Top tips for including ex-pats

Claire Williams, our MD Operations, reflects on the impact of Covid on families with a focus on those who have family living and working overseas.

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Over the past 18 months, many of us have missed weddings, funerals, births, just the joy and comfort of being able to hug your family, birth or chosen. Life has been difficult and when life gets hard, sometimes we all need support. For many, if times are tough we turn to family for encouragement and love.

Covid related travel restrictions have had a massive impact on sections of our workforce because even as lockdowns have eased, overseas travel (and even travel between parts of the UK) has been near impossible. We know that in 2019 there were an estimated 2.31 million EU nationals working in the UK, and an estimated 1.34 million non-EU nationals working in the UK.

For the vast numbers of colleagues who may have flown home multiple times a year or at least annually, for the first time people are reporting feeling completely separated from family and friends, and it is not a feeling they like. Homesickness is essentially an acute form of anxiety or emotional distress that results from feeling disconnected from familiar people and places and forced out of your regular routine. It can arise from a number of different factors — difficulty adjusting to a new environment, feeling lonely or cut off from your regular support system, confusion or problems understanding a new environment/culture/language, a perceived lack of control over what’s happening around you.

It is easy to see how these feelings can spill into the work context. We have been thinking about what employers can do to support colleagues suffering from homesickness. Here are some top tips:

  • Know your staff. Take time to listen. You could even adapt our Inclusion Passport to include a question about family and loved ones overseas.
  • Connect people either via Zoom/Teams or in person over coffee…..those with a shared ex-pat experience will be able to offer support and practical advice to each other.
  • Celebrate non-UK festivals or events. By supporting colleagues to celebrate together, you are enabling them to share their sense of “home” through food, music, poetry and events. Use your data to identify the nationalities of staff so you have an evidence based plan.
  • Make adjustments for different time zones. By making adjustments such as different start or finish times on some days or long breaks, you may help your employees to connect with families in different time zones.
  • Allow flexibility around leave booking…..so when rules change, planned leave changes too….colleagues need to know that their employer will support their efforts to get home, rather than block.
  • Signpost any EAPs or other services that colleagues can call on for support

And this is one for big hearted staff – you can always share your own family with someone who is missing their own… everyone loves a Sunday (nut) roast!

Over the past 18 months, I think we have all got much better at checking in with each other…maybe starting/trying to fill or at least understand the gaps in people lives, the time previously taken up by family. This is another way we can unite for inclusion.