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The Greater the Height, the Better the View

I was recently involved in an ethics discussion. The details don’t really matter for the purposes of the story, but the outcome does.

The problem was unexpected. There were many questions asked by those involved in weighing in on the solution.  Was the problem deliberate?  Were we exaggerating on the significance of the problem?  Did we have the right people in the room to decide what to do? What was the easiest way through?  What were the legal implications?  What were the costs? What kind of communication was required?  What kind of course correction or retraining was required? What was the potential visibility? What were the reputational issues?

Ultimately, what was the moral high ground?

The course of action selected wasn’t the easiest.  Everyone involved had work to do.  Everyone acknowledged a lesson was learned.

The participants didn’t have to take to the high ground, but they did.  What made me feel good was that no one seemed put out by doing the right thing. Rather, they seemed excited about having the opportunity to do the right thing.

One person said, “The greater the height, the better the view.”

I love this expression so much that I wrote it down to ponder it more thoroughly.

Mount Nemo, Bruce Trail

Mount Nemo, Bruce Trail

I have spent a lot of time recently climbing to get a better view.  As someone attempting to be an “end-to-ender” on the Bruce Trail, I can say there’s a lot of satisfaction gained from getting to see the view at the top.  So much so that I hunger for finding the next great height, sustaining me through many long and at times grueling walks.

Mentally, what I want in life is operating from the high view.  In business, we sometimes call this the 30,000 foot level; the ability to see far and wide, the future.  From up here, the value is being able to see the bigger picture.  At heights, it is easier for your moral compass to guide you.

Imagine how different our lives would be if our moral compass was able to operate optimally because we could see the future and direction more clearly.  It would be a world without dirty politics. There would be greater clarity on what to do in financial uncertainty.  We would have a world where personal and social responsibility work in harmony.  We would have happiness and engagement.

It would be a world where HR would be a part of strategy and not on the clean-up crew.

And life would be grand.


Markheybo, Flickr

Markheybo, Flickr

Among HR folks, I hear this a lot:

“I’m so busy at work that I barely have time to think.”

Here’s a truth.  There’s an inherent risk in busyness. Despite the myriad of tasks to get done, in HR you need time to think.

Mistakes in HR are costly.  Sometimes mistakes occur are because you miss a detail.

Other times they occur because you miss the bigger picture.

Mistakes by HR:

  • Contribute to poor employee relations.
  • Damage HR’s reputation as a contributor.
  • Result in someone getting overpaid, or underpaid.
  • Result in someone getting hurt.

And there’s more.  Failure to think could cause you to get caught up in perpetuating bad people practices.

If you’re a professional, you should never just do what you’re told without asking why.  While familiarity, routine and predictability are satisfying, they can lull you into a dullness that prevents you from probing deeper.  Our industry is full of debunked policies still labelled as best practice and new products and services that do nothing but make their inventors wealthier.

I can remember a time when I had spent a lot of time fixing up some gaps at a client.  Quite literally, I was handed a checklist of things to do, thankfully all in my wheelhouse. In a short period of time, I got employment agreements in place, introduced a benefits plan, got an organizational chart in place, facilitated the development of HR policies, and addressed a very problematic attendance management and WSIB issue.  I organized employee records and improved payroll.  I got a training plan going and the subject of “people” on the executives monthly meeting agenda.  The approach fit the mandate and was scalable, the I’s and T’s were addressed, but the impact was minimal.

I didn’t think.

I’m not saying that getting in the basics was unimportant. The important element that was missing, which I did not actively sell due to perceived time and budget limitations, was what might’ve moved the needle on employer branding and improving productivity.  When it came to HR, a fast-growing company like theirs needed something of a sizzle, and this needed to coincide with the introduction of the basics.

What employees needed most was a roadmap of what kinds of things they might expect to see in the future.  They also needed a way to express their preferences.

And, what they really wanted as an outcome was for HR to be their advocate.

Do policies and terms of employment need to come first?  Not always.

So think about the value of what you do, the impact of your activities and their importance.

If you agree HR should be more human-friendly, then please, join me (and hundreds of other workplace game changers) at Globoforce’s WorkHuman conference in May.  Use promocode WH16BT300 when you register to get $300 off.

6 Tips to Improve Pay Equality

Photo: PatrickSeabird, Flickr

Photo: PatrickSeabird, Flickr

Today is Equal Pay Day in the U.S.  It is supposed to symbolize how far into a year you have to go until a woman earns the same as a man did last year.

As an HR Professional with a focus on compensation practices, that this day to recognize pay disparities is still needed is interesting to me.

