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Air Traffic Control And Managing Global Benefits

During a recent plane ride back home from a business trip, I happened upon an article that once again reviewed the most stressful jobs that exist. We have all seen these articles before, but this one was commenting that in today’s economy there is no shortage of applications for open positions. At the top of the list? Air Traffic Controller. No surprise there. I found it ironic that I was on a plane, landing in a storm at one of the busiest airports in the country and was reminded of how much stress the guys and gals in the tower are under!

After reading the article I reflected back on my 30-year career as a Global Benefits Consultant and realized that what I do is similar in nature to that of an Air Traffic Controller.

But—let me first say that while I may have a remote impact on people’s lives, I do not have the lives of people in my hands. To be sure, this is where the massive amount of stress enters into the equation for an Air Traffic Controller.

However, one can draw a comparison between an Air Traffic Controller and an HR Professional that specializes in international employee benefits.

Managing global employee benefit programs for a multinational corporation is not rocket science or some big mystery. It can be at times challenging and depending on the resources available, a bit frustrating.

Most know the nuts and bolts of an employer sponsored health and welfare benefit program. I admit that scope of knowledge is not learned overnight. Due to the nature of these programs they lend themselves to heavy regulatory oversight that keeps many lawyers busy.

Taking this required knowledge in an ever-changing regulatory environment and developing a cost effective, meaningful employee benefit program is a real act of wizardry!

If your company has subsidiaries in 14 countries, one now has to know the basic social security, supplemental benefit plans and all the local laws current and pending to be as effective overseas as well. Consider the U.S. scenario and multiply it by 14 and you get the idea that managing overseas employee benefit plans is a daunting task, but not impossible.

So how does one manage? Well, like an Air Traffic Controller would!

I admit it is a bit of cliché but truth be told managing each country like an airplane is one way to handle this challenge. Consider the issue(s) in each country you operate in. Not all will have concerns as some jurisdictions are less complex than others. Break down each country by project and start to track it.  You will have many projects for many countries running simultaneously. There are many project management tools to assist including time lines, much like the planes each Controller has to track and manage.

Breaking down the project further will be another entry for another day. But I find it helpful to look at the employee type, be they local, expatriate or a third country/mobile—as each has as set of unique characteristics.

The last point on effective global benefit management to mention is the need for two key outside resources; data and personal advice. Access to local benefit data including social security, usual/customary industry benefit levels/benchmarks is a must. Having a colleague, peer and/or outside advisor can provide the glue to bring all the needed parts together to allow for a successful landing of your global benefit projects. ***