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What factors will your organization look at when determining 2021 salary budget increases and compensation plans? No doubt pay data will be part of your decision tree. But the volatile economy makes salary predictions challenging. To prove that point, forecasts from compensation surveys provided earlier in 2020 have shifted in recent months. That is why we advise companies to consider many more factors – both internal and external – when making their compensation plans.

We provided a roadmap outlining key actions to take in our September Compensation Alert. Since then and resulting from an extended pandemic, flexibility above all other factors has become priority one for employees, many of whom are working remotely and juggling care for children and parents. Health and financial wellness programs, telemedicine, education incentives and more personalized perks, such as a company library or Lifestyle Spending Account, are also growing in popularity.

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So, where do we go from here?

Creativity and purpose will be essential elements to compensation planning in 2021. In addition to studying salary and compensation trends, benchmarking competitors’ total rewards strategies will be perhaps more important.

Here is our take on recent survey data and how employers can navigate the future to overcome financial pressures and motivate a world-class workforce for shared success:

Companies Reducing 2021 Salary Increase Budgets

According to the North American Compensation Planning Pulse Survey of 705 U.S. employers completed the week of September 21 by Willis Towers Watson, 35% have reduced their projected 2021 salary increase budgets from earlier estimates; 50% kept them intact. All non-executive employee groups are projected to receive salary increases averaging 2.6%, with executives getting slightly smaller increases averaging 2.5%. Willis Towers Watson’s prior survey conducted from May to July had salary increases of 2.8%. And while 84% of employers will deliver pay increases, almost one in six employees will not receive any.

A second study fielded Oct. 4-31, the WorldatWork 2020-21 Salary Update Survey, reveals almost 40% of 694 respondents either have made or are considering making changes to their 2021 salary increase budgets. The survey showed a projected average salary increase for all employee groups of 2.8%, down slightly from June’s forecast of 2.9%.

According to their press release, WorldatWork reports the projected 2021 salary increase budgets showed a slight 0.1 percentage-point drop since June, from 2.9% to 2.8%. Contributing to those declines was an increase in the number of organizations reporting zero or no salary budget increase.

Finally, Korn Ferry now reports about a third of companies are planning 2021 salary budget increases to 50% or fewer of their general employee population, three times the number of organizations reporting this finding last year. The projected increase in North America is expected to be 0.3% percentage points lower than 2020 or about 2.7% in 2021. Korn Ferry used survey data from its annual and periodic pulse surveys to provide these updated insights.

Our analysis: Organizations will plan salary increases that align with business conditions. Industries that are hurting will provide zero salary increases or allocate these selectively. Others doing well will be more generous. But all companies should set money aside to recognize top performers, those in critical roles, and high potential employees. After all, these employees are your most valuable assets and are most vulnerable to being lured away.

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Non-Salary Rewards

Though many employees may not be receiving raises, they are increasingly being rewarded in other ways. For instance, WorldatWork reports significant increases in wellness and other employer-sponsored programs designed to promote a positive culture, recruit and develop talent, and retain valued workers. These perks range from telemedicine and counseling programs to tuition discounts, paying off college debt and caregiver leave.

Annual Incentive Programs

Many companies have adopted new business models based on how markets and their supply chain have been altered. Often, product mix, margins, investments, and growth expectations have changed. This requires them to change key performance measures used to determine incentive-based pay.

Setting 2021 performance targets, thresholds and performance ranges will not be easy. There will be questions about setting targets that may be lower than actual performance. Instead of setting specific targets, it may be appropriate for companies to use relative targets based on competitor or industry norms. Uncertainty may also lead to flatter payout curves. Or companies may bet on a rapid recovery and adopt steeper, more aggressive payout rules.

Summary

With more uncertainty ahead, now is the time to consider changes to your compensation strategies. We continue to believe that executives will not follow national market trends, but instead focus on doing what is economically feasible for future growth and sustainability based on local and regional developments. They will decide on what they want to invest in people rather than blindly following the market.

Contact Us

If you would like to discuss 2021 salary increases or other compensation-related topics, please contact Neil Lappley at (847) 921-2812 or nlappley@lappley.com. A discussion carries no charges and perhaps after you get to know me and my capabilities, when an assignment arises you will call me.

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Despite uncertainty about where the U.S. economy is heading, recent salary surveys from compensation consulting firms reveal that salaries are expected to either increase slightly or hold steady versus 2019 salaries. In this issue of Compensation Alert, we look at how companies are planning to deal with 2020 salary budgets to remain competitive and retain top talent.

Survey information was gathered from human resource professionals facing an extremely tight labor market, increased investment in pay equity adjustments and climbing minimum wage rates. What’s more, many economists are predicting slower economic growth and greater risk for a possible recession within the next two years.

