With the technology available to HR, there is a huge opportunity to successfully harmonise the employee benefits systems that service a global workforce.
Navigating the challenges of a multinational employee base can be complex, so much so that the central HR or reward team will often end up handing complete autonomy to their regional counterparts. While it’s important that employees in every region have a personal and authentic relationship with their employer, this delegatory approach can often dilute the impact of an organisation’s core values and the messaging woven into their benefits scheme, thereby reducing take-up and ROI, and creating a chasm in employee experience between territories.
The importance of a centralised system
The advantages of hosting your global benefits platform centrally are numerous, but the main driver is the reporting capabilities that this allows you. In 2016, Josh Bersin said, “Today we want HR technology that delivers a great employee experience and makes our work-life more productive and interesting. One of the big requirements employers are having globally is one central database to manage all employee data – regardless of where they are in the world.” Less than a year later, he continued, “HR departments realise that their future is dependent on their ability to harness people data and build predictive analytics models”, yet, more than two years on, there’s still a myriad of multinational organisations that don’t hold their data centrally.
The dangers of independent data collection
If, within a business, various teams have independently collected and analysed their data, the perception across the organisation could be that this data is flawed due to being gathered from multiple sources, and/or being incomplete. Add to this is the potential for questionable data sources, and you’ve got a situation where you are reluctant to the put the data forward to a wider audience within the business. As an example, we know the cost of providing employee benefits globally is more than 20% of payroll, yet many organisations still have no idea how benefits are being received or utilised, as that information is often held locally (or just anecdotally) and fed back without regional or cultural context. Being able to correctly analyse benefit data will help employers make the best use of this spend, as well as ensure the benefits remain relevant to potential and existing employees in every territory.
And there lies the key to the success of a global scheme; the overall data must be held centrally, while the benefits themselves (and the surrounding communications) must be tailored and relevant to each region. Without relevant benefits, the effect on the recruitment and retention of staff will be minimal.
Global focus, local adaptations
Web Psychologist, Nathalie Nahaï, believes that any organisation’s success “rests on its ability to engage and respond to its target market. Equally, if you wish to be influential online, you must research your audience and understand their culture. Yes, even if that culture is your own.” Now, while her expertise lies in online behaviours, this theory is applicable to the workplace and to the success of your in-house schemes…
You may have heard of the portmanteau Glocalisation, defined as a ‘global outlook adapted to local conditions.’ This also applies to employee benefits schemes. Glocalisation doesn’t necessarily mean changing your ethos and mentality as you expand from country to country. To maintain your employer brand and authenticity, your organisation’s core values and key features will remain consistent, wherever you are. But be mindful of local nuances and adapt your scheme accordingly. Poland, for example, has a fast-growing economy but due to decreased birth-rates and increased emigration, has an ageing population. So, if you have a multinational scheme, retirement planning will probably be your lead feature for attracting and retaining employees in Poland. This approach is key in all regions; as the cultural influences (even anecdotal ones) within any one territory will still need to drive what your benefits scheme looks like, and could drastically improve the experience of those employees if you get it right.
Central benefits data, local benchmarking
The idea of Glocalisation brings us back to data. We’ve seen that organisations should centralise their employee benefits data so that records are held and maintained in a uniform way. But the subsequent analysis needs to take regional and cultural norms into account, as standardised benchmarking across all regions will not reflect true engagement. An over-simplified example would be private healthcare benefits. Take up in the US will inevitably be higher than in the UK, owing to UK employees having access to the NHS. So, a take-up rate of 90+% in the US may look better than, say, 20% in the UK, but this wouldn’t mean that US employees are more engaged in their health than UK employees. This is where your analytics and reporting need to be intelligent enough to reflect those local norms.
Global and regional solutions
The most obvious way to maintain consistency across your global benefits scheme while staying culturally relevant, is through your people. Each organisation is going to have a central HR team, but there is an obvious need for experienced benefits administrators in each region who can advise on benefits laws, cultural norms, and be a support to employees within that area.
Alongside a physical HR presence in all territories, your benefits system needs to be anchored in a single platform which allows for central data collection and reporting. While there are a lot of Saas companies who will provide this, there are fewer whose analytics capabilities allow you to report on a variety of levels. A 5-star system, for example, would require a platform that hosts your whole data set in a uniformed way, but allows you to drill down by country, region, even interrogate down to individual employee level. Plus, in terms of country and region, the analytics (whether you do this within HR, or employ a specialist team) should show how your benefits engagement figures fare in terms of industry peers, and local benchmarks.
The storytelling power of data
Your data is powerful, and it tells a story. If you ensure you pay attention to the details it is giving you in each region, you can adapt your benefits offering so that, while it may be slightly different in each region, it will be equally relevant to those employees. In essence, you can use your data to guide your benefits offering, and offer an equally good employee experience in every region.
If you have any questions around centralising your global employee benefits scheme, you can get in touch with Benefex, any time. We operate in more than 30 countries, so we’re more than happy to see how we can help!
 Josh Bersin, The HR Software Market Reinvents Itself, Forbes, July 2016
 Josh Bersin, HR Technology Disruptions for 2017: Nine Trends Reinventing the HR Software Market, 2016
 Employee Benefits Trends, Watson Wyatt Worldwide, 2009
 Nathalie Nahaï: Cultural Quirks, Webs of Influence – the psychology of online persuasion, 2012
 R. Robertson, Mapping the global condition: Globalization as the central concept, Global Culture: Nationalism, globalization and modernity, 1994