Over the last two weeks, my posts have summarized 10 different ways to slice your teeny, tiny 2009 merit budget and described 10 tools to help you create the communication plan.
Next decision, what are you going to say to employees?
Many employees are not as patient as they once were, even if they are very grateful for their job. This year we all share the huge challenge of encouraging employees to trust us and the future, at the same time as we are telling many that they are getting little or no raise.
Here are 10 of the tough, emotional questions that employees will pose to your managers. Even though your company may have avoided some of these questions in the past, think very hard before you skip them this year. Without answers, many employees will feel let down, inducing higher levels of dissatisfaction at a time when you need all the help that you can get.
1. I think I earned a raise this year, don’t you?
Research has shown that a growing number of employees are planning to ask this question. Many of them won’t be eligible for a raise. Will your managers demonstrate respect when faced with these direct personal requests?
2. Who is getting a raise?
If you don’t explain how people qualified for raises this year, and why it worked that way, employees will guess. And they will probably get it at least partially wrong. Do you want to have to fix these misperceptions in 2010? As difficult as it will make the pay discussions, get these details out on the table. You really can do it without referring to names or departments.
3. What’s happening to Senior Management? Are they getting raises?
Being candid is a powerful way to build trust – especially in this climate, when executive salaries are discussed at dinner tables.
4. Am I being paid competitively (anymore)?
A legitimate question. Are your salary ranges up to date? If yes, then you have an answer. Prepare managers to address where employees are in the range, too. When relevant, they can make the point that employees’ current position in range realistically represents their history of contribution. (This is also a good time to remind you about the value of distributing Total Rewards statements in 2010. They provide a complete, visual, documented way of responding to this question.)
5. At this point, what kind of success is the company having?
A sound business question that is masking an emotional issue. Employees want you to tell them whether it makes sense for them to hope . . . that progress is occurring, that the company will thrive, that they will be getting better increases next year.
6. How am I contributing?
If employees receive a lower increase than they would have in a normal year, they may assume that their work didn’t matter. Employees will need the comfort of knowing that they have helped make a difference. If you can draw a line of sight to your company’s progress (see Q. 5) that would give them substantial reassurance.
7. If I can’t get a raise, can I get a better title? A better office? A timeline for promotion?
Keep in mind that this recession will come to an end eventually. If you have taken your rewards philosophy apart during the tough times, you will have to clean up the mess when it’s over. Over-inflated titles are a good example of a real mess that eventually costs your company money.
8. OK, keep my salary the same, but why not put me in the next salary grade?
9. Why should I keep working so hard?
This is your opportunity to shift the focus to 2010. How would your CEO answer this? How will employees feel about the answer? Realistically, employees will not be persuaded in one conversation between employee and manager. Be prepared to come back to this employee concern in planned communications throughout 2010.
10. When will this be over?
Employees want a realistic assessment of the struggles faced by your company. Another opportunity to discuss business goals and shift the focus to 2010.
Why didn’t I suggest answers for these questions? Because neither your business, this year’s increase strategy, nor your employees’ perspective are the same as those of another company. How different can the answers really be? If you do the recommended communication plan and ask, “What do I want employees to know after this communication? What do I want them to do? How do I hope they feel?” the answers would be pointedly different from one company to the next. That is, if you have put your heart into addressing what is really on your employees’ minds.
Most important, don’t let your managers down. Go all out to help them handle these difficult private talks. Set a goal of having every manager give consistent answers to these questions. Then give them the tools and training to make that possible. No need to overdo it, but be resolute and detailed in your planning this year. And do your best to word the answers to employees simply, since – as we have learned – simplicity demonstrates respect and fosters trust. Always desirable, this is your most important challenge as the year ends.
Margaret O’Hanlon is founder and principal of re:Think Consulting. She has decades of experience teaming up with clients to ensure great Human Resource ideas deliver valuable business results. Margaret brings deep expertise in total rewards communication to the dialogue at the Café; before founding re:Think Consulting, she was a Principal in Total Rewards Communications with Towers Perrin. Margaret earned her M.S. and Ed.S. in Instructional Technology at Indiana University. Creative writing is one of her outside passions.