Ensuring Ongoing Support for Employees: How to be a Steward of Your Global Workforce

Sudden global events know no borders and can have a significant impact on organizations and the health and well-being of their global workforce.


March 05, 2024

Multinational organizations are constantly being confronted with and asked to respond to emerging geopolitical events, escalating conflicts, natural disasters and other adversities. These growing challenges may test employers’ readiness to provide globally consistent workplace health and safety practices as well as demonstrate their commitment to equitable emergency response efforts. With a growing demand for employee support around the world and an interconnected business environment, establishing a duty-of-care approach can play an integral role in an employer’s health and well-being plan. A duty-of-care strategy may include an integrated risk management approach that adheres to a reasonable standard of care and promotes the health, safety and well-being of employees wherever they are around the world. Not only can duty-of-care help assure continuity of business operations; it can also help enhance equity efforts by establishing well-being and core benefit standards.

Why should multinational organizations be thinking about their response to global events?

Health and well-being are important cornerstones to a holistic benefits strategy, allowing employees to feel safe, productive and empowered to perform at their best. A globally consistent strategy can also improve employee health, resulting in less employee absence and an increase in overall satisfaction, well-being and retention, leading to improved business continuity.

Ensuring and improving security and psychological and physical safety may be particularly nuanced for expatriates, business travelers, and their families. For example, in a scenario where an employee is assigned to an area in turmoil, conflict or even war and faces an acute event, medical care may be disrupted due to a hospital closure. In that case, the employee and their entire family might need timely support identifying alternative health care options.

What are some tips for fitting an emergency response plan into your business strategy?

Although an organization cannot anticipate every risk the workforce may face, proactive planning may reap rewards down the line. Having a playbook defining who does what when a situation arises is paramount, enabling integration and transparency among all the right players and stakeholders before the crisis. This is particularly important in larger situations that need a measured and scaled approach and cannot be managed solely at an individual level. Plans of this nature should include strategies for both single site disruptions (such as a natural disaster) as well as multi-country concerns (such as a global pandemic).

Employers may benefit from establishing a risk assessment before making international assignments, as well as by instituting consistent communication practices. Employees may benefit from training in culture, language, health care system and social integration. New apps on the market can ensure social connectedness to the business or security team and provide alerts before entering “red” zones. Guidance to credible sources of information can be helpful, preventing employees from making inaccurate judgments based on incorrect information.

Tactically, embedding a duty-of-care approach into your corporation’s culture can help provide a clear picture of current benefits offerings around the world. One way to do this is by developing and integrating a blueprint within your governance framework thus creating a consistent approach that touches on equity, mobility and more. A well-defined minimum framework that articulates the ways in which the employer will ensure both the physical and mental health of their employees might include a clearly communicated well-being strategy supported by globally accessible learning opportunities; consistent access to a quality EAP (employee assistance program) service; specification of minimum health care provisions or insurance; and an assessment of mental health and signposting or guidance for employees to continually manage their mental as well as their physical health.

What are some considerations for an employer when juggling the challenges of supporting a globally diverse workforce?

Employees, particularly those who work from, or travel to, developing countries, might be impacted by a variety of concerns such as personal safety, political instability and particularly notable in the past few years, infectious disease. These issues illuminate the need to provide consistency in access to benefits as well as availability to health care services to remove as many barriers or gaps in care as possible.

There are many factors to consider for an employee who may be unfamiliar and new to their work environment, such as a country’s sociopolitical conditions and the geographical surroundings. By evaluating, developing and implementing mitigation strategies with prevention in mind, employers can be better positioned to manage circumstances and unexpected events that are outside their control.

Which stakeholders need to be involved to provide a cohesive policy?

To build and uphold a duty-of-care strategy that maximizes business continuity while enhancing employee health and safety requires coordination and cross-functional buy-in among a variety of departments, including but not limited to legal, risk management, corporate and local human resources, occupational health, mobility, corporate security & safety, philanthropy and travel teams that are involved in crisis donation programs. A critical piece to success is engagement and two-way communication with employee resource groups (ERGs) or affinity groups, along with Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) leaders, to ensure inclusivity in approach and delivery. An employer can also engage team members in discussions on what they would require to feel safe and supported while also involving C-Suite executives in the process.

Global benefit professionals have a full plate of demands, but identifying areas where employees may need support before unexpected events occur should be a priority. Being prepared before an unexpected incident can help global employers feel confident that their responses are thoughtful, strategic and meet the moment when employees need them the most.

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