Expats expecting more from health and benefits packages

Expats are increasingly demanding more extensive medical and lifestyle benefits that include flexible working arrangements and greater focus on wellbeing and mental health, new research has found.

This comes despite concerted efforts being under way in some jurisdictions that are aimed at tipping the scales in favour of local workforces, and cutting back on “gold-plated” expat benefits packages.

As reported here in June, expats from the US, UK, Australia and elsewhere were said to have begun to feel a chill as growing numbers of countries around the world raised the barriers to entry for foreigners.

In that piece, the writer said that a so-called Golden Age of globalisation that had begun towards the end of the last century – fuelled by a combination of factors including the rise of technology  combined with the emergence of a new middle-class in many formerly poor countries – had begun to slow down and in some cases, apparently to reverse, as noted by various sources.

“As a result, financial advisers who specialise in looking after expatriate clients are increasingly having to help them adjust to the new, typically less infantalising reality,” the article noted.

The trend was said to be “nowhere more obvious than the Gulf, where the plunge in the global oil price a few years ago has prompted a number of the countries [there] to consider ways of making some money from their guest workers”, or else, in the case of introducing compulsory health insurance, “making them pay for services they might have previously enjoyed for free”.

It seemed that the Expat Arms was undergoing a change in management to become the last Chance Saloon, and drinkers were facing last orders…

Bupa Global report: expat market still growing

However, while cutbacks may be the order of the day in some markets and industries, new research just published by Bupa Global, the giant health insurance provider, shows that there is still plenty of drinking-up time in many of the Expat Arms’ outposts around the world.

According to the Bupa Global research, which questioned  some 150 senior human resources directors employed by international firms,  and around 1,850 “globally mobile” employees, more than half, or 52%,  of these HR directors reported that demand for greater iPMI benefits had grown over the past five years.

A third (32%) reported that they had translated that demand into delivery by granting greater health and well-being benefits over the past decade.

Intriguingly, given clampdowns on both expat workers and increased tax on benefits in certain jurisdictions, especially in the Gulf, a third also said they expected their their overseas workforces to grow over the next five years, rather than staying the same or contracting.

And of those who foresaw expat growth occurring, the two areas they said they expected to see it take place the most were Europe (80%) and North America (53%), followed by Asia (44%), and the Middle East (35%).

IPMI major ‘recruitment and retention tool’

IPMI and flexible working hours are seen as an acquisition tool for attracting workers and are among employees’ most desired benefits, with a quarter (25%) of staff expecting more from their employer in these areas than they did five years ago.

Mental health is becoming an increasing workplace concern as people climb the career ladder, the report found. When asked what health and wellbeing issues employees are likely to face as they become more senior within an organisation, HR directors listed increased stress (39%), depression (36%) and anxiety (33%) as the biggest concerns.

Despite the increasing demands and expectations of recruits, the survey also found that there is still confusion among employers with regard to the benefits that iPMI can bring.

Among companies not currently offering any iPMI at all to their workforces, almost half (44%) say they weren’t familiar enough with the “options and requirements”.

The main motivation for an employer to provide iPMI to its workforce is “recruitment and retention”, said the report, followed by “actively wanting to look after employee health and wellbeing”.

Four out of five (79%) of HR directors said that providing private medical insurance is an “important differentiator” against their competitors.

Bupa Global managing director Sheldon Kenton, pictured above, said he saw iPMI as representing a major weapon in the armoury of recruitment and retention tools at a multi-national company’s disposal. That more and more employees are becoming “globally mobile”, he noted, is increasingly meaning that iPMI is “something of a non-negotiable for businesses”.

“Companies are waking up to the fact that health and wellbeing benefits can be a real differentiator when it comes to recruitment and retention,” he added, “and can meet this demand by partnering with an insurer which has a network of world class facilities, giving them access to the right care at the right time and place

Eugene Costello
Eugene Costello has been a journalist for some 20 years, and has written for a wide variety of UK and international newspapers and magazines.

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