Shock and Awe

Chuck Csizmar – CMC Compensation Group

When you first look to purchase compensation surveys for your international population, it’s going to be a real wake-up call.  For those accustomed to only US surveys you will find that the available data in many countries is more limited than what you’re accustomed to seeing, as are the number of companies involved.  What won’t be reduced though is the expense.  Quite the opposite.  If you have multiple countries to deal with, your budget for credible compensation data will likely become a multiple of your US experience.

When I worked overseas my budget for compensation surveys was 3-4 times my previous US budget – and I only had to worry about Europe.  What a shock that was – spending much more and arguably receiving less.

Think on it, though: each country is a separate USA, a unique national entity having country-specific labor laws, employment regulations, tax structure, competitiveness challenges and variations of economic strength.  For each you will need a country-specific survey to assess the local competitiveness of your employees.

International HR practitioners will need to adjust their thinking to react effectively in smaller countries, where the working population is limited and so is the number of survey participants.  It will be difficult to slice surveys by geography, industry or employee segment, as the data points grow smaller and smaller with each criteria.  For example, a well-regarded Mercer survey for Sweden showed 202 participating companies, while the Netherlands counted 81.  Meanwhile the US survey totaled 500 companies.

To compound this dilemma of accessing credible data you will typically be required to pay “list” costs for each survey, as compared to the US where I was able to gain lower 2nd copy costs and often times managed to wheedle discounts or “anticipated” participation rates.  Such tactics are not as readily available overseas.

Availability of locally-grown survey data is another challenge.  I have tried to locate such sources, even those provided in the local language, in order to create a greater “buy-in” sense from management, but with very limited success.   Even global companies with non-US headquarters tend to use the multi-national consulting firms.

Accessing International Resources

Should you require information for international compensation practices, below are a number of useful sources, each of which can be tapped via a Google search.  Note: many of the non-US sources focus on limited employee segments or functional areas, which may limit their usefulness during a general search.

Towers Perrin Mercer Culpepper
Hewitt Associates PwC CSi Remuneration
AON Hay Group VenCon Int’l
Reseach (GER)
Radford McLagen Economic Research
IPAS TymWork (SWE) Western Management
Taylor Root (UK) CFA Institute EuroComp
(Western Mgmt)
Federation of
European Employers
Executive Resources
Watson Wyatt
Birches Group LLC Euro Remuneration
Network (GER)
Organization Resources
Counselors (ORC)
Ernst & Young Croner Reward (UK) Robert Walters (UK)
Baumgartner & Partner
Interconsult Ltd
Australian Institute of

Should you only have a few positions (2-3) in a given country you can reduce costs through individual job pricing, vs. the purchase of an entire survey.  More than a few positions though, would render this tactic economically unfeasible.  A few notable sources (though others from the above list may also be able to help):

  • ER Limited
  • ORC
  • Birches Group

Note that I have not included sources from the current vogue of online surveys, like PayScale and  To my mind these sources still have credibility problems to overcome before they would be accepted by senior management as a viable resource.

Another effective strategy for reducing costs is to age current data forward, coupled with the use of biennial purchasing.  However, if utilizing this strategy have a care to limit its use to countries with stable economies.  Using such standard growth figures would miss the mark in countries showing greater volatility.

The Cost of International Operations

Too many HR practitioners and their Managers fail to take into account the expenses involved in keeping their international compensation programs competitive, especially where the organization has a small footprint in a given country.  For companies new to the international scene, and for those with small populations in several countries, the shock of survey costs could be daunting.  Many times the result is a reluctance to purchase the data, in some cases letting matters on the ground continue to fester – potentially overspending and / or creating debilitating equity problems for themselves.

Call it the cost of doing business, but if you’re going to maintain effective operations overseas, and you want to provide a competitive reward package (of course you do!), it would be unwise to shortchange the process by guesstimating or otherwise trying to make-do without credible information.

The cost of surveys is a fraction of the possible financial impact that could result from retaining non-competitive reward programs.

More About Chuck: