Employer-Sharing Discussion: Global Benefits - June 1, 2022

On June 1, 2022, Business Group on Health held the latest of a series of monthly calls for employer members to network on the most pressing issues impacting their workforces around the world. Employers spoke about policies for high-inflation countries, participated in a midyear check-in on priorities and discussed their plans to create an equitable global benefits strategy.


June 13, 2022

High-inflation Countries

Navigating Requests from High-Inflation Regions

  • As inflation continues to grow around the world, employers struggle to field requests from employees, specifically those in high-inflation countries.
  • Some employers have agreed to cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for employees in countries marked as higher inflation. One employer has developed a process where the company waits 4-6 months from the request to see if the inflation rates stabilize. If they don’t, the country gets added to the company’s ongoing COLA list.
  • This process can be particularly challenging for employers, as there is a lag because market data is collected only twice per year. As a result, one company highlighted the importance of COLA decisions coming from business leaders rather than from HR to get the necessary buy-in and results.
  • Several companies have been receiving increased requests directly from executives as they resume travel to global locations.
  • Current countries of concern include Argentina, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Venezuela.

Mid-Year Checkpoint

Mental Health

  • One company is focused on obtaining more quantitative data on its mental health programs to go beyond the qualitative data it already has. This company would like to be able to track case management effectiveness and evaluate outcomes. Another employer is looking at options to expand mental health services through its medical plan.
  • Employee assistance programs (EAPs) continue to be a highly utilized mental health resource, but some employers are looking to go beyond EAP with digital solutions, anti-stigma programs and more. However, EAPs are often one of the few programs that employers can offer to employees in every country.
  • Like many others, one company has leveraged its EAP for several well-being programs, including mental health, social and financial. The next challenge for this company is going beyond utilization data to get a bigger picture of program success and looking for new cutting-edge solutions for future pilot programs.
  • Another employer has utilized its EAP to provide dedicated mental health counselors for its employees in various markets. The counselors are onboarded by the company to learn about the company culture and its employees’ mental health needs. The counselors meet quarterly to discuss high-level trends. So far, employees have given feedback that this program is highly valuable. Currently most counselors are virtual, allowing employees to feel more comfortable making appointments without worrying about the potential stigma of visiting an on-site counselor.

Global Benefits Strategy

  • One employer is launching a new total rewards optimization study with a focus on benefit plans, compensation and flexibility. The survey will launch in July with results expected in fall 2022. The hope is that this study will give the company a greater understanding of which benefits, perks and flexibility options are most valuable to employees. The study is part of a larger strategy to determine perceived employee value proposition vs. program cost.
  • Several companies are in the process of centralizing their global benefits strategies by taking an inventory of offerings in an effort to harmonize and establish a more consistent approach. One company is implementing a global broker and has found that the process has taken longer than initially expected.

Vendor Challenges

  • One employer is looking at potential vendors to assist in serving populations underrepresented in current global offerings, including caregivers and people with disabilities. This employer noted that vendor options outside the U.S. are limited, especially those with a culturally relevant background for caregiving, as caregiving and the cultural values surrounding it differ so much from country to country.
  • Employers have noted the challenge of finding platforms and vendors that are truly global in the way they are developed, rather than translated from a U.S.-centric perspective.

Equitable Benefit Design: Opportunities and Challenges

Benefits for Low Population Countries

  • It can be particularly challenging to offer a consistent and equitable benefits experience for employees in the smallest footprint locations; in some cases, there may be countries with only one employee. The traditional approach is to offer an allowance and have the employee select their own benefits. However, this can often lead to employees feeling less invested in their employer.
  • Some companies have used their expat medical plans to address this challenge, with several utilizing a solution (offered by Willis Towers Watson) to pool all these small population employees into the same group.

Flexible Benefits

  • A poll conducted on the call found that 44% of companies are currently providing flexible benefits, and another 44% are considering doing so.
  • Employers offering flexible benefits highlighted the importance of communications to drive implementation and utilization results.
  • One company recently began offering flexible benefits for employees in China with the help of its global broker. This was due to higher-level employees in the country demanding that the company replicate flexible benefit programs outside the U.S. The program has been so successful that the company is planning a similar launch in India.

Benefit Eligibility

  • While working to create more consistency in benefit offerings around the world, employers must address benefit eligibility for employees in three categories: local hires (people who would be eligible for a government health insurance plan), expats and foreign hires (third-country nationals).
  • Right now, one company has an expat plan for expats and third-country nationals but is looking to centralize its benefit programs. The company’s HR team has expressed the desire to set rules to determine eligibility for health insurance coverage for third-country nationals who are not expats.
  • For employers in the same position, it is helpful to identify what experience they want employees to have and what vendors and mechanisms are required to deliver that experience. Companies with global brokers and consultants can leverage them here as well as leaning on expat vendors.

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