I have spent over 25 years working in compensation, developing structures, frameworks and pay policies.  What is clear to me is that the bedrock of an effective pay structure is a well-thought through policy that contemplates the need for a compensation system to attract, retain, motivate, focus and align (or attempts to address as many of these elements as possible).

Unfortunately, there is a potential for a lot of disconnect in a compensation system.

We like to think of compensation as a carrot, encouraging certain types of behaviour.  The reality is that for many types of roles, there is nothing that can be done with compensation to significantly change behaviour.  That is because there is such a poor link between base compensation and motivation.  To use psychology 101, think of compensation in Hertzberg’s Two Factor Theory as a hygiene factor.  Compensation must be present for motivation to occur but compensation itself is not the motivator.  Further perception of inequities decreases motivation.  This is why you need a lot of human resources tools in your motivation strategy, because good compensation alone is not the solution.

For the most part, I don’t think modern decision-makers purposely set out to introduce pay inequities at their workplaces.  Sometimes unaddressed historical issues eat up the wage budget and prevent a real focus on making good investments in people.  Sometimes there is an over-reliance on 1950’s notions of what pay policy should be. The sad truth is that those entering a job/field at the entry level (or who enter, leave and return the workforce at various points in life) face challenges in making meaningful year-over-year gains in their wages if their intention is to stay with only a few employers in their lives.  If you think about the size of the common merit adjustment today, it explains why the notion that you have to leave an employer to move up holds true too often.

And unfortunately all of the above challenges disproportionately impact women.

But there are some simple things you can do to increase the odds of an equitable compensation system. These are described below:

  1. End pay secrecy. Do you have a meritocracy? Prove it.  I’m not saying to make actual pay available, although there are some organizations who do. But the more you make the methodology behind decisions visible, the more open the environment is to talk about compensation, the greater the perceptions of fairness and level of engagement.  And it is the fairness element that makes pay equality valuable.
  1. Invest in developing a structure. Equality starts with being fair among similarly-valued jobs, not just with Bob in the cubicle next to you.  It is difficult to make good decisions about who should earn what if you don’t know the relativity of overall value.  This means that you need to develop levels.  More important, incorporate good HR practice into your pay practices by tying the pay structure to organizational planning, mobility and enrichment.  For greater impact, make these subjects part of the ongoing dialogue with your employees.
  1. Discontinue market-based compensation practices. You think you are being fair by paying someone in line with other people who are doing similar work in other companies.  Sure, being uncompetitive with pay makes for a tough go when you are in talent acquisition mode.  But no matter what the compensation houses tell you, compensation benchmarking is a highly inexact science.  An over-reliance on external market influences is often directly related to internal inequities.   It is much fairer to create pay ranges that are market relevant rather than market based.
  1. Create the right incentives. Too often variable or at-risk pay is limited to a few positions.  Unfortunately this means that women are less eligible.  If how you grow your bottom line is about how the team plays together, reward the team when they succeed, not a few individuals. Great sales is about a lot more than the sales team.  And more than this, maybe the most motivating thing at work isn’t the pay itself, it is all the other things that go into creating a great culture.  Think of these as the incentives and build them into your pay strategy.
  1. Comply with equal pay and/or pay equity legislation. Most jurisdictions have some form of equal pay and/or pay equity legislation.  To get caught in violation of these statutes is costly, not only because of the fines and penalties but also they are a strong organizational de-motivator, and can harm your reputation.  And most challenges with these statutes can be addressed by simply having a solid pay strategy that involves auditing practices overall. 
  1. Be human. One of the challenges with people in the compensation field is that we like the math side of HR more than the people side.  And indeed, the background work needed to build great compensation policy takes a lot of time.  The best compensation design however comes from listening and interacting with others in the organization and incorporating the best of culture into your pay practices.  If you think about people rather than just the math, your work product will reflect something that will harness your organization’s most valuable asset.

 Perhaps the most important learning from the awareness of equal pay day is the need to stop replicating the same old practices and look at what you can do to influence real change.

Bonni Titgemeyer CEBS, SPHR, CHRL, CMS, SHRM-SCP is the Managing Director of The Employers’ Choice Inc. and founder of The EO List blog.  She is a well-known entity in the total compensation and organizational effectiveness fields, and has highly-sought after experience in the global arena.

If you believe that HR and compensation practices should be more human-friendly, then please, join me at Globoforce’s WorkHuman conference, May 9-11.  Use promocode WH16BT300 when you register to receive $300 off.