Under these conditions, participating organizations in this year’s salary surveys provide crucial insights into how companies are budgeting for salary increases in 2020.

WorldatWork

WorldatWork survey participants report that in 2019 salary budgets grew slightly to 3.2% average (median 3.0%) meeting last year’s projections. They expect salary budgets overall to increase to 3.3% in 2020. Specific pay increases are expected to be:

  • 3.2% for exempt salaried workers,
  • 3.3% for officers and executives,
  • 3.1% for nonexempt employees, and
  • 3.2% for nonexempt hourly.

In addition, pay equity continues to be a significant issue to organizations. The WorldatWork survey finds that 42% of participants plan to budget for pay equity increases in 2020, up from 37% in 2019. When pay equity adjustments are not budgeted, 46% of respondents report that company savings will be used for adjustments in 2020.

Promotional increases in 2020 are projected to average 8.9%, up slightly from 2019. The portion of salary increase budgets attributed to merit are projected at 3.0%. Not surprisingly, the largest increases in salary budgets are from the East Coast (Washington DC and Boston) and the West Coast (Denver, Portland, San Diego and San Jose). In 2019, the reported average salary structure increase was 2.2%.

Willis Towers Watson

According to the 2019 Willis Towers Watson General Industry Salary Budget Survey, salary increases are expected to hold steady in 2020. The survey reveals increases of:

  • 3.1% for exempt and non-management employees,
  • 3.1% for management employees,
  • 3.0% for nonexempt hourly workers,
  • 2.9% for nonexempt salaried employees, and
  • 3.1% for executives.

The survey finds that employers will continue to reward star performers larger increases than average performing employees. According to the survey, the highest performing employees were granted an average increase of 4.6% in 2019, about 70% higher than the 2.7% increase given to those receiving an average increase.

To retain your best workers, as compensation consultants we have long advanced a minimum increase for star performers should be at least two times the increase to average performers. Although the differential has crept up over the past few years, it still has not reached a minimum ideal level.

Mercer

Mercer’s findings are consistent with WorldatWork’s 2019-2020 Salary Budget Survey. While overall salary increases were 3.5% in 2019, they are projected to be 3.6% in 2020. Survey results show that merit increases for 2019 were at 2.9%, while mean and median merit increases are expected to be 3.0% for 2020.

Additionally, the Mercer survey found that there was no change in the number of employees receiving promotional increases in 2019. The average promotional increase was 9.3%, slightly more than the 8.9% increase recorded by WorldatWork.

Further findings reveal organizations continue to use performance ratings to differentiate salary increases, although a small portion do not use performance ratings (14%). Among this small group, the majority distribute merit pay based on manager discretion with oversight by business leader or HR/compensation.

The survey also finds that high performers received 1.6 times the salary increase of average performers.

Payfactors

The Payfactors salary survey provides detailed responses for U.S. and Canadian employers, with data broken out by industry, revenue, organization size, region and state.

According to the Payfactors survey, average salary increases in 2020 are expected to be:

  • 3.2% for exempt employees,
  • 3.2% for exempt (non-management) employees,
  • 3.2% for managers, and
  • 3.1% for officers and executives.

Industries reporting higher expected increases include professional services, pharmaceuticals, software, technology, metals, and oil and gas. Industries expecting lower increases include retail, not-for-profit, hotels and restaurants, banks and aerospace. The survey shows little difference in average increases by region.

Salary.com

According to its annual Salary.com Salary Budget Survey, median annual salary increases are expected to remain flat at 3.0% for 2020. The salary.com survey average salary increase is significantly lower than the salary increases predicted in prior cited surveys. Although different survey methodology may be present, also likely at play are different survey populations.

Variable Pay Programs Becoming More Important

After reviewing the results of these top-rated surveys, it is apparent that many organizations are struggling to remain competitive on salaries to attract and retain top talent. That’s why many are moving towards variable pay programs. Rather than investing in long-term, fixed salary programs, companies are focused on rewarding and retaining top talent via pay-for-performance incentive programs. Along with improving employee engagement and reducing turnover, another benefit to these programs is stronger market competitiveness.

How Do You Determine Your Salary Increase Budget?

Clearly, predicted market increase budgets are only one input to weigh when deciding on your salary increase budget for 2020. To begin with, it is important to distinguish between your competitiveness goal and your overall compensation strategy. Next, examine how far above or below that goal your current salaries are. Finally, evaluate how close your company can come to meeting your 2020 salary goal based on available funding.

One final point to consider: recessions are inevitable. Organizations that take strategic compensation and human resources actions in advance of these downturns will be better positioned when the economy turns around.

In Summary

Please contact me at (847) 921-2812 or nlappley@lappley.com if you would like to discuss this topic further. In addition, you can read more on this topic at lappley.com. Please share this article with anyone who think may be interested.