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Preventing stress in remote or hostile environments

20 juLY 2017

Thanks to her broad experience, Allison Male, psychologist and victim counsellor, is extremely well-placed to testify on the mental health issues staff on foreign assignment can be exposed to. She provides psychological support to globally mobile employees in stressful situations around the world, for example, relief workers in the field who are confronted with earthquakes, tsunami, diseases (including Ebola), war or kidnapping.

The body and mind can react in various ways to these stressful situations and incidents. Allison helps us understand the different types of stress and how to prevent them.

Globally mobile employees can experience three types of stress:

  1. Adaptive stress occurs when someone changes environment and normal routine, or when someone is in a culture, climate or work situation that’s not familiar.
  2. Cumulative stress occurs when someone is confronted daily with disease, suffering, violence and death, when they’re overworked, lonely or isolated, or when their living or working situation causes stress.
  3. Traumatic stress occurs when someone is confronted with a shocking or painful event such as a sudden death, a traffic accident with serious consequences, violence, rape, kidnapping or armed robbery.

How to prevent stress in globally mobile employees

Preventive measures to reduce adaptive stress can be taken before departure or on assignment. Before departure the organisation should provide adequate information about the country, culture, working conditions and security. On assignment the employee should be encouraged to be curious to discover other ways of living and thinking. They should also learn how to identify sources of stress and discuss them with other colleagues in order to find ways to change the situation.

For cumulative stress, the ‘3 Rs rule’: rest, relief and relationships can bring relief. It’s important that employees know their limits and can express them clearly and that they can ask for and accept help and advice. The organisation should facilitate communication in the team, so all feel well-informed and a part of the team.

Traumatic stress can be prevented with sufficient mental preparation, social support, and psychological aid. It’s also important the employee knows the security rules.

After completing an assignment abroad, advice and guidance may help to support staff to reintegrate when they return home.