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Helping Your Expat Team Cope With Isolation and Loneliness

By Jamie True, Chief Digital Officer, LifeWorks

As a manager you know that working in another country is a great opportunity to acquire international business skills, but for expatriates it’s easy to feel lonely, isolated, and homesick. While technology helps people to stay in touch with friends and family back home, it can also, at times, make people feel more alone. Creating a strong social network for foreign workers living in a new location can not only help make the adaptation process easier, but make the whole experience of working in another country more enjoyable for them and drive overall business success.

While children usually adapt quickly to a new location, adults often have difficulty, but there are a few measures that can be put in place to help lay the foundations to a new social circle and support system for expats. These may include the following:

  • Social gatherings – picnics, sports teams, or perhaps local expat mentors for newcomers? These can be comfortable first steps for newcomers to start to learn about their new environment.
  • Providing local information, including information about opportunities to get involved in their local expat community, such as:
    • A list of clubs, sports teams and events. No matter what their home country, other expats can provide information and offer support.
    • Professional associations in the new location. These provide opportunities to meet people nearby with similar interests and experiences – and expand professional networks.
    • Suggest they contact their university or college alumni association. Most have branches around the world that hold events.
    • If they are a member of a faith community, you can provide a list of places of worship so they can participate in activities and volunteer their time.
    • They can get involved with their child’s school and get to know other parents through school activities.
    • Are there local teams to play a favourite sport or learn a sport popular in the new location? If they’re musical, you can provide information about a band or choir if available.

Similar to the above suggestions, expats who can form friendships with locals from the new location often find cultural mentors to help them adapt to the new culture and even a new language and feel more at home. Some tips for expat staff and families to consider are:

  • Volunteer. Coach sports, teach a class or get involved with a local charity.                             
  • Learn a new skill. Master an activity popular in your new location.
  • Investigate meetups. Many cities have meetups – groups of individuals with shared interests who plan events. They’re often free and are another great way to meet like-minded people.
  • Celebrate both your own traditions and those of your new location. Host get togethers and invite neighbours, business associations (where appropriate), new acquaintances, and fellow expats. Accept invitations from locals (again, when appropriate) to participate in their religious or cultural celebrations.                                 

Helping employees deal with loneliness

As much as you may want to help another expat employee who is having difficulty adapting, it may not be culturally appropriate. Personal advice may be interpreted as a failing or loss of face and could impact other team members. Seek the advice of cultural experts with your Expatriate Employee Assistance Programme on how to best support the different needs of your team. Your organisation understands the importance of support for expatriates and that’s why they offer the expatriate employee assistance programme for expatriate staff and dependents whether on assignment with the employee or living elsewhere. Don’t hesitate to contact us or suggest this benefit to expat staff.

Case study

LifeWork’s has worked with Itsu to provide support for its internationally diverse workforce.Around 70 percent of Itsu’s restaurant employees come from outside of the UK, so for many English is not a first language and the company was struggling to establish a sense of community among its workers and a connection back to the organisation’s leadership and brand. Itsu adopted the LifeWorks platform to provide its staff with 24/7/365 clinical and professional support, plus preventative initiatives to support physical, mental and emotional well-being in the form of snackable content, risk assessments and challenges. The implementation also provided a recognition and private social network for rewards and peer-to-peer engagement, enabling employees to communicate directly with each other, share news and stories, celebrate achievements, ask for help, build mini communities and organise social activities.