12 February 2020

How SMEs can support the health and wellbeing of staff, when expanding internationally

International expansion can present exciting new opportunities for SMEs, with the latest figures showing exports rising by 6.6%,1 but some businesses are daunted by the prospect - fearing that supporting global staff is too complex. Managing a global workforce can be challenging, but it shouldn’t be off-putting as there are plenty of health and wellbeing benefit options available to help companies look after, attract and retain staff abroad.

Towergate Health & Protection highlights some of the key considerations to support SMEs in taking the step into international expansion:

Look at the demographics

SMEs don’t necessarily need an expensive, fully comprehensive, “catch all” health and wellbeing package for international employees. Instead, it’s important to carefully review the demographics of employees – what lifestyle they lead, in the context of the country they are working in – and include the most appropriate benefits. Not only will this maximise spend, it is also likely to increase utilisation.

For instance, maternity cover can be expensive and may not be necessary for every workforce. Dental and optical may be nice-to-haves for some companies, for others it will be a must. Likewise, gym memberships may be ideal in countries that experience long periods of cold and darkness, such as Sweden for example, but not as popular in others such as Australia where life is typically led in the great outdoors. So it’s important to review workplace demographics and assess what benefits are most appropriate, and what will be most valued.

No NHS abroad

Free-at-the-point-of-use healthcare, in the form of the NHS, doesn’t exist abroad. So it’s important to carefully review the health regulations where employees are working to ensure they are adequately protected. GP and A&E visits can be incredibly expensive in some countries, so healthcare provisions may benefit from partly or fully covering such costs for their staff. Equally, other medical areas we are used to being covered by the NHS in the UK may require payment or insurance in other countries - so SMEs need to do their research first before deciding what will be most appropriate to include.

Visa requirements

SMEs need to be aware of the minimum healthcare regulations and visa requirements which are heavily regulated, such as in the Middle and Far East. Abu Dhabi stipulates that any foreign worker or resident must have a compliant international private medical insurance (IPMI) scheme, and in Dubai private medical care is mandatory before a visa can be granted for workers to relocate there.2 Workers without the correct cover may be fined or sent back.

Beyond the physical

Supporting emotional health is increasingly seen as important as supporting physical health. Many overseas employees benefit from having access to help them adjust to new cultures and countries, such as counselling, and financial guidance to help staff navigate a different fiscal landscape. Global employee assistance programmes can provide a range of support from people that have first-hand experience of working overseas.

Sarah Dennis, Head of International at Towergate Health & Protection said: “SMEs that want to expand internationally shouldn’t be put off by the prospect of managing a global workforce. Ensuring that the health and wellbeing of staff abroad is appropriate does require careful planning and due diligence, but huge benefits can be reaped from international expansion.

“Speaking to experts in international health and wellbeing can simplify the process for SMEs, helping them work to budgets that ensure employees are adequately covered. Planning for working abroad can take up to two years, so the sooner SMEs can get their ducks in a row the better.”

1. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/236000-uk-businesses-making-the-most-of-overseas-opportunities 
2. https://www.justlanded.com/english/Dubai/Dubai-Guide/Health/Health-insurance-in-Dubai