I was born and raised in the US, where we’re led to believe that mothers should return to work as quickly as possible after having a child. It wasn’t until I gave birth in Germany that I understood how things should really be.
As I moved around Europe and finally settled in Ireland with my family, I learned that there is a drastic difference in employee benefits, financial systems, health system, and injustices to women across countries.
Germany gives new mothers 12 months off work. The way Europe’s employee laws put humans first taught me that the US employee benefits system is substandard.
We don’t see our business leaders as having our best interests at heart, but as bosses that we’re subservient to, and that creates a climate of fear around seeking better benefits.
As the CEO of a remote-first company, where employees are distributed across seven countries including the US, Ireland, and Portugal, I’ve made a conscious effort to harmonize the benefits that all employees receive.
Benefits that make people’s lives easier aren’t free gifts – they’re essential ingredients to the wellbeing of team members, the company, and our bottom line.
Granted, this is especially hard in international teams where everyone is subject to different nations’ laws and rights.
But employees deserve better than what some of their countries can offer, which is why I make sure my company lives by better rules. To do this, I’ve drawn these from best practices in other countries, and built on top of them.
Treat everyone equitable, not equally
This is not a case of identifying the best benefits system in the world and offering that as blanket coverage to all your employees. If you were to give a senior engineer in Italy and one in New Jersey a $10,000 bonus each, you wouldn’t actually be paying those two people an equal amount of wealth.
While the engineer in Italy has a complete social safety net at their disposal, the person in New Jersey has far more economic considerations draining their wallet.
Even if a man and a woman are employed in the same country, the “pink tax” (not an actual tax) means that women have higher daily expenses, from menstrual products to toiletries. People with disabilities will also likely be paying more for any equipment, medication, and lifestyle needs.
Employers can make benefits equitable across countries, genders, abilities, and situations by making sure we top off the disparities in other areas.
Higher salaries and bonuses, and more time off for bureaucratic responsibilities are some ways to compensate for an employee’s greater price of living.
Doing the legwork is your responsibility
That’s a lot of work for companies, big and small. It means understanding not only the benefits you’re required to offer employees in different countries, but also the life conditions, costs and needs people of different situations experience within those countries.
But today’s tech companies are remote companies. And we can’t be hiring people in other countries simply because the costs are lower.
We have to show employees we care about the environment they live in and that we’re choosing to step into. Understand what benefits are important to their culture, ask them what healthcare system they know and trust and offer to pay for it. But don’t expect them to give you the lay of the land.
It’s your responsibility as an employer to treat their situation with the same respect and seriousness you’d give to an employee in your home country.
Today’s employers might feel like they can get away with not caring about employee rights abroad right now; but sooner or later, those enticing low labor costs are going to even out.
If you’re only hiring remote for money instead of paying attention to how that expands your team culture and your product reach as you gain a deeper understanding of other markets, then it will be counterproductive.
It opens up vulnerabilities for companies who aren’t caring enough. Especially in Europe, there are critical things you need to comply with. In Ireland, for example, you need to make sure your team takes at least 20 days of paid time off, or you could be sued.
Navigating the waters with HR tech
Your heads of HR and finance need a bird’s eye view of international regulations and conditions in order to adapt how benefits are distributed.
There’s a lot of support out there from companies like Boundless, who we work with, that help hire and manage international teams compliantly. They help deal with payroll, tax filings, and other admin across nations.
There are also resources that deep-dive into the entire employment lifecycle, which include life and legal realities of living with disabilities in specific countries.
With these insights, employers can identify the benchmark in different countries. And then build on that.
For example, each different EU country offers employees a specific number of days for paid maternity and paternity leave. Yet the US is the only rich country without a national statutory paid parental leave.
It’s no surprise that the US is listed by UNICEF as the worst country in the world for its maternity leave. So at Stark, we use best practices as an example and give employees paid maternity and paternity leave as standard.
We’ve also rolled in other benefits that are standardized in Europe but not the US, like 30 days vacation and in some cases a four-day work week.
Platforms like Boundless also allow us to continually monitor any changes in country conditions, which is crucial in staying compliant and avoiding hefty fines, something even companies like Google are struggling to navigate.
Today’s companies need to be attentive to people’s personal needs, whether or not they look like them or live near them.
With leadership that works hard to care for their own people and provides equitable benefits anywhere on the globe, a business can survive into the future with a strong team that cares about their success.