I was asked the other day to have a session with a 15 year old work study student to explain "what I do." Sounds easy enough, right? It’s far from it. Trying to explain to someone who has not yet entered the workplace how HR’s role is to attract, retain and engage employees sounds about as foreign to them as when my teenagers try to explain to me the differences between Instagram, Snapchat, ooVoo and kik.
Now try to explain the challenges of doing this for a global workforce and it gets even more difficult.
I was struggling for an analogy, and then it hit me:
Isn’t managing a global workforce somewhat like being a parent to multiple children?
Isn’t our role to make all of our “children” (employees) feel taken care of, loved and last but not least, feel like we don’t favour one child over the other?
When I finally came up with this analogy it made it much easier to explain this concept, and we ended up having a lovely conversation about how she feels when her siblings get things that she doesn’t, and why sometimes it’s important that this happens. (Her parents owe me big time!)
So let’s explore this concept of global populations and favouritism - what can we do so that we don’t favour one child (country) with our reward programmes over another, or if we do, how we can explain the differences. The biggest difficulty is respecting that our children (countries) are so different with their needs and abilities - what’s appropriate for that respective country, and what can and can’t be done. We all struggle with this dilemma of favouritism, sometimes having more success than others. Here are three steps to consider when tackling this challenge at your organisation:
1. Say it
The first place to start when trying to convince your children (countries) that you don’t favour one over the other is to say it — tell them that this is not something which you believe in and it isn’t something that you’ll do. Show your employees that avoiding favouritism is important enough to have in place a reward strategy and reward principles.
Your words can be a powerful message to your employees.
We did this recently at Reward Gateway when we developed and communicated our global reward strategy. We included the word ‘fairness’ as a principle, explaining that it meant treating employees globally in a fair and consistent way, or if we couldn’t, having a reason which we could explain/justify to our employees.
2. Mean it
You’ve shared your vision, but it can’t end here. You need to show your children (employees) that you mean it. With children it’s about doing your best to give them equal amounts of love and attention, and with your countries it’s about giving their reward programmes equal consideration and attention when it comes to decision making.
It’s also about starting with a global approach to your decision making process. I call it the ‘yes I can’ approach, starting with an attitude that you can do it globally and only deviate from it if you find it can’t be done for good reasons
3. Explain it
There are times when we do favour our children (countries), and do so for good reasons. Maybe a country is going through challenging times due to growth or turnover, the competitive environment might be fierce, or even legislative changes are demanding your attention (e.g. the Affordable Care Act in the U.S., or Pension Auto Enrollment in the UK).
In these situations it’s fine to favour a country, but make sure that you’re doing two key things:
1. You’re doing it for the right reasons and not just because they’re screaming the loudest
2. You explain these differences in an open and honest way both to that country, and to the others that might be feeling neglected.
For example, we offer local benefits such as 401k and superannuation plans in the US and Australia respectively, food vouchers in Bulgaria and childcare vouchers and cycle-to-work plans in the UK. They’re all considered fair as they’re based on three decision factors: They need to comply with legislation, they’re competitive, or they take advantage of products or tax advantages in a country.
If you’re not already, as HR professionals we need to consider the impact of favoritism on our countries as we develop and deliver our global and local reward programmes. As with children, think of the harmful impact it could have on them as they grow up. For your employees, showing favouritism with zero explanation or transparency will lead to a disengaged workforce, and make it that much harder to achieve your mission of an engaged staff. Treat everyone with fairness vs. favouritism and you never know, you might wind up being their favourite!
Debra is our Group Reward Director at Reward Gateway. She's our Rewards guru, having over 20 years experience as a rewards leader, speaker, teacher and an author of a book on employee communications. She's most recently known as the co-author of "The Rebel Playbook for Employee Engagement," which she's writing with Founder Glenn Elliott.