The pandemic changed the way we think about work. The months many of us spent in isolation took their toll on employee mental health, but also—finally—started a real conversation about mental health in the workplace (early on in the pandemic, we took a deep dive into mental health for remote teams.)

Employees who relocate, with or without families, have been feeling this stress for years, before Covid-19 ever came along. The isolation and disorientation that some expats feel during and after the big move often go unnoticed. Without a close network of family and friends to rely on, it is up to the employer to help out wherever possible. 

Luckily, many companies are beginning to realize that employees and their families need support beyond just packing boxes—but truly adjusting to life in their new city. Being proactive in your approach to the psychological effects of employee relocation can help new international hires feel safe every step of the way and creates a work environment where it’s not only okay, but encouraged, to ask for support. 

Here are some steps you can take to support your new hire before, during, and after relocation.

Normalize conversations about mental health

In 2019, employers were just beginning to understand the prevalence of mental health issues in the workplace and the need to address the stigma surrounding mental health. Fast forward to today, and employers are finally starting to take it seriously. Initiatives like mental health days, 4-day work weeks and counseling benefits are a step in the right direction, but are only scratching the surface of real change. 

The real change starts with not being afraid to talk about mental health in the first place.

Nothing should ever be lost in translation

Relocation can be both scary and exciting. There are many ways to contribute to making it mostly exciting. Expat employees will have questions and lots of them:

While relocation services like Jobbatical can help with the immigration part of the equation, be sure to have some answers to the other questions ready.

The relocation package: think outside the box

Relocation packages matter, and one size does not fit all. People are different. Some are homeowners, some are single, some have families, some have pets, but they all have one thing in common: Understanding that moving can be a logistical nightmare.

Making friends

Sometimes it can be the little things that really make a difference, like having someone meet your new employee at the airport, taking them for a tour of the city, or even out to lunch. Give them time to settle in before jumping straight into work, time to establish routines, familiarize themselves with the city, their neighborhood, and find a home (like we already mentioned, sometimes you don’t really know where you want to live until you’ve seen it in real life).

Pay attention to spouses and children (and pets)

Often we miss the difficulties expat spouses and children may be experiencing because our interaction is only with the employee. But did you know, for example, that studies show that moving is harder on children than adults? And that spouses having trouble adjusting can be a factor in decisions to move back? Spouses may have a harder time finding work in your country, so helping them create a professional and social network is crucial for ensuring that everyone is settling in. The same goes for children.

Onboarding that never stops

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. Onboarding is key. According to a 2019 survey, 50% of respondents said that they did not feel “settled” in their new city until 6 to 12 months in. Companies offer a lot of support before and during relocation, but the after is just as important. It would be a shame to lose someone great after six months because they were feeling like they didn’t fit in. 

So set expectations, letting them know that you’re there for them—although obviously not 24/7. Healthy boundaries extend both ways! But even after a year or so, don’t simply assume that your expat employees never need to hear from you again. 

Making your employees’ mental wellbeing a priority doesn’t have to feel like a burden. Nor is it your responsibility to make sure every person you hire, plus all their spouses, children, pets, and houseplants are 100% happy 100% of the time. But if you create a healthy work environment where mental health is prioritized and not stigmatized, people will feel empowered, supported, and—ultimately—that they matter.

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