Are expats’ mental health being jeopardized at work?

Many people feel they have to hide mental health issues at work because it is a professional environment, where personal problems shouldn’t be aired. Not expressing certain things because it is not considered professional in the host country can be an emotional challenge for expats. This not only makes them feel defeated, but also cause a fear or dislike of going to work.

How can workplaces affect expats’ mental health?

Work culture can change drastically when you are an expat and adjusting to it is not always easy. In fact, when employees get used to things being done a certain way at work, it is quite hard to change that habit. Consequently, certain work environment changes can trigger mental health issues.

Work power distance

Asian countries and certain European countries have a high power distance. Structured with strict organisational hierarchies, employees are not treated with the same level of respect. For people from English-speaking or Mediterranean countries that don’t have an important work power distance, it might have a toll on their self esteem and confidence.


Communication at work differs between countries and some expats find themselves in difficult situations, without knowing how to express certain concerns. An excess of communication, especially in social a context, can make some feel employees feel uncomfortable or out of place. On the other hand, a lack of communication can make expats feel stressed or anxious.

Gender inequalities

Unfortunately, some countries are still lacking in gender inequalities regulations at work. If you are a women, norms concerning maternity leave, vacations and salaries might be different that what you are used to. Women are not always treating the same way as men or have the same benefits, which makes some of them feel inferior.

How to cope

Before starting your new job, learn about the country’s work culture to know what to expect. Try your best to adapt to this new culture once at work. You might find it more relaxed or serious as what you are used to, but as long as there is a mutual respect, you might learn to acclimatize yourself to the environment.  

Learning the country’s language is a way to feel better while at work. In fact, you might feel like you can blend in more with the coworkers and it also helps you get to know them. This can develop work relationships, a way to enjoy going to work a little bit more.

Most importantly, if you are having problems, a good communication with your team and your boss is key. If certain things make you feel uncomfortable or anxious, address this issue. There are different ways of talking about it, so stay respectful.

Are companies doing enough?

Counselling at work has been proven to help many employees understand their mental health issues and work through them, but for expats who have moved to other countries, this therapy is not always an option. However, it is becoming more common on an international scale and might be available.

People spend a lot of time at work, so it is important for expats to feel good in their work environment. Human resources do exist in most country, and if any incident happens at work that affects your mental health, taking actions is possible.