HR Basics for Expanding Your Business into Europe

Expanding your business into Europe is an exciting prospect and milestone that many companies aspire to. A European expansion opens doors to new markets, talent pools, and growth opportunities. 

However, navigating the process of expanding into Europe takes work. You have to work within the limits of new cultures, unfamiliar laws, and unique regulations across different European countries–including when it comes to human resources. 

Your HR team needs to nimbly adapt to cultural norms, build effective HR strategies across international borders, and ensure total compliance with European employment laws. Human resources are a crucial part of a successful expansion. 

At Europe HR Solutions, we help UK- and US-based companies open European operations every day. We know how overwhelming it can seem! However, understanding some basic principles about European and international HR will help you stay on the right track.

10 Basic Principles of International HR

Let’s look at 10 “HR Basics” to keep your European expansion moving smoothly.

  1. Comply with local employment laws and regulations. 

In addition to EU-specific rules, each country has its own regulations when it comes to employing workers. 

For example, in France, the minimum wage is €1,747.20 per month for employees who work France’s standard 35-hour work week. In Spain, though, the minimum monthly wage is €965. Meanwhile, Belgium has one of the highest minimum wages in Europe, at €1,955 per month. 

It’s not just about salaries, though. You must also abide by rules related to paid time off, paid parental leave and sick leave, collective bargaining agreements, workplace safety, protection of your employees’ data, and much more. Working with an experienced HR consultancy firm is the best way to make sure that you are properly aligned with all of these rules that are new to you.

  1. Anticipate and understand cultural differences in the workplace.

A lot of CEOs and business owners have thought that if they are multilingual and hire multilingual workers, they will have overcome their biggest cultural hurdle when it comes to running an international company. While it’s true that language is one of the biggest cultural differences from one country to the next, it’s certainly not the only one–and sometimes, it’s not even the biggest one. 

The leaders of expanding companies need to focus on developing intercultural competence and humility. Your leaders will set the tone for the rest of the company. 

Sometimes, you may need to learn why your European employees are responding the way they are to a new initiative, project, or piece of communication. You should be able to turn to your HR department for culturally sensitive knowledge about the best ways to engage your employees and work together for success.

  1. Your recruitment and hiring strategies will be different in Europe. 

In many ways, what makes a good employee in Europe is the same as what makes a good employee in the UK or US. However, there are important differences in how those employees are recruited that you need to prepare for. 

Some examples include:

  • European employers typically place a higher level of emphasis on specific educational accomplishments and honors, whereas US and UK employers are more open to other forms of experience
  • Employee protections in Europe lead to many European workers choosing long-term careers with a company, rather than changing jobs frequently
  • Employees in some parts of Europe are more likely to look for jobs in traditional print and job board postings, rather than in digital job searches
  1. Be prepared to offer competitive compensation and benefits packages. 

An HR consulting firm can advise you on the appropriate compensation and benefits packages for the countries where you will be operating. If you want to recruit top-tier talent to your company, you will need to provide highly competitive compensation and benefits. 

When it comes to benefits, your HR department should use benefits administration software that is specifically designed for the European marketplace. 

Best practices for onboarding and training

  1. Follow best practices when it comes to onboarding and training

Effective onboarding for new hires in Europe requires a localized and culturally sensitive approach. One crucial step is translating all onboarding materials like policies, benefits summaries, and training content into the local language. Using English-only resources can create confusion and make employees feel alienated from the start. Take the time to properly localize content so it resonates with the specific cultural context.

Assigning mentors or buddies who are seasoned local employees is a powerful onboarding tactic as well. These mentor roles can guide new international hires through early challenges, translate and explain company processes, provide professional development coaching contextualized for that market, and overall accelerate their ramping period.

  1. Prioritize diversity and inclusivity. 

The EU puts a lot of emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion during the hiring process and beyond. To be competitive in the European marketplace, you will need to adopt these values if you haven’t already. 

Foster inclusivity in your workplace through intentional hiring, training, and culture-building. If you decide to outsource your HR team, make sure that you choose an organization that prioritizes these same values in their day-to-day operations.

  1. Manage your employees’ performance and development. 

Securing buy-in from employees on performance management processes is critical when operating across different European cultures. 

We recommend that you start by collaborating with local employee representatives and HR experts to develop evaluation frameworks that resonate with specific workforce norms and values. Invest time in educating new hires on the “why” behind evaluations. 

Ideally, you will develop the understanding that evaluations are tools to support long-term professional development, provide avenues for meaningful feedback, and allow fair recognition of outstanding contributions. 

If you want to develop good engagement in this process, ensure transparency into the criteria and mechanics of your performance reviews.

Be proactive in handling employee relations and grievances

  1. Be proactive in handling employee relations and grievances. 

One of the major responsibilities of your HR department is to handle employee relations and grievances. This is true for your European expansion, as well. 

You will need to build a foundation of effective communication and conflict resolution in the workplace and develop clear processes for addressing grievances and disputes.

  1. Ensure full compliance with data privacy laws. 

Europe takes personal data security very seriously. That includes the data your company handles that belongs to clients or customers, as well as employees. Even if you are accustomed to working with European data laws because you have EU-based clients or customers, you will need to adapt to protect your employees’ data, too. 

Familiarize yourself with Europe’s data protection laws and make sure your policies and data handling are completely compliant.

  1. Working with a trusted HR outsourcing partner can make all of this easier!

When it comes to launching an international expansion in Europe, the stakes are high, and the stress of getting everything right can be pretty intense. 

One of the very best ways to ensure that you are fully compliant with laws, culturally sensitive with your operations, and competitive in the marketplace is simple: outsource your HR tasks to a trusted HR firm like Europe HR Solutions. 

We have decades of experience working with companies like yours–eager to expand but anxious about the possibility of costly and time-consuming mistakes. When you partner with us, you get to leverage our knowledge to ensure full compliance, from contracts and compensation structures to data privacy and workplace policies. 

Outsourcing your HR saves substantial time and costs while reducing the risks of costly errors. Most importantly, it enables you to focus on driving your European growth strategy forward instead of worrying about the complex logistics of HR.

Europe HR Solutions is Your Trusted Ally for Your European Expansion

Expanding your business into Europe presents an incredible opportunity for growth, but it also comes with complexities around employment laws, cultural nuances, and HR best practices. 

By being proactive, partnering with experienced HR experts, and prioritizing compliance, you can navigate the challenges of running a business that operates across international borders. 

Reach out to our experienced, multilingual team of HR professionals to learn more about how we can make your expansion run more smoothly. We look forward to learning about your business, your goals, and how we can help! Contact us today to set up a time to talk.

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      About the author

      The author of this article

      Inez Vermeulen is the Founder and CEO of Europe HR Solutions, with over 25 years of successful corporate and entrepreneurial experience in various global industries. She has helped grow and expand the European divisions of global companies such as Coca-Cola Company, Regus, DHL, American Medical Systems, etc. Inez has received several company awards for her entrepreneurial spirit and success.

      She owns a Bachelor’s degree in French, History and Latin, several HR global expert certifications, a Master’s degree in Metaphysical Sciences, ICF Coach Certification and has completed her Doctorate on Transformational Leadership. Inez is fluent in Dutch, English, French, Italian and German. She works in partnership with an extensive international network of independent & professional companies and resides in Belgium near Brussels with her husband Jan.