Protecting your mobile worker

As more and more employees travel around the world, their health and well-being are constantly at stake. Companies are increasingly stepping up their game to ensure comprehensive health coverage for all staff, no matter where they work

A terrorist attack at an Algerian desert gas plant in January last year provided the world with a stark warning of the dangers presented to mobile workers employed in faraway areas around the globe.

Forty oil workers from countries such as the US, the Philippines, Japan, and Britain were killed during the attack.
As well as international condemnation, the attack also shone a spotlight on the everyday perils and uncertainty plaguing mobile employees, especially those working in dangerous terrains and politically uncertain markets.

Mobile workers are fast becoming recognised as an important part of the overall global workforce. The International Data Corporation (IDC) anticipates the number of mobile workers to hit a massive 1.3 billion in 2015, representing 37.2% of the total workforce.

Furthermore, a PricewaterhouseCoopers’ report titled “Talent Mobility 2020” has revealed a projected 50% growth in overseas assignments by 2020 (see box).

With the anticipated surge in mobile workers over the next decade or so, attaining global health coverage for them in light of the global political, economic and social uncertainty has become an imperative, says Danny Yap, principal officer and general manager of Raffles Health Insurance (RHI).

Ray Bond, Head of Sales and Distribution Development, Asia-Pacific, Bupa International, agrees. “Therefore, it is important that employees and their employers know that wherever they are, they have health coverage that ensures that they have access to healthcare if they need it,” he adds.

Yap and Bond say international health insurance can also provide reassurance that employees can be ushered to a quality-assessed medical facility when they are in an unfamiliar place.

They note there is a growing recognition from employers that a healthy workforce leads to healthier profit margins. “Moreover, global health coverage is becoming an important part of an attractive employee benefit package, especially for mobile workers, to help increase retention,” Bond says.
 
Health plans for mobile workers
RHI and Bupa International have formed an ongoing partnership to offer a range of coverage levels that provide flexibility and choice to best suit each client organisation and its employees.

The plans feature in-patient and out-patient cover, while providing options for geographical coverage and benefits, such as evacuation assistance. In addition, the fears of mobile workers can be allayed with the availability of 24/7 multilingual support and advice. A second medical opinion service also assists members in making an informed medical decision when there is any doubt over a diagnosis.

Yap says their collaboration allows them to deliver a tailored service for customers.

That’s important because worker safety needs will also differ according to a wide range of variables. Donald Dowling Jr, an international employment law partner with White & Case LLP says specific safety guidelines and insurance requirements depend entirely on context.

In a White Paper titled “Global Workplace Health and Safety Compliance: From the Micro (Protecting the Individual Traveller) to the Macro (Protecting the International Workforce)”, he says this could mean “supplying gloves, machine guards and emergency-stop buttons” in a factory, while an office environment might require an employer to be “supplying keycards, ergonomic keyboards, and staircase hand rails.”

On the other hand, Dowling says that for employees working in war zones, “it might mean supplying guards, body armour and evacuation services.”
 
Scope of healthcare coverage
There is no denying that companies are often unsure of the various types of coverage required for specific sets of workers.

For example, Yap says that firms may find it difficult to choose the right health coverage for mobile workers, given the many options available, and that some may be unsure if travel insurance or international health plans are better for this unique category of staff.

Bond says the scope of medical coverage of international health plans in general is wider than that of standard travel insurance.

“For mobile workers who need to travel frequently, an international healthcare plan may be the best option as it will ensure long-term global medical cover, meaning they can access healthcare wherever they may be,” he says.

This is where insurance and healthcare providers can offer professional advice for firms to enable them to construct a suitable healthcare package not just for mobile employees, but also for different levels of staff within the business, Bond explains.

RHI and Bupa emphasise the importance in considering the healthcare needs of an international workforce, which is dependent on a range of factors such as existing health conditions and the nature of the jobs they do.

“Therefore, we aim to provide as much flexibility and choice as possible for both the company and individual employees on healthcare coverage, considering the specific needs of the industry and various levels of employees,” Yap notes.

Dowling also acknowledged that “multinationals’ workplace health and safety concerns increasingly transcend national boundaries.”

“Proactive multinationals are now starting to take steps toward aligning, across their worldwide operations, those aspects of health and safety with a cross-border dimension,” he wrote in the article.
 
Cost pressures
As it is the case in all aspects of business, health coverage for employees is also influenced by cost measures. According to Yap and Bond, cost is a frequently crucial factor for firms when selecting whether to purchase international health insurance and the required level of coverage.

“Companies want to know that they are spending their money wisely,” Bond says.

“Those that purchase international health insurance realise that choosing the right health coverage for their employees will ultimately better help them manage their costs, as they will not need to pay for medical bills and will be able to help employees get back to work faster if they fall ill.”

Nevertheless, employees should also be prepared to pay higher premiums for better workplace coverage, a situation that US workers can now attest to.

According to a recent report unveiled by Towers Watson/National Business Group on Health, US workers are forking out a sizeable 28% more for workplace health benefits in 2014 as compared to just three years ago.

US employers are now coughing up $2,975 in premiums for 2014 while they shelled out $2,491 in 2011.

Employees are witnessing their premiums increase year after year, rising up by 19% on average since 2011.

US firms meanwhile, are spending 14% more for their premium contributions that they did in 2011. Premiums amount to an average of $9,560 per worker in 2014, rising from $8,364 three years ago.
 

Talent mobility: the phenomenon
The PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (PwC) report “Talent Mobility 2020” provides an interesting snapshot of talent mobility trends over the next decade. Its data reveals that “assignee levels have increased by 25% over the last decade”. The rising trend of global mobility was epitomised by the PwC annual global CEO Survey, which showed that 55% planned to alter their approach towards global mobility.

Technology is also anticipated to become a bedrock of business collaboration, with the report deducing that companies will become much more dependent on technology and the management of the end-to-end business cycle. That is in part because of the need to better manage the increasingly global workforce.

PwC’s data shows that in 2009, the average organisation had 22 host locations for their staff. However, come 2020, there is expected to be growth of at least 50%, with an anticipated 33 host locations per multinational employer.
The composition of the diversely spread workforce is also changing. By 2020, it is expected to comprise of Baby Boomers (a group that will have already achieved most of its career goals), Generation X (those who will be at the peak of their earning-potential) and the new generation of Millennials (those who will take on the majority of international assignments by 2020). According to PwC, a staggering 80% of Millennials want to work abroad, with 70% anticipating the need to use non-native languages in their careers.
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