Multinationals Challenged with Communicating Benefits to Employees

By Roy Maurer Jul 9, 2014

Fifty percent of global HR professionals surveyed said the most challenging aspect of their global benefits strategy was the fact that employees don’t understand the value of their benefits package.

The study from Thomsons Online Benefits, a provider of cloud-based global benefits management software, found that multinational employers are facing significant hurdles communicating with and engaging employees about their benefits.

“As companies expand into new markets and onboard new employees in multiple countries, HR teams are encountering new complexities and challenges in administrating and communicating benefits to multinational employees,” said Chris Wakely, senior vice president of Thomsons Online Benefits North America.

Some of those challenges include designing benefit programs to fit local conditions such as legislation and regulations, taxes, exchange rates and convertibility, cultural differences and local employee expectations, said Neil Currie, a global HR consultant based in Bridgewater N.J. U.S.-based companies also need to realize that “using the U.S. dollar as the basis of conversations outside of the U.S. can lead to confusion and be unproductive.”

The report “pinpointed an increasing need for global companies to implement solutions that will allow them to demonstrate the value of their benefits investment on an individual employee level. By proactively communicating this information, organizations can dramatically increase employee engagement and overall appreciation for total reward packages,” Wakely said in the report.

The survey comprised 150 HR professionals working globally from 48 different industries and covering more than 3 million employees worldwide. The respondents were senior HR executives and managers, and compensation and benefits managers and directors.

Key findings from the survey include:

  • Less than half of respondents (49 percent) had a written global benefits strategy in place at their organization.
  • Forty-one percent offer different benefits depending on the country or region. “This highlights the complexity that multinational companies have to deal with when it comes to administrating and communicating their benefits globally as well as managing all benefit providers and controlling total reward costs,” Wakely said.
  • Nearly half (49 percent) of companies reported that their approach to administering and communicating benefits varies from country to country. “Administering your benefits programs globally can be an even bigger challenge as every region and every country is different, requiring different benefits processes from country to country,” he said, explaining the lack of consistency within multinational organizations. “Ensuring the accuracy and consistency of messages can prove very difficult, especially when employers have 10-15 benefits per country and employees are at a range of different life and career stages.”

The most common communication approaches to deliver total rewards information to employees were the company intranet (53 percent), face-to-face sessions (52 percent) and direct mail (50 percent). Only 3 percent of employers use mobile devices, 5 percent multimedia and 8 percent social media to reach their employees. “HR technology platforms should be optimized for any device and incorporate everything from e-mail to text messages,” Wakely said. “That way, employees can choose their communication method and receive automated messages based on their preference.”

But don’t neglect face-to-face interaction if feasible, advised Ron Pilenzo, Ph.D., SPHR, president and CEO of The Global HR Consultancy, based in Hobe Sound, Fla. “Get employees in a room and go through their benefits with an explanation and watch them jump in with endless questions,” he said. “The other thing you get out of such meetings is feedback from employees on issues other than benefits. Employees will raise issues and questions that are not a part of the benefits review and you can deal with them individually, or after the meetings.”

Another aspect to consider is the frequency of communication. “An important part of a successful benefit communications strategy is to communicate regularly throughout the year,” said Clea Barth, vice president, markets and growth strategies with global insurance provider MetLife. Just 7 percent of employers interact with their employees about their benefits on a monthly basis, while 39 percent do so quarterly, 28 percent every other month, and 26 percent do so once a year or only at the enrollment phase, according to the Thomsons study.

What is the optimal interval of communication? The more frequent the better. According to MetLife’s 12th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study, sixty-three percent of employees would find ongoing education about benefits helpful and 64 percent of employers said increasing communications frequency is an important goal. “Improved communications can also pay dividends when it comes to employee loyalty and increased job satisfaction—employees who find their benefits communications effective are more than twice as likely to say they are very loyal to their company,” Barth said.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him at @SHRMRoy

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