You are here

Compensation and Rewards

19 January, 2016 - 15:28

There are a few options when choosing compensation for a global business. The first option is to maintain companywide pay scales and policies, so for example, all sales staff are paid the same no matter what country they are in. This can reduce inequalities and simplify recording keeping, but it does not address some key issues. First, this compensation policy does not address that it can be much more expensive to live in one place versus another. A salesperson working in Japan has much higher living expenses than a salesperson working in Peru, for example. As a result, the majority of organizations thus choose to use a pay banding system based on regions, such as South America, Europe, and North America. This is called alocalized compensation strategy. Microsoft and Kraft Foods both use this approach. This method provides the best balance of cost-of-living considerations.

However, regional pay banding is not necessarily the ideal solution if the goal is to motivate expatriates to move. For example, if the employee has been asked to move from Japan to Peru and the salary is different, by half, for example, there is little motivation for that employee to want to take an assignment in Peru, thus limiting the potential benefits of mobility for employees and for the company.

One possible option is to pay a similar base salary companywide or regionwide and offer expatriates an allowance based on specific market conditions in each country.  1This is called the balance sheet approach. With this compensation approach, the idea is that the expatriate should have the same standard of living that he or she would have had at home. Four groups of expenses are looked at in this approach:

  1. Income taxes
  2. Housing
  3. Goods and services
  4. Base salary
  5. Overseas premium

The HR professional would estimate these expenses within the home country and costs for the same items in the host country. The employer then pays differences. In addition, the base salary will normally be in the same range as the home-country salary, and anoverseas premium might be paid owing to the challenge of an overseas assignment. An overseas premium is an additional bonus for agreeing to take an overseas assignment. There are many companies specializing in cost-of-living data, such as Mercer Reports. It provides cost-of-living information at a cost of $600 per year. Table 14.6 shows a hypothetical example of how the balance sheet approach would work.

Table 14.6 The Balance Sheet Approach to Compensation

Chicago, IL



Tax rate



5% or $288/month





Base salary




Overseas premium




Total allowance



Total salary and allowance





Other compensation issues, which will vary greatly from country to country, might include the following:

  1. The cost of benefits in another country. Many countries offer universal health care (offset by higher taxes), and therefore the employee would have health benefits covered while working and paying taxes in that country. Canada, Finland, and Japan are examples of countries that have this type of coverage. In countries such as Singapore, all residents receive a catastrophic policy from the government, but they need to purchase additional insurance for routine care.  2 A number of organizations offer health care for expatriates relocating to another country in which health care is not already provided.
  2. Legally mandated (or culturally accepted) amount of vacation days. For example, in Australia twenty paid vacation days are required, ten in Canada, thirty in Finland, and five in the Philippines. The average number of US worker vacation days is fifteen, although the number of days is not federally mandated by the government, as with the other examples.  3
  3. Legal requirements of profit sharing. For example, in France, the government heavily regulates profit sharing programs.  4
  4. Pay system that works with the country culture, such as pay systems based on seniority. For example, Chinese culture focuses heavily on seniority, and pay scales should be developed according to seniority. In Figure 14.5, examples of hourly compensation for manufacturing workers are compared.
  5. Thirteenth month (bonus) structures and expected (sometimes mandated) annual lump-sum payments. Compensation issues are a major consideration in motivating overseas employees. A systematic system should be in place to ensure fairness in compensation for all expatriates.