Crossing the cultural divide

According to the UN, there are around twice as many multi-national businesses operating now as there were in 1990. Although businesses often unite under the banner of ‘the brand’ and encourage staff to share a single set of values, they also seek to celebrate the individuality of local parts of the business. Within this complex cultural environment, is it possible or desirable to take a standardised approach to reward?

P&MM Motivation’s Kuljit Kaur says: “Efficiencies and fairness dictate companies should offer one cohesive solution in today’s ever-evolving workplace. While this makes sense in most areas, it does not for reward.

“As a result, implementing a reward programme for employees located across the world can become a challenge – a reward that works well within the UK may not translate coherently in other countries.”
According to Kaur, the challenge is finding the right reward that appeals to as many employees as possible, is relevant to different countries, doesn’t cause offence, and is a viable gifting solution. After all, a reward that is difficult to source, costly to transport or incompatible with a country’s technology will offer little benefit to recipient or gifter. She continues: “A classic example is countries where alcohol isn’t permitted. Rewarding with alcohol won’t be feasible and won’t have the intended effect.”

A one-size-fits-all approach to reward could well be a potential minefield. But if the employer is determined that this is the way forward, there are solutions, says Kaur.

“A prepaid debit card, such as Spree, enables managers to give something appropriate to staff, irrespective of their cultural beliefs and location. This solution can be loaded with funds and given to staff and managers to select personal rewards. Loadable from the UK, they can then be used to purchase relevant items locally.”

This is a flexible solution to gifting across cultures and countries, but is it possible to monitor country-specific reward trends?

Yes, says Edenred’s Andy Philpott: “Edenred operates across 40 different territories, which gives us insight into international reward, and we’re seeing a growing trend for reward harmonisation.

“This is driven by three forces. The first is supplier rationalisation, in order to reduce the cost of running international reward programmes. The second is consistency. International businesses are mobile and open, with staff moving around to work in different countries and teams collaborating across territories. In this context there has to be fairness and consistency in order for the reward to support engagement and performance. The third is about reinforcing the values and goals of the business, reinforcing the company culture and supporting the right behaviours.”

In terms of the type of reward and benefits on offer, Philpott has witnessed consistent commercial drivers: “From a reward perspective, there is a clear focus on incentivising performance. We see a mix of international and local programmes, which can support strategic initiatives or values-led objectives. Again, global programmes are seeking to foster collaboration between countries. The ability to tailor local delivery so that the reward is presented in the right way for employees is critical to success.”

Tax and legal issues around reward can differ from country to country, but are there other factors that could have a detrimental effect on a multi-national programme?

Philpott continues: “Cultural differences come with each nationality. The Swiss preference for credit cards versus Germans’ mistrust of non-cash are examples of how employers need to understand the preferences of those they are rewarding.”

And, if there is one universal thing, he says, it’s the need for good communication. “There’s a lot the UK can learn from the planning of reward communications from the channel preferences in each country.”

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