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The latest compensation data from the US Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics show that total compensation for US employees has increased modestly over the past year, from $35.28 per hour worked in June 2017 to $36.22 per hour worked in June 2018. Wages and salaries averaged $24.72 per hour worked and accounted for 68.3 percent of these costs, while benefits averaged $11.50 and accounted for 31.7 percent. For private sector employees, compensation has increased from $33.26 per hour worked to $34.19. Wages made up $23.78 or 69.6 percent of that figure, while the remaining $10.41 (30.4 percent) consisted of benefit costs, in which the BLS includes supplemental pay.
While the percentage ratio of wages to benefits was unchanged from June 2017, benefit costs grew at a slightly higher rate than wages year-over-year, nearly 3 percent compared to 2.7 percent. This reflects a nearly 12 percent increase in bonuses and other forms of supplemental pay, from $1.18 per hour to $1.32; supplemental pay made up 3.8 percent of the total compensation mix in June 2018, compared to 3.5 percent a year earlier. Paid leave, including vacation time, also increased slightly.
Taking a longer-term view, over the past five years, benefit costs for private-sector employees have increased by over 20 percent, from $8.64 per hour worked in June 2013; whereas wages and salaries have increased 16 percent, from $20.47 that month. Supplemental pay, by comparison, has increased 65 percent from 80¢ per hour worked in June 2013. This trajectory reflects the increasing tendency we’ve observed among employers in recent years toward variable pay schemes that reward employees for high performance with one-time bonuses rather than standard annual raises.
Despite historically low levels of unemployment and high demand for labor, salary budget surveys for 2018-2019 suggest that US wages will grow on average by just about 3 percent both this year and next year, continuing a trend of lackluster raises despite labor market conditions that theoretically should push earnings higher. The WorldatWork 2018-2019 Salary Budget Survey projects a mean average wage growth of 3.2 percent and a median 0f 3.0 percent next year, little changed from 3.1 percent (mean) and 3.0 percent (median) in 2018.
Employers are continuing to devote a significant share of their salary budgets to variable pay, WorldatWork found, but these budgets also aren’t growing, SHRM’s Stephen Miller observes:
Some 85 percent of U.S. employers gave out performance-based bonuses or other forms of variable incentive pay in 2018, the survey shows, and the amount of variable pay budgeted and paid out, for all employee categories, has been stable for several years. When total rewards professionals were asked about their variable pay budgets for 2019, their responses were virtually unchanged from the amounts budgeted for this year and … for 2017.
Alison Avalos, director of membership and total rewards strategy at WorldatWork, tells Miller that one reason why these budgets aren’t increasing is that employers are increasingly using benefits to attract and retain talent instead of cash rewards, including intangible benefits like professional development opportunities and purpose-driven organizational cultures that align with employees’ personal values.
Similarly, Willis Towers Watson’s 2018 General Industry Salary Budget Survey finds that US professionals can expect raises of 3.1 percent on average next year, compared to 3.0 percent this year. Wage growth has leveled off at around 3 percent per year over the past decade. Their survey also found that star performers would once again see higher increases next year, and registered a slight increase in budgets for discretionary bonuses:
There are very few talent-related issues that generate as much attention as compensation—in particular, how compensation compares among all the various employees at an organization. Historically, companies have preferred not to share information about compensation out of fear that those who are on the bottom half of the compensation chart will become disappointed and disengaged when they learn that they are earning less than their colleagues. This fear has been a major factor in the business community’s objection to the CEO-employee pay ratio reporting rule that came into force in the US this year: When you publish the salary of the median employee, half your employees inevitably discover that their pay is “below average.”
This idea of hiding compensation for fear of disengaging employees is a relic of the past, however. The reality today is that employees can get a sense of how their compensation stacks up compared to their peers through a growing number of websites that share this information publicly, such as Glassdoor, PayScale, or Salary.com. In other words, employees can already find out how their compensation compares to others and are already talking about it; the question for senior leaders is whether they want to participate in or shape these discussions.
As technology has forced greater transparency in compensation, some companies have decided to actively manage the conversation by proactively revealing to their employees what their co-workers, managers, and senior leaders earn. The New York-based tech company Fog Creek Software is one such organization; eight months ago, it gave its three dozen employees a chance to see what their peers were making. On Bloomberg’s “The Pay Check” podcast this week, Rebecca Greenfield checks in with Fog Creek to see how it went:
Fog Creek’s chief executive officer, Anil Dash, believed … that salary transparency would shine a light on unfair pay practices and ensure things stayed that way. Dash, an entrepreneur, prominent tech blogger and prolific tweeter, is a rare, pro-union, tech CEO who also believes in the old-guard internet principle that information wants to be free. “Transparency is not a cure-all and it’s not the end goal, it’s a step on the way to the goal, which is to be fair in how we compensate everyone,” Dash said. …
The practice of basing a new hire’s salary offer partly on what they have earned in the past has become controversial in recent years in light of the theory that this practice may encourage pay inequities to persist throughout an employee’s career. In 2016, Massachusetts became the first US state to bar employers from asking candidates for their salary histories in an amendment to its equal pay law, and other states have followed suit, including California, Delaware, and Oregon, as well as New York City.
