We rarely talk about why and how we compensate employees. Organizations don’t explain their pay structure or how decisions about compensation get made. Nor do they tie compensation to their values or what employees need. This is, in part, an extension of our discomfort with talking about money.
Our beliefs about money shape us and our behaviors consciously and unconsciously. This extends to how we build relationships, how we work, and how we create company cultures.
In a recent team discussion about our relationships with money, these are just some of the beliefs, emotions, constraints, and biases about money that surfaced:
- I feel guilty for having money.
- I need to save for retirement by sacrificing things I want now.
- Money was our family’s ticket to belonging in America.
- I don’t believe I deserve to have savings.
- I still feel guilty about any kind of spending.
- I didn’t practice what I was taught about saving money.
- My family had a scarcity mindset. I still can’t bring myself to pay full price for anything.
- I feel like I need to ask permission to spend my own money.
- My family defined success with money.
- I grew up with money used as a weapon of control and manipulation.
- Conflicts over money have ruined relationships in my family.
- I learned the painful lesson that you can save, but you’re not guaranteed a retirement.
- Gaining financial security as an adult comes with a lot of guilt.
- I try to make different choices about money than the ones my family made.
How Our Beliefs Shape Our Practices
Our experiences and beliefs about money don’t disappear when we come to work and make decisions about paying our employees, spending on their needs, or creating performance metrics tied to pay.
If we don’t grapple with, talk about, and compassionately challenge our beliefs about money, they can end up driving decisions that don’t align with our values, the same way any unconscious biases can.
We’ve seen organizations whose work depends on external funding. The money that funds the work is tied to initiative results and measurable impact, which means it isn’t tied to supporting the employees who do the work. If leaders don’t talk about how they pay employees, people are, even if unintentionally, at risk of becoming tools to achieve an outcome. They can easily become dehumanized.
We’ve seen firms unable to see people apart from their billable hours or their sales quotas. We’ve seen people’s value tied to how many hours beyond 40 they are willing to work. We’ve seen bonus structures so opaque and inconsistent that it’s clear money is being distributed based on emotions, proximity, and sameness. We’ve seen corporations paying some employees less than a liveable wage because their belief about money is that executives can never have enough. Unexamined beliefs about money lead us to treat people in ways that are deeply misaligned with our values.
Why Organizations Need a Compensation Philosophy
Despite our socialization against it, we need to talk about money. If we don’t align our decisions with our values, then they will be run by our biases, our emotions, and how we are socialized to think about money.
Creating a compensation philosophy is a crucial way to ensure pay equity and alignment with your organization’s values. A compensation philosophy is a statement of how your company views and makes decisions about compensation, which includes salary and can also include benefits, bonuses, time off, and professional development.
It’s also about your compensation structures, which can include pay scales, insurance premium rates, how you decide on pay increases (cost of living, performance, tenure), how you assign bonuses, and how you evaluate performance and make promotion decisions.
Where do you start building a compensation philosophy? With your company values. With a set of values that guide your decisions and support your relationships, you can start to get clear on how you pay and how you value employees. Do your values align with being market-driven on salaries? What set of benefits do your values lead you toward providing? How do your values about employee wellness determine your vacation and PTO policies?
One of the key benefits of a compensation philosophy is that it helps you see that you have choices. How much you pay employees is a choice. What kind of benefits you offer is a choice. Being driven by profit alone is a choice. Burning out your employees is a choice.
We have the agency to reframe our beliefs and our actions away from people as work products. If you’re ready to get clear on your values and build your compensation philosophy, we’d love to hear from you.