Prep expatriate employees to cut their stress

Productivity, health are major concerns

Recognizing that employees transferred abroad face unique challenges to health and productivity, two Minneapolis-based firms are jointly providing programming to address these problems.

Ceridian Performance Partners, a workplace effectiveness company, is providing its new Lifebalance ExPat (expatriate) services in partnership with Window on the World (WOW), which provides cross-cultural training for multi-national corporations.

"When I worked at Honeywell, I became aware of WOW’s high quality," recalls Linda Hall Whitman, Ceridian president. "When we opened our Hispanic center, we engaged their services, so when customers began to ask us for assistance with their expats, it seemed a logical partnership."

The main components of the program are:

• pre-departure cross-cultural training, in-country orientation, and repatriation training;

• a single, personal point of contact, available 24 hours a day;

• face-to-face contact with masters-level consultants for work-life issues;

• toll-free access to U.S.-based registered nurses for health care questions 24 hours a day, seven days a week;

• help resolving U.S.-based issues related to child care, schooling, or care of elderly relatives who remain in or are returning to the United States.

Preparing for the transition

The program actually begins before the employee makes the move, explains Pam Pappas Stanoch, president and owner of WOW.

"We have over 600 consultants who are country-specific," she notes. These individuals conduct pre-departure cross-cultural training sessions [usually two days and one evening] to orient employees and their families to their new environment and minimize the stress associated with an international move.

"We spend a fair amount of time on cultural adaptation — including how to keep yourself healthy," she says. This includes distribution of a printed piece called "Just for You," which contains a list of English-speaking doctors and other health care and professional services in the new country. "We focus heavily in the first three months on helping employees to empower themselves in a healthy state," Pappas Stanoch explains.

Every program, she adds, incorporates the five basics’ of an international move: communication, stereotypes, values, comparing and contrasting cultures, and cultural adaptation.

During the preparation period, WOW’s clients are informed about the rest of the Lifebalance ExPat program — especially the nurse line program. "If they accept it, we turn them over to Ceridian so can they can enroll in the program [the fee is $1,000]."

At that point, Ceridian takes over, signing up the employee and setting files up, while WOW continues the process of cross-cultural training.

Ceridian complements this training with personalized services for the employees. "We have consultants who have been trained in expat issues personally assigned to every family," explains Judy Ekstrom, MA, Ceridian product specialist. "They call them on a monthly basis to develop a relationship, to answer any of their concerns, and to help them deal with stress."

(Ekstrom sites a number of statistics to emphasize the need for ExPat services. See the box below.)

It’s stress that is the primary target of this program, the partners agree. "All the services are combined to provide a preventative, practice service to address the stress issue, and emotional problems that could result in a loss of productivity and failed assignments," says Ekstrom.

Even though the employees will have an individual on-site to show them around — to show them how to use the subway or the bank, for example — there can still be significant stress, Ekstrom notes. "Maybe the spouse is a professional in the United States, but they can’t work over there. Maybe a teen-age child had been getting private help at home that the parents did not know about. The Nurseline can provide such help anonymously. For example, we’ve had kids in Alanon whose parents didn’t know about it."

Stress management is also a key goal of WOW’s services, says Pappas Stanoch. "That’s why we provide the employees with the tools to begin enculturation as soon as they get there," she explains.

She agrees with Ekstrom, however, that even the most thorough preparation will not completely eliminate stressors. "For example, they often given medications in other countries that are not approved in the United States. That could certainly cause trepidation," she notes.

Customized services help keep those potential stresses to a minimum. "For example, if you’re a journalist moving to France with a spouse and two kids, we will design a program that is specifically geared to the life you are going to lead," says Pappas Stanoch. "The pre-departure trainer, in this case, would be an individual who has lived in France with children."

This new program is beginning to catch on, say the partners. Chrysler Corp. International and Gillette Co. have already signed up for Lifebalance ExPat.