Implementing a global benefits scheme has many advantages, including creating a sense of unity in the organisation and delivering economies of scale.
With increasing globalisation, many organisations are looking at the possibility of implementing international benefits strategies. And the technology now available means that promoting and communicating a global scheme to employees is easier than ever before.
If done well, a global scheme can provide companies with a more centralised approach, better cost control and can make it easier to transfer employees among business units in different countries.
At Vanco, we implemented a global flexible benefits scheme, known as v:choice, in 2003. It was initially launched in eight countries and has subsequently spread to a further six. The scheme plays a critical role in enabling our business to recruit and retain our global workforce.
Carrying out such a project can be difficult and time-consuming, therefore it is vital to ensure that the internal resources needed are in place to get the project up and running. However, despite the difficulties, implementing a global scheme has many benefits. One such advantage is that it allows employers to do a complete audit of what perks are already on offer in different locations. When we did this at Vanco we found that some local offices had introduced perks without head office’s knowledge.
Another big advantage of implementing a global scheme is that there may be cost savings to be had by taking advantage of international economies of scale. But don’t expect benefits to have similar costs in all countries – medical insurance in the US, for example, can be five times the price of the UK.
A common scheme can help bring employees closer together and create a truly global employer brand, and with the wide availability of web-based technology, global communications is very easy. At Vanco we provide a single, multi-lingual and multi-currency platform where employees can interact with their benefits at any time. Accessing such solutions is only likely to get easier in the future as companies increasingly see the advantages of global benefits packages.
Having multi-lingual communications is something we felt was very important. It is beneficial to communicate with all staff in their local language, even if your standard business language is English. Firstly, it makes it easier for the employee to understand the changes and advantages of the new benefits, especially if they are tax-related. Secondly, it is about making people feel comfortable and that can be best achieved by using their local language.
As implementing a global benefits scheme is an extremely complex area, expert advice will be required in most cases to ensure you get it right. We worked with one partner to provide both the consultancy expertise and technology across all countries. Given our budget and timescales, using just one adviser was critical to the project’s success.
While organisations will want to implement a scheme that is as similar as possible in all countries, local cultural and legal frameworks can result in very different conditions. This means it will be very unlikely that an employer can implement exactly the same benefits package in all countries.
It is also advisable to allow international territories more time to consider change than you would give in the UK so it is prudent to factor consultation time into your project plan. In France, for example, employers are legally obliged to consult the works council, which all employers with more than 50 staff must have, before they make any changes to benefits.
Take care not to impose new rules on local staff. They won’t like it, especially coming from a remote head office. Instead, try to get buy in early on.
If local managers are accustomed to running their own benefits schemes they might be reluctant to give control to another party. They may be unclear about what benefits are actually in place or just downright obstructive. Generally speaking, people don’t like change. Most are very afraid of changes unless they can see real benefits for them. For a new global benefit scheme to work, the key is to make employees feel like they have won.
•Stephen Mansfield, HR manager, Vanco