Global Benefit Programs Strike Common Themes with Regional Variations

‘Best’ multinationals centralize benefits governance, address regional needs

Aug 3, 2016
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It takes more than salary and bonuses to find and keep the best workers in the world, a new survey of employers and employees worldwide suggests.

The 2016 study by benefits provider MetLife was conducted in 12 countries spanning North and South America, East and West Europe, Asia, North Africa, and Australia. "Regardless of different social schemes and economic factors in each country, total rewards packages are key recruitment and retention tools that help businesses succeed on a global scale—and help employees with an array of different personal, financial and health needs," stated the firm's July report, Employee Benefits Generating Business Impact.

Benefits are an even bigger recruitment and retention tool for multinational companies operating in developing markets, the findings revealed. Worldwide, nearly one-third of surveyed employees said that an improved benefits package could persuade them to stay with their existing employer, but that percentage rose to more than half in China (58 percent) and India (51 percent).

Health Is Top Concern

Retirement savings programs and financial advice, along with life and disability insurance and paid leave, are highly desired benefits worldwide. However, "More than any other global theme, our research found that health and wellness resonated most widely with companies around the world," said Maria Morris, executive vice president for MetLife Global Employee Benefits in New York City. "Employers are beginning to see the direct relationship between wellness programs and productivity, and they're increasingly taking on the role of educating their employees about the importance of wellness."

For instance, according to survey results from China, 89 percent of employers said that it was important to provide plans to encourage healthy behavior and 79 percent of employees said they would like their employer to offer more health programs. As evidence of why this matters, only 44 percent of those employees in China who rated their health as "good, fair or poor" said they felt physically and mentally able to do their job. Among those who reported "very good or excellent" health, 68 percent felt able to work.

Employers should listen to employees to discern what life needs are not being met and then seek to provide a well-rounded benefit package that responds to those needs. "Once the selection is made, effective communication helps employees make smart choices and understand the value of what's being offered to them," said Morris. "Whether it's through a website, handbook, an online support tool or group meetings, employers need to figure out what resonates best and then deliver."

'Best' Multinationals Centralize Benefits Governance

Also on the global front, multinational companies face increasing cost pressures and rising risk when it comes to managing their employer-sponsored benefits programs around the world.

The latest Global Benefits and Operations Study report from consultancy Aon Hewitt and the American Benefits Institute, the research affiliate of advocacy organization American Benefits Council, reveals that these mounting challenges are continuing to drive the centralization of global benefits management.

The organizations surveyed more than 200 multinational corporations around the world to determine their current and predicted future approach to global benefits management. The study found that while 70 percent of organizations have some form of corporate guidelines and controls in place, they still struggle to effectively manage their global benefits centrally.

"Market volatility, rising costs, competitive pressures and regulatory changes are driving [multinationals'] desire to manage benefits more centrally," explained Amol Mhatre, a London-based senior partner at Aon Hewitt. "Without information to make good decisions, and operational infrastructure and the governance discipline to execute decisions on the ground, companies will continue to struggle to mitigate risks posed by their benefit programs."

According to Aon Hewitt and the American Benefits Institute, about 20 percent of surveyed organizations were considered to have "best practices" in place for global benefits governance. At best-practice organizations:

  • The HR and finance departments have central access to data and market information on their global benefits programs, allowing them to understand benefits costs, financial risks and opportunities for using benefits to attract, retain and engaging talent.

  • The organizations have well-defined risk management policies, including an operating model with roles and responsibilities defined at the local, regional and corporate level.

Best practice organizations also:

  • Establish global centers of expertise to manage benefit programs worldwide.
  • Conduct formal audits to ensure that local benefits are aligned with global policies.
  • Align their benefit programs with their overall workforce strategy.

"The financial cost of plan sponsorship is significant [and] the management of these programs across multiple continents represents an even more daunting challenge," said James A. Klein, president of the American Benefits Institute in Washington, D.C. Compliance with numerous, sometimes conflicting regulations may always be difficult, but "the world's 'best practice' plan sponsors [show how to] thrive in a competitive global business environment."

Related SHRM Article:

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