As multinational companies expand into new markets, services such as employee assistance programs are taking off on a global level as well.

“At a macro level, there is a general trend towards globalization, especially in the multinational segment,” says Richard Albert, vice-president of global business development at Morneau Shepell, following the announcement of a strategic alliance with one of India’s leading providers of employee assistance programs, 1to1Help.net, last week.

“You’ve got an increasing trend towards the harmonization of benefits because companies are trying to position themselves globally to become employers of choice.”

Read: Morneau Shepell announces alliance with Indian EAP provider

There are a variety of drivers behind the growth of such programs around the world, says JB Gruet, senior vice-president of global business solutions at Workplace Options. They include legislation, the duty of care, the desire to minimize turnover and reduce absenteeism and the availability of information.

“Business leaders across the world look at data now available and see that it’s in their best interest to provide low-cost ways to help employees be more effective, more productive and more engaged,” he says.

According to Gruet, the market for employee assistance programs has exploded in Asia, Central and South America and the Middle East as the number of employees entering into knowledge-based fields expands.

There has also been a consolidation of vendors across borders, says Albert. “So it’s increasingly important for providers such as us to be able to provide programs across the world wherever a client’s employees happen to be based.”

Challenges for local markets

Despite the growing globalization of the market for employee assistance plans, there’s still a challenge in making them relevant for employees at a local level. Gruet says one model wouldn’t apply to all employees across the world.

“Each country, each location and each set of employees have unique challenges,” he says. “This means not only offering different types of programs and different types of support but also different ways to access the service.

“Some cultures prefer phone, some prefer text, some prefer email, some prefer other ways to communicate. We have to adapt the programs and the delivery to maximize the effectiveness of the products we’re offering to help people where, when and how it’s most useful.”

As an example, Gruet says Workplace Options has recently worked with a few multinational companies in Indonesia to bring employee well-being services to factory workers who had never had access to those types of tools. Employees didn’t have access to a computer during the day, but the country has an extremely high level of mobile phone users.

Read: How Canadian multinationals are rising to the challenge of global benefits governance

To adapt to those needs, Workplace Options created a text-based messaging service that provides health, wellness and mental-health information about issues that affect many people in the region. “The program also allows them to ask questions via text and get individualized support for specific issues,” adds Gruet.

“We had to figure out a way to deliver a service in a way that was going to make sense for the people using it, which is a key point driving innovation for us and our entire industry right now.”

Albert believes that, as the globalization of the market for employee assistance programs continues to evolve, it will largely be driven by two things: the relative lack of a developed market as employers expand their footprints and the subsequent need for service providers to be where their multinational clients have employees.

“If the decision is being taken at the headquarter level, in terms of creating a program globally that’s consistent in its content, we need to execute it in a very customized and localized manner to ensure that it’s relevant to the local employees and has maximum impact,” he says.

Read: 47% of multinationals developing global benefits strategies: survey

Copyright © 2019 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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