Workplace Culture

The Pepsi Challenge: Helping Expats Feel at Home

By Lynette Clemetson

Dec. 15, 2010

In Mexico City, expatriate executives for PepsiCo Inc. can take more than language lessons to immerse themselves in Latin culture. Those who aren’t afraid of a little spandex and swirling hips can join fellow PepsiCo employees for on-site Zumba lessons, a sultry, high-energy, Latin dance fitness program. In Dubai, international employees participate in a World Cup soccer challenge and corporate Olympics. And in China, pingpong tournaments help PepsiCo expats engage with local hires.

Participating in athletic and social activities in a new country can help expats adjust to culture shock as well as curb the impulse to work nonstop in a demanding new job. More often than not, cultivating a healthy, balanced life overseas is left to the employee, not the human resources department. But PepsiCo is one of a growing number of companies promoting global wellness programs to help smooth overseas transitions. “Wellness is not a thing; it is a culture,” says Ellen Exum, program director for wellness and prevention. “It’s about programs that help employees and their families live healthier, fuller lives.”

Of PepsiCo’s 185,000 employees outside the U.S., 600 are in international assignments. As part of the global wellness program, expats are offered a health risk assessment that is available to spouses and partners as well. As an incentive, all participants get a reward of $100 in their health care spending accounts. A care management program for expats connects those with chronic illnesses such as diabetes to assigned nurse “coaches,” who talk with the workers regularly by phone during the most convenient hours for their time zone. Exum says that of those employees eligible for the care management program, 90 percent participate.

Employers also are offering more structured support for spouses and partners to help with everything from language to loneliness. PepsiCo provides standard family benefits like language lessons for spouses and school tuition for children. But it is also exploring other cost-effective ways of helping expat families feel supported, such as facilitating spouse networking opportunities in local communities and developing a children’s cultural integration program.

“If a spouse feels left out and their needs are not addressed, it can lead to the failure of an international assignment,” says Roxanne Szczypkowski, director of work-life services at ComPsych Corp., which offers employee-assistance programs to more than 13,000 organizations in 100 countries.

Workforce Management, December 2010, p. 36Subscribe Now!

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