This week, the dissection of Microsoft’s guide for ex-pats coming to the UK made for some amusing headlines in the national press, not least the advice to leave guns at home in the States.

But for all the chortling at the idea that people from the US need a 44-page guide to tell them what pub is or how to shop at Argos, the story underlines an important point issue. That is, you can never pay too much attention to the impact of culture differences on employee performance in an international business.

In the case of Microsoft, getting their people integrated as quickly as possible into life in Cambridge, where their new research centre is based, is critical to the business if it is to have teams who are working effectively and not sweating over the small details of life that can stress you out when you move to a new country.

But there are plenty of other areas where cultural quirks can have a big impact on employee performance for international businesses. Most notable of these can be in the area of benefits and reward.

From a benefits perspective the biggest problem is the issue of consistency. While having a uniform cross-benefits offering makes life easier for international businesses from a perspective of managing suppliers and benefits administration, it can be an area which can have a deeply negative impact on employees and team performance if you don’t get it right. This ranges from the big items like holidays – a big issue for US businesses where one or two weeks of annual leave is the norm – to the smaller ones, like the provision of luncheon vouchers, which European employees simply expect to be part of the deal. Either way, big or small, if you get it wrong, the impact on performance and engagement can be immense.

From a reward perspective there are similar issues. As group-wide initiatives around culture change, values and behaviour are increasingly supported by reward programmes, the importance of getting the design and the incentives right for each territory is critical to their success and the business outcome. Get the type of reward wrong or communicate it in the wrong way it is not uncommon for a scheme to set people against change or alienate them from the business outcomes you need them to support.

Unfortunately, in both cases, there is no magic formula or shortcut to getting it right. The challenge for organisations is to take time to think about how culture, behaviour and expectations need to impact on benefits and reward strategy: the devil really is in the detail.

So although while it is easy to smirk at some of the detail in Microsoft’s efforts to help its employees get with UK culture, it is smarter to recognise it is the small cultural stuff that matters most to employees. Paying attention to it in every aspect your HR planning will always pay dividends.

Andy Philpott is sales and marketing director at Edenred –

Twitter – @Andy_Philpott