86% of expats say they’re stressed, but study suggests they can also cope better with burnout

I moved from the US to Singapore in 2024.

Courtesy of Ernestine Siu

It is not easy to resume your life and go to work abroad, but it can also be very rewarding.

As someone who recently moved from the US to Singapore, I’ll be the first to say that while the opportunity to do so is a privilege, it also comes with its own unique set of challenges.

Being a 16-hour flight from your closest family is daunting, but having the opportunity to fully immerse yourself in a new culture and have time to focus on yourself is priceless.

“Globally mobile people living and working abroad are an increasingly important element of the workforce in most markets,” according to the Cigna Healthcare Vitality Study released in April 2024.

“We have also seen a growing appetite for this lifestyle, with almost a third (30%) of people still living in their home country saying they are likely to live abroad,” according to the study.

The study surveyed more than 10,000 people, including more than 2,600 mobile people globally in 12 markets: US, UK, Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Kenya, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Mainland China , Singapore and Hong Kong.

Who are today’s global mobiles?

Globally mobile people tend to show a higher than average vitality score of 71.7 out of a maximum score of 100, compared to people living in the domestic market, 66.7.

Globally mobile employees often have … a mental and physical sense of being healthy, capable, and energetic and a strong sense of meaning and purpose.

Wendy Sherry

CEO of Global Health Benefits, International Health, at Cigna Healthcare

Vitality scores used in this study are based on the Evernorth Vitality Index, which provides a measure of “people’s ability to go through life with health, strength, and energy,” according to the report.

The survey asked questions to assess respondents’ sense of physical, spiritual, emotional, environmental, social, occupational, financial and intellectual well-being.

In addition, this group reported better mental well-being than their local counterparts (58% versus 42% with excellent or very good mental well-being), according to the study.

“Globally mobile employees often have higher levels of vitality, a mental and physical sense of being healthy, capable and energetic, and a strong sense of meaning and purpose,” according to Wendy Sherry, CEO of Global Health Benefits, International Health, at Cigna Healthcare. .

“The various facets of our lives, including social, work and financial, are connected,” he added.

This is evident in how this group is 10% more likely to feel they can make strong connections with others. Additionally, globally mobile people are more likely to be engaged, energized and enthusiastic at work compared to locals, the report found.

Despite having more vitality, this group also experiences high levels of stress (86%) and particularly high levels of exhaustion (96%), compared to locals.

“On the other hand, expatriates can experience social isolation, which can exacerbate emotional difficulties, exacerbate stress and increase the chances of burnout,” Sherry said.

In addition, this group is particularly susceptible to experiencing “feelings of detachment or loneliness, self-doubt, and negative outlook,” according to the study. It should be noted that these sentiments are more pronounced in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

“In Asia, stress levels are 89% in Singapore and 91% in Hong Kong. In the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, they reach 90%, and 94% in Kenya. In contrast, in Europe , especially in Spain and the Netherlands, stress levels are comparatively low, at 79% and 67%, respectively,” according to the study.

Here are the biggest challenges facing people living and working abroad:

  • Financial challenges (38%)
  • Longing (23%)
  • Difficulty maintaining the balance between work and family life (18%)
  • Health problems such as difficulty accessing health care (18%)
  • Difficulty finding housing (17%)

Expats in Asia, especially in Hong Kong (22%) and mainland China (24%), are more likely to encounter work-related problems. Hong Kong-based respondents (40%) also say they need more assistance navigating local healthcare compared to around 28% of respondents from other regions.

An apparent disconnect?

So why do globally mobile individuals score higher in vitality despite reporting higher levels of stress and burnout compared to their local counterparts?

Globally mobile employees are emerging as a highly valuable and resilient segment of the workforce. Although they face unique stressors associated with their situation, they exhibit different skills and a high level of motivation, resulting in greater vitality.

Cigna Health Vitality Study 2024

The study suggested that it might be due, in part, to the group’s tendency to be adaptable and resilient.

“Globally mobile employees are emerging as a highly valuable and resilient segment of the workforce. Although they face unique stressors associated with their situation, they exhibit different skills and a high level of motivation, resulting in greater vitality,” according to the report.

Although this group tends to show more resilience, the stress they face should not be overlooked.

“For foreign professionals, work can be global, serving as a crucial support system, a source of purpose and a center of social connections. This differs from the experience of local employees, where the boundaries between personal and professional life they can be more different,” according to the study.

“A comprehensive approach is essential for employers to address work-life balance, facilitate social wellbeing and provide support that goes beyond the physical and mental dimensions of health.”

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