Recently, I was working onsite at a client’s office doing a series of employee engagement interviews. The company is looking for ways to move to the next level and I suggested that we find out what their employees were thinking before we guessed at any type of new compensation program. These types of interviews are almost always eye-opening and this case was no different. On the bright side, a steady stream of employees came through the interview room telling me how much they loved working for the company. They truly liked their coworkers and almost everyone expressed a familial attitude and culture. And, as expected, there were a couple of opportunities for improvement that came across consistently. One of the most universal sentiments was that the staff was underpaid. The interesting thing was that nearly everyone quoted a similar level of under-payment. It was obvious that this “family” had been talking to each other and to people outside the company and had formed the same general understanding.
In one of my final interviews, I spoke to a thoughtful man who had been working for the company for several years. He spoke eloquently about how much he had learned and how much he loved working for the company. He had a few minor issues with recognition, but nothing that set off alarms. We then discussed compensation. He grew quiet, then admitted he had been contacted by more than one competitor who had offered him a significant pay increase. When I asked what he was considering doing he simply said: “Currently it’s a battle between my head and my heart.”
He explained his dilemma further by saying that he liked management so much that he did not want to pressure them by asking for a raise. He was concerned that he may make the decision to leave without ever giving the company he loved a chance to correct his pay. When I asked him why he had not spoken to anyone, he said: “They obviously like me here and therefore if they could pay me more I assume they would. I don’t want them to feel bad that they can’t do what their competitors can do.”
Sadly, the company already knew it was not paying market rates. They had assumed that if the staff was not complaining, the recognition programs, company culture and overall familial environment were filling the pay gap. They had no real understanding of how close they were to a mass exodus.
Just like anything in life, if you are too cerebral there is a risk that you will end up never truly enjoying anything. However, if you follow only your heart without any thought, you may make choices that will hurt you or others in an attempt to avoid conflict. Great pay without a balanced environment and culture is a short-term solution. The same is true with a great culture that does not provide a competitive wage. The key is to engage the passion of your employees’ hearts while providing enough compensation to answer the (often unasked) questions of their curious heads.
We all want to work where we are appreciated. While many things can show an employer’s appreciation better than compensation, nothing can, or should, fully take its place. Don’t wait for employees to ask before you make sure that your staff is working with both its heart and its head.