The innovative and progressive nature of the global energy industry inevitably means that companies have to send employees to work all over the world.
For many people working in this transient industry, the chance to experience life in a different country – be it West Africa, Azerbaijan, the Gulf or the US – is an opportunity not to be missed, and the prospect of sunnier climes is particularly attractive on a cold and rainy day in the UK.
However, we have found that adjusting to life as an expat can be the source of stress and health problems unless the individual is properly prepared for the change in lifestyle, culture and language.
Sometimes, all the practical things may be taken care of, but not enough thought is given to mental health.
Support and psychological counselling on the expected pressures before going anywhere can make the difference – and companies will want to choose the right people to send abroad as it can be hugely costly if you get it wrong, estimated at upwards of £100,000 a time.
Training in language skills, education on local cultures, awareness training in emergency evacuations and regular communication between head office and the expat will all help the individual and their family to feel prepared for the move.
At Abermed, we specialise in providing medical and occupational health services to the oil & gas industry and have vast expertise in travel health, providing a comprehensive vaccination service as well as advice to anyone travelling abroad – from what to do if you’re bitten by a snake to how to drive safely in different countries.
We provide travel risk assessment services and can develop ongoing immunisation programmes for employees who are at risk of infection when travelling abroad for work.
But as well as sorting out vaccines, bank accounts and contracts, it’s important to remember the psychological aspect, too, and not just assume everything will be fine.
Life in a new country can be a real culture shock, although there is often a honeymoon period for the initial few weeks.
Difficulty adjusting on a longer-term basis often leads to homesickness, which can lead to some people having to come home.
Many people who do return home will be philosophical and conclude that it just didn’t work out.
For others, feelings of failure can lead to stress. Life overseas can also lead to pressure on relationships if one partner is not working and children who are used to having the freedom to play outside are living in a gated compound.
However, most people who make it past the first six months are usually fine, and many relish the chance to learn new skills and progress their career in a new and inspiring environment.
International staff understand that they are going to be moved around and, generally, we find that adventurous people who have a pioneering spirit usually expatriate well and have great experiences, although this has to be balanced with a sensible attitude to taking risks.
Ironically, it’s also worth noting that people coming back to the UK can have a reverse culture shock when they come home.
It’s not unheard of for people to be pining for home but, by the time a typical British winter comes around, the intense heat of Dubai is not so bad after all.
As well as proper support and preparation, a sense of humour and an open mind go a long way towards successful expatriation.
Dr Euan Thompson is medical director and occupational health specialist at Abermed. A trained GP, he is also a qualified and experienced diving medical expert. See www.abermed.com for more information about its services