This is particularly true for those with expatriate employees. The uncertainty that comes with moving home, combined with being away from friends and relatives, means that employees who live abroad are more likely to experience problems in relation to their mental and emotional well-being. For that reason, when deciding how to implement a healthcare plan, SMEs must start by adopting a holistic approach combining various aspects which impact their workforce’s overall health.
Employees’ lives comprise multiple, interconnected factors which influence their well-being: from physical to mental health to financial health, family relationships, personal life, access to medical care and their support network. For that reason, it is also essential for those in leadership positions to acknowledge the individual circumstances of each expatriate employee and their location so that they can create a plan which meets their needs and launches a message of overall commitment from the outset.
The specific characteristics of an international SME offer certain advantages when implementing plans of this nature: having a smaller team, compared with a larger company, provides greater room for manoeuvre when promoting this type of programme and, as a result, its impact on the corporate culture will be much more noticeable. That is not to mention the operational facilities that simplify implementation and provide greater agility to execute, supervise and correct potential issues.
However, the great advantage that international SMEs have over other multinational organisations is that, generally, the corporate structure is simpler and, for that very reason, you have an exhaustive knowledge of the specific challenges faced by each employee, together with the preferences of the whole workforce. It therefore allows you to offer individualised solutions which are, therefore, more effective.
Investing in employees’ health and well-being is an investment in the company
One of the first doubts that usually emerges when promoting a health and well-being plan in an SME relates to the associated costs. There is a clear answer to this: caring for employees’ well-being is an investment that has a direct impact on the company’s balance sheet. Healthy employees who feel that their employer is supporting them in the things that matter most to them in their day-to-day lives are satisfied, motivated and committed and will not hesitate to give of their best to achieve their objectives. Investing in health is, therefore, investing in the SME’s success.
In this regard, it is important to pay attention to the circumstances we are currently experiencing.The pandemic has increased levels of interest in caring for health and well-being, of both employees and their relatives. According to the latest data gathered in the ‘Cigna COVID-19 Global Impact’1 survey, some of the main requests made by employees to their employers in relation to health are to have improved health cover (62%), better mental health support (53%) and tools and services for maintaining a healthy lifestyle (48%). These data show the need for SMEs to have a healthcare plan that responds to all their employees’ needs.
A step-by-step guide to creating a health plan for an international SME
Once employees’ needs have been identified, it is time to get to work and start to build a health and well-being plan. Where to begin?
1. Situational analysis
As a starting point, it is essential to conduct an exhaustive analysis which will provide a snapshot of expatriate employees’ circumstances and the market in which they find themselves. For that reason, it is helpful to assess several indicators, such as the level of absenteeism, the risks in the new country of residence, and employee surveys, amongst other things. Equally, it will be crucial to know what budget is available so that healthcare service providers can put a plan in place that covers the organisation's most specific needs.
Once you have reached this point, you need to remember that the internal transparency with which the results are collected and the solutions are established is key to the success of health initiatives. For that reason, to encourage all company employees worldwide to feel connected to the company, it is essential for those in positions of responsibility to promote communication at all levels between teams and countries. This will create greater employee trust and engagement and strengthen the company's reputation on a national and international level.
2. Establishing quantitative and qualitative objectives
Following the initial stage of analysis, the quantitative objectives will be determined, including the level of income, retention rate and the plan’s cost efficiency, together with the qualitative objectives. In this case, we are talking about employee satisfaction levels, the company’s image abroad or its market consolidation. Establishing these objectives will be crucial to identifying the areas on which efforts must be focused.
3. Defining the strategy
When drawing up a healthcare plan, it is essential to draw up a strategy and for the action taken to focus on collaboration between the entire workforce, regardless of its size or location in the world. As such, promoting shared commitment and an understanding of the importance of caring for employees’ health and well-being can ensure the success of a plan such as this in an international SME.
4. Approach to, and implementation of, the action plan
Once the strategy is established, the team with responsibility for it will be formed. They must have plenty of availability and flexibility to deal with expatriate employees’ requests and will be responsible for identifying any issues in order to correct these in good time.
It will also be important to establish an implementation timetable to organise and visualise the launch of each of the initiatives connected to the plan and to have a clear idea of the timeframes in which results should start to be observed. For example, during the first month, implementing psychological sessions to evaluate the initial state of health of the workforce; continuing to give access to digital guides to promote caring for physical and mental health; offering the telemedicine service when they are already familiar with the plan dynamics, etc.
Accordingly, this plan must include actions to deal with the various areas that influence people's well-being, to guarantee support to employees at all times and in any circumstances: programmes focusing on improving access to healthcare for employees as long as they need it, one of the big deciding factors for expatriates when they decide to take the step to move abroad; programmes focusing on specific diseases, aiming to support employees suffering from health problems; tools to promote positive lifestyle and behavioural changes, suited to the employees’ new destination (healthy diet, stopping smoking and weight management programmes) or plans which help to prevent illnesses from developing, such as vaccination against common illnesses in each market, together with the promotion and fostering of hygienic practices in the workplace.
5. Continuous evaluation
Finally, the Human Resources department or the team responsible for managing company personnel will need to evaluate the staff feedback to estimate rates of participation and commitment. To access this information, it would be advisable to run online surveys before and after implementing the programme. Once the plan is put into action, it will be helpful to receive staff feedback to identify needs that have not been met, new opportunities, resolution of any issues that may influence teams’ well-being, as well as measurement of the value and effectiveness of the plan.
Relying on the support of international healthcare providers, such as Cigna, will help to balance the financial cost and resources with the objectives of the health plan, obtaining a personalised, made-to-measure solution. To design and implement it, it is essential to work alongside companies that offer global solutions: international medical networks, 24/7 multilingual customer support teams or guaranteed backup at all stages of the seconded employee’s assignment. They will also provide telemedicine tools, with the purpose of providing ongoing assistance, support and monitoring during the process of implementing a wellness programme. These services will increase employees’ feeling of security and will strengthen the company’s positioning, turning it into an organisation that is able to do business anywhere in the world.
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1 Cigna ‘COVID-19 Global Impact’. Positivity around Vaccine Roll-Out and Anticipated Approval Leads Improved Perceptions on Whole Health. Link