January 13, 2023

3 tips for designing equitable international benefits for a global workforce

Like many other HR teams, you’re probably looking to begin or expand hiring internationally. The pandemic forced a remote work experiment that has proven to be successful for many companies, with about 1 in 4 “remote-capable” workers expecting to work exclusively remotely long-term according to Gallup. Despite recent high-profile layoffs, labor markets in the US remain as competitive as ever, which is one of the reasons that a report from Velocity Global shows 72% of employers plan to expand to multiple countries within five years.

Remote work adoption

International labor markets certainly present a great opportunity for growing organizations, but they’re not entirely without challenges. In addition to scaling sourcing efforts and configuring compliant payroll, organizations need to internationalize their benefits in an equitable way.

Many of our customers struggled with making their benefits internationally compatible and relevant for their diverse, global workforces. Along with many other drawbacks, pre-tax cards and programs like HSAs, FSAs, and commuter cards are completely inapplicable abroad. Similarly, lifestyle spending accounts and wellness benefits administered via marketplaces and single-purpose cards suffer even more inflexibility and friction internationally than they do domestically. Wellness brands and products that are popular in the US may not be available internationally, while the spending categories that are popular in the US may not be priorities elsewhere.

Multiple benefits categories

Beginning July 1, 2023, JOON will start being available internationally. Because JOON is a customizable “choose-your-own” benefit powered by a card-connected experience, employers will be able to seamlessly configure flexible benefits that are attractive for each country. In preparation, here are the 3 tips for creating equitable international benefits:

#1 Learn to say “wellness” in multiple languages

Wellness is a universally important concept, but it doesn’t necessarily translate easily from one country to the next. Consider that many international workers likely have access to socialized healthcare, parental leave, and other services that may provide more or less coverage than your US-based healthcare plans and labor laws. What might be considered a generous benefit in the US could be standard elsewhere, and vice versa. 

“We’ve leveraged JOON to support a diverse and fair wellness and benefits program so employees can choose what they value vs the company choosing,” says Sara Simmons, Head of People at Beatstars. “We educate our employees that wellness and self-care may mean something different to each other, which is why we value choice and quality of options over a defined program or specific offering. We’ve also launched company-wide self-care days once a quarter so employees have the time to shut down and replenish and leverage access to JOON or to spend that time to fill their tanks, whatever that may mean to them.”

The causes of stress, low morale, and low productivity vary from country to country. In the US, employers that work with JOON heavily emphasize student loan repayment for young workers in debt and family care for working parents. Juxtapose that with the situation at an employer with a UK workforce where the major source of stress is soaring electricity prices. For them, wellness is an allowance for energy bills. 

It’s important to survey your workforce to better understand what “wellness” means in every country and to design benefits that your workforce actually uses and appreciates.

#2 Convert allowances into purchasing power

However you translate “wellness” across countries with regard to spending categories, it’s also important to take an equitable approach to allowances. Compensation is always a sensitive topic, in particular for distributed workforces where equivalent jobs may have varying compensation depending on location.

Unless there are extenuating circumstances, the most common and equitable approach is to localize allowances based on purchasing power or cost of living, which is a bit more sophisticated and stable than a currency conversion. In other words, if their “base” allowance in the US is enough to cover a gym membership, then the allowance in each country should be enough to cover a gym membership in those countries (even if the gyms and categories are different across benefits programs). 

Purchasing power

Purchasing power data is publicly available and you can use a simple calculator to convert purchasing power from one country to the next in local currencies. For example, $100 in USD is $1,004 in MXN or 62.45 €EUR in Spain. 

#3 Be a local tour guide

While many employees have well-defined wellness routines to apply their benefits to, the vast majority of workers will need some help to get started. The wellness space is overwhelming and can feel intimidating like a blank canvas. One of the most popular features that JOON offers is our Categories Guide, which gives benefits recipients suggestions of popular merchants in each category. Our guides will soon be localized to a benefits recipient’s country.

Localized categories guides

As employees begin investing in their wellness, JOON’s platform can make recommendations to help them along their journey. Each employee will also receive our popular newsletter with curated reviews and expert interviews. Having a partner like JOON can make your global benefits feel localized and personalized rather than bland and haphazard, so that no employee feels second-class.

As you grow your organization globally, it’s important to incorporate flexible and equitable benefits as a proven technique to increase employee engagement and retention. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if we can be helpful. Schedule a time with me and let’s talk about your international benefits!