The COVID-19 pandemic has been held up as a seminal moment for the future of work – with unprecedented disruption triggering a wholesale shift in the way we do our jobs. But, while this is indisputable, we should acknowledge that change was already afoot.

Even before COVID, employees’ priorities were changing. For example, the growing focus on achieving a work/life balance has been clear for some years now. And there’s also increased expectation that employers will support their people in achieving not just professional objectives, but personal goals too.  

In response to this, organisations have been taking a long, hard look at the employee experience they provide, assessing whether this is fit for purpose and whether this is consistent across markets.

For many, it’s at the international, cross-market level where sticking points emerge. And that’s often down to benefits.

The role of benefits in shaping the employee experience

There’s widespread understanding that benefits are an effective vehicle for demonstrating care and an important element in the employee experience. We hear this first-hand from employees, with 56% agreeing that the benefits their employer provides make them feel valued.

It’s this knowledge that’s responsible for the significant amounts channelled into benefits and the emphasis placed on supporting employees’ mental, physical and social wellbeing. In fact, when looked at as a percentage of basic salary, almost three quarters of employers spend over 16% of their wage bill on employee benefits each year.

What’s more, spending in this area has increased considerably since 2019, with the percentage of employers spending 25% of their overall wage bill on benefits doubling.

Local nuances prove a barrier to consistency

However, the complex nature of the global benefits landscape means that, historically, it’s been very difficult to deliver a consistent benefits experience across markets – or fully understand ROI from spend in this area. To get benefits right in any given country, teams have to understand the nuances of local practices, get to grips with local legislation and find and maintain vendor relationships – amongst a whole raft of other, complex tasks.

This can be hugely challenging for HR departments as the landscape becomes a barrier to them delivering a consistent employee experience. Managing this at a local level is also incredibly time-consuming – and it makes it near impossible to get the cross-market data and insights that will drive more strategic decision making.

The shift towards centralised systems

These challenges are driving a shift towards centralisation, with 44% of multinationals planning to fully centralise within the next 12 months. Getting these systems on board empowers organisations to quickly and securely share, access and analyse employee data across countries, giving them a more accurate overview of their entire universe. This means employers can use the same metrics across locations, identify and share best practice, and update their strategy in response to how well each country or region is performing.

For example, employers might see that absenteeism due to poor mental health is an issue in the US. Equipped with this insight, they can interrogate the benefits they provide in this area and identify how more support could be added, for example, through access to a workplace counsellor or mental health support app.

In this way teams can ensure that employees in each territory are being supported in line with their global benefits and people strategies, while taking into consideration local nuances. This is key to providing a good, globally consistent employee experience. 

COVID-19: catalysing change

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, 81% of multinational employers stated that achieving a globally consistent employee experience was their top priority for 2020. The pandemic has proven the value and importance of making this shift tenfold.

Now more than ever, it’s paramount that employers keep a handle on costs, while providing all employees with a consistent experience, no matter where they are in the world. This is absolutely integral to ensuring they feel a sense of connection and support, which will fundamentally keep them happy and engaged during these most difficult of times.