address them

Importantly, the report focused on the key issues that are causing stress on expats. Pandemic-induced issues such as job uncertainty have contributed to stress and financial worries amongst this segment of the workforce. While they demonstrated higher wellbeing scores than locals overall, 89% say they are suffering from stress, higher than 82% of locals. Particularly, expat professionals have expressed their worries around family finances (30%), lack of job opportunities (24%), and education (16%).

With these in mind, HR and business leaders need to step up and provide adequate wellbeing support systems towards their expat workforce, the report highlighted. As a whole, the 'Great Resignation' trend has "profound implications for how HR and business leaders should look at talent management strategies to attract and retain talent."

In line with that, the majority of expat workers have expressed interest in their companies to play a bigger role in providing support structures that help them manage their overall stress, but many are not meeting these expectations. There is thus an opportunity for businesses and HR leaders to bridge the gaps in expat support infrastructure.

Specifically, more than half (57%) of expats have indicated a preference for holistic support and resources to help manage work-life balance but these are only in place for 30% of expats currently. Over half (56%) are also keen on more mental health support but this is only currently available to 30%.

As such, businesses looking to attract and retain top talent must step up and provide expat talent with support systems, such as stress management workshops, that help them manage their overall stress and concerns.

Further, virtual or hybrid work arrangement options and more flexible working hours can help better manage work-life balance. This will allow expat workers time to spend with family and community, but equally with colleagues, ultimately helping to build overall resilience. HR managers are also encouraged to regularly check in on their employees to ask how they are doing outside of work, as a bridge to a broader conversation on employees' whole health.

Additional wellbeing support that goes above and beyond can also help their expat workforce manage stress. For example, wellbeing applications by healthcare providers may include global telehealth consultations, confidential counselling sessions, and stress management support.

With financial uncertainty and difficulties arising from the pandemic, providing financial planning education and retirement support can also help ease expat employees' worry about the abovementioned family finances, the report added.


The 2021 report includes additional topics of virtual health, whole health, resilience, and working from home. Cigna partnered with Kantar to survey 18,043 people, aged 18 and above, in 21 markets in April 2021, prior to the surges in COVID-19 cases in India and Taiwan.

The markets covered in this survey are Australia, Belgium, China, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, The Netherlands, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Image / 123RF

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