Compensation Challenges Will Increase in 2011

For the past couple of years many employers have had the luxury of not needing to spend much time or energy on compensation issues. Loyal employees were happy to have a job and contribute to their organization without expecting pay increases. Now these employees feel it is time to be rewarded for their loyalty or at least be paid what they feel is fair for the work they are performing.

One might ask how I know employees are feeling this way. Two reasons: 1) surveys and other data and 2) first-hand experience.

  • Survey results suggest upcoming compensation challenges

According to a Right Management national survey released this week, 84% of employees plan to actively seek a new position in 2011.

The Labor Department’s survey known as the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (also released this week) shows that advertised job openings are at their highest level since August 2008.

While these surveys don’t necessarily say employers will experience compensation challenges, they do say employees are open to new positions and new positions are becoming available. Combining these factors leads me to believe employees are going to be looking for raises to stay with their current employers.

  • First-hand experience

I manage a staffing firm that is currently experiencing an inflow of candidates who are looking for new opportunities solely because of money. While I’m excited to have the opportunity to represent these talented candidates, I want to help my readers and mention that in many cases it would not have taken much to retain these employees. In other words, employers are losing employees that they really shouldn’t be losing. To be clear, I am not talking about mercenary employees who constantly shop the highest bidder; I’m referring to otherwise loyal, talented employees who enjoy their existing job except for feeling underpaid and/or underappreciated.

My suggestions for managing compensation challenges:
Proactively address compensation challenges before they become an issue

Once a talented employee concludes that they are unfairly compensated and decides they would consider another job, it is probably too late and their employer has an uphill challenge trying to retain that person. Employers really need to address this challenge before it gets to the point where the employee feels taken advantage of. I can’t tell you how many times I talk to candidates who get counter-offers from their current employer and decline them. It typically does not even matter if the counter-offer is for more money then the job they are leaving to take. Don’t let this happen to you: address true compensation issues before it is too late.
Consider internal equity as well as the larger marketplace for talent

For many people the amount of pay is less important than its perceived fairness or equity. It is only natural for employees to compare their pay to someone who is doing the same job within the same organization. Some employees will compare their pay to employees doing a different job in the organization or with someone doing the same job in another organization.

Many times the comparisons are not exactly fair to the employer. Employees use positions that are not really comparable at all as benchmarks. Or they ignore parts of their compensation package and only focus on the parts that compare unfavorably. For instance, Employee A who has a high base salary and low bonus only wants to talk about his bonus and why it is lower than Employee B who has a low base salary. Regardless of whether the comparisons are fair or not, employers will need to deal with fairness issues if they want to retain staff.

It really is crucial to know the “market” wages for your company’s positions. There is a lot of information available: try the internet, industry trade organizations, or staffing firms- most will be happy to provide the information free of charge. The key is to be educated about fair pay in the marketplace; otherwise you run the risk of losing people.
Get creative with compensation and benefits

While we would like to pay everyone all they want to be paid, in the real world budget constraints exist. Look to maximize your budget by getting creative; I’ll give a couple of examples …

  • Flexible schedules

At my company we allow certain people very flexible schedules. The employees have certainly earned this benefit and they carry significant responsibilities. This benefit of a flexible schedule does not cost the company anything in hard dollars or even in management time to accommodate the flexibility. Yet the value to the employees is tremendous; from the employee’s perspective the quality of life value is worth tens of thousands of dollars. It is truly a “win-win” situation. I’ll mention that it took us some effort to make these situations work so that responsibilities could be managed, but the effort was well worth it.

  • Incentive based compensation

Let’s say you are faced with a situation where you just can’t pay someone any more money; maybe you are constrained by internal equity issues or maybe you have a budget challenge and you simply don’t have the money to spend. Consider developing a creative incentive plan that rewards the employee if more value is created from their work. If the employee is truly delivering more value it might justify the additional compensation or benefit. Incentive plans are certainly easier to create in sales environment but with some effort can be developed for all employees. My favorite incentive plans reward innovation and/or customer service.
Don’t “set it and forget it”

Commit to regular reviews of your compensation packages to ensure they are fair, equitable and competitive. Loyal employees may not mind waiting until their review date to bring up compensation concerns, but if there is no date or mechanism to raise their concern, the employee may get frustrated and leave.

Many employers will see compensation challenges in 2011. Don’t be caught by surprise; proactively manage compensation at your organization so you can retain your talented employees.
Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.


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