Reframing Mental Health in Talent Mobility 05.24.2023 | Ruhi Van Andel

In a recent survey of over 1,000 expats, it was revealed that about 60% of respondents experienced mental health challenges during the relocation process (and that’s just assuming folks were comfortable enough to express that in a survey). But this isn’t new news. Moving has for long been recognized as one of the top three most stressful life events (even trumping divorce), so whether you’re an expat employee, cross-border commuter, or business traveler, a certain degree of stress and anxiety are par for the course.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it serves as a great reminder to redirect the spotlight to statistics like these, because protecting our mental wellbeing is not only such a critical part of cultivating positive employee experiences, but critical for retaining top talent. And whilst relocation has proven stressful time and time again, there’s still plenty we can do as mobility professionals to minimize that stress and ensure talent is fully supported and not negatively impacted by this transition.

The Power of Proactive Support

Let’s face it – relocation generally requires you to uproot your life. This could mean different things to different people, but for most mobile employees, the process means leaving behind familiar support networks and routines, addressing cultural differences, language barriers, and work-related challenges. Oh my!

Good news though! Both relocating employees and their employers can take proactive steps to manage the stress and set up the transition for success from the beginning! Proactive – rather than reactive – support is always more effective in building resilient mobile employees and managing expectations in a healthy way. Hence, if any unexpected bumps are faced along the way, the employee intuitively knows where to access support or has the resources on hand to clear any hurdles.

So, "What does this look like?" you ask. From the perspective of the employer and the employee?
The Employer’s Responsibility: Normalize.

Embracing the importance of mental health as part of corporate culture is a huge first step to inviting conversation and cultivating real company-wide change. Despite all the buzz around reframing mental health, there remains a palpable discomfort to talking about it within many organizations. Lead the change by encouraging the sharing of stories: personal and professional wins and losses. Make it known that employees can (and should) be exercising their mental health like they do their physical selves and accessing mental health services any time — not just when they’re struggling.

As well as opening up safe environments for open dialogue, employers can offer various resources – such as Headspace, which we use here at Weichert – and support like counseling services, employee assistance programs, and access to mental health professionals.

Making mental health and wellness a priority – in your organization’s culture and policies – will help ensure that the same approach is applied to the mobility process. This leads us to…

Mobility’s Responsibility: Cultivate.

A crucial part of cultivating a resilient mobile workforce is building trust with assignees, which starts with ensuring they are equipped with all information needed at every juncture of their move.  As mobility leaders, we are responsible for demonstrating that we are invested in their well-being and taking the time to ensure they are comfortable, supported, and empowered to ask questions. Sharing the roadmap of the journey — what they need to do and what we will do — and ensuring ready access to support, will lower their stress levels by creating more certainty and confidence as they start their journey. Facilitating mentor programs – partnering former assignees with current relocating employees – is also a great way to help set expectations and serve as an empathetic ear for any anxieties or concerns related to the transition.

Many relocating employees carry the mental and emotional stress of ensuring their family members successfully transition to the new location. We can lessen this cognitive load by connecting each family member to the support they need. This may be sports teams for young or teenage children, spousal support services, or specialized medical care facilities for accompanying elders.

The Employee’s Responsibility: Collaborate.

According to this survey, 50% of respondents said they did not feel “settled” in their new city until 6 to 12 months into their assignment. The relocating employee can improve their odds in a few ways:

  • If available, employees should take full advantage of pre-departure services, such as cultural or language training; this will go a long way towards softening culture shock and will help fast-track the transition to a new community.
  • Encourage the employee to vocalize the wellness supports they rely on at home – whether a gym, yoga classes, therapy, or group counseling — so they can be connected to these same supports in the destination country.
  • Developing and maintaining healthy habits, like exercising, eating well, and getting enough sleep, is critical to physical and mental health; prioritize establishing a healthy routine as soon as possible in the destination country.
  • Social supports matter. Employees are encouraged to invest time into connecting with people and building a support network in their new location. Join local groups, take language classes, and contact other expats.

A successful relocation experience – in which the employee thrives in their new role and can maintain a balanced personal life – needs to be a collaborative effort, starting with leadership. A top-down approach that prioritizes maintaining a safe and healthy workplace and culture that puts employee wellness first, helps to set the focus for your company’s policies and programs, including your mobility program. This will encourage employees to invest time and energy into prioritizing their wellness and speaking out when they need support.

Contributing Author:

Christina Kasiraja-Lebrun

As VP of Business Development, Christina nurtures opportunities with clients in our Growth Markets (Navigator TM) sector. Originally from Singapore, Christina lived and worked in various parts of the globe before settling in the US. She is a committed physical and mental well-being advocate and resides in Miami with her husband and two fur babies.



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Written by Ruhi Van Andel

Ruhi is the Digital Content Specialist on Weichert’s Marketing team. Leveraging a decade of experience in writing and marketing, she develops buzz-worthy content for the company’s website, social media channels, and client & colleague communications. Ruhi is a cat person, in case you were wondering.

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