Despite the proliferation of these bans, a recent survey from WorldatWork finds that most employers are still using salary histories as a factor in their pay negotiation process in locations where they are still permitted to do so. While 37 percent of employees surveyed said they had prohibited the practice in all their US locations, 35 percent said they did so only in areas where state and local bans exist and 27 percent said they do not operate in any of these areas.
Smaller organizations were the least likely to ban the use of salary histories nationwide, WorldatWork found, with just 25 percent of organizations with under 500 employees saying they did (49 percent said they did not operate in any locales with statutory bans). Large organizations, in contrast, have done so at greater rates: 46 percent of organizations with 10,000 employees or more said they had stopped using salary histories nationwide, while 37 percent said they had dropped them in jurisdictions where bans are now place.
Employers in India are abandoning the traditional practice of across-the-board annual raises to more targeted compensation strategies in which employees are increasingly expected to earn their raises through high performance or professional development, Saumya Bhattacharya reports at the Economic Times:
Last month, when Aon India Consulting announced the findings of its salary increase survey for 2017-18, average increment was estimated to be 9.4% for the year, almost the same as last year. From 2014 to 2018 (projections), average salary increment has declined from 10.4% to 9.4% — with the focus on performance becoming sharper each year. With the ability to learn new skills getting added to the high-performance matrix, the definition of top performers is also set to change.
Top performers, according to the new definition, would get an average salary increase of 15.4%, about 1.9 times that of an average performer, said the survey. … Experts say the phase of a large chunk of employees getting 14-15% increments is over. Ten years ago, you would have 20% of the organisation categorised as high performers. This has shrunk to 7.5% of the population in a company, they add.
When United Airlines announced earlier this month that it was replacing its quarterly performance bonuses with a chance for eligible employees to win prizes in a quarterly drawing triggered by reaching certain performance goals, the blowback from employees was swift and fierce, forcing the airline to quickly backtrack on the plan. By swapping out the modest quarterly bonus for a chance of up to $100,000, United President Scott Kirby had hoped to make the bonus program more exciting for employees, but the Kirby and the rest of United’s leadership misjudged how employees would react to what many saw as a cost-cutting measure that would make it harder for most of them to earn bonuses.
What happened at United can serve as a learning opportunity for other CEOs and rewards leaders, underlining the risks the come with using gamification to motivate employees. Workplace games can sometimes be more effective motivators than cash, as “winning” offers a form of social recognition that financial rewards don’t. Employees can write off losing out on a cash bonus as the price of taking it easy at work, but recognition that is visible to one’s co-workers and serves a social function can motivate them in a different way.
Gamified motivation tactics can also be cheaper and more cost-effective than extra cash, the New York Times‘ Noam Scheiber points out, even if the only prize the game offers is a compliment from the boss. United’s mistake was not in introducing a gamified element to their rewards program, per se, but rather in what it took away to make room for it. In other words, the psychological rewards of winning a competition can be motivational when they come on top of regular compensation, but they can’t be a substitute for it:
“Shareholders and management get the monetary rewards, and ‘meaning’ and ‘excitement’ are consolation prizes that go to workers,” said Caitlin Petre, an assistant professor of media studies at Rutgers University who has examined similar practices at media companies. “This is very much in line with my understanding of how the gamification trend in workplaces operates.” …
Major US companies are continuing to drop the practice of asking job candidates for their salary histories nationwide in response to the proliferation of state and local laws barring them from doing so. The Progressive Corporation plans to add more than 7,500 new hires to its workforce in 2018, and won’t be asking any of them about their prior salaries as part of the process of setting compensation, the company announced in a press release last week:
Progressive recently decided it would no longer ask applicants about their salary history. “We’ve always based our pay on market research,” [Chief Human Resources Officer Lori] Niederst said. “We hope this change will give candidates who apply for our jobs confidence that they will be paid based on what they bring to Progressive, regardless of whether their previous employers paid them fairly.”
The Ohio-based automobile and homeowner’s insurance provider currently employs more than 33,000 people in almost 400 offices throughout the US. The company plans to hire extensively this year in Austin, Cleveland, Colorado Springs, Phoenix, Sacramento, and Tampa. Only one of these locations (Sacramento, California) is subject to a law prohibiting employers from inquiring about candidates’ salary histories, but Progressive is dropping these inquiries everywhere.