You’ve Got Me Feeling Emotions…About Comp!


Whether we want to admit it or not, compensation is emotional.

On an intrinsic level it reinforces beliefs and behaviors of employees – ‘I worked hard and did a good job so naturally I deserve a raise’. On a smaller scale, it can be the difference between organic vs. non-organic veggies or a vacation vs. a staycation. So how do you get down to business and communicate a decision that has such a personal impact?

It’s not if it will happen, it’s when

First and foremost, be prepared for the conversation to occur. This means getting clear on your compensation philosophy by partnering with your internal contacts (typically HR and comp departments). It’s a good idea to get more information than you think you need so you aren’t caught off guard by a question.

If you are surprised by a sneak attack conversation, it’s okay to stop the conversation and reschedule a time that works for both parties and also provides you enough time to do your homework.

Anticipate the conversation, NOT what the employee is asking

So here you are, sitting across from an employee who has questions about their compensation. Before you jump to conclusions about what you think will occur, do yourself a favor and simply listen to them. Do they just want more clarity? Did they feel their expectations weren’t met? Most importantly, why are they asking this question now? Put yourself in the employee’s shoes, it may have caused them anxiety or stress to even open up the subject, so be sure you show up to the meeting ready to listen with empathy.  After all, the greatest human need is to be understood.

Try to understand the origins

It’s typical to anticipate these types of conversations popping up around performance evaluation season, but be ready for them to occur when an employee goes through a significant life change (marriage, births, homeownership, divorce, bereavement). A major life event can trigger employees to reevaluate what is working and not working for them in their career. Not to mention these events are expensive so they naturally cause employees to aim for that promotion or raise to feel more stability during times of transition.

Don’t try to change or tamper their emotions

The worst thing you can do in a conversation that gets emotional is to ignore it or get defensive. It’s important to acknowledge the emotions in the room and ask the employee if they’d like to proceed with the conversation or come back to it. Remember, it’s not about you! The emotions are usually directed at the situation that you happen to be a part of.

Honest and transparent answers, can’t lose

If you provide pay information to an employee and deliver the news, good or bad, with respect, honesty, and transparency you can’t lose. At the end of the day your job isn’t to make employees not feel emotions, your objective is to give them the information they are seeking. It’s up to them to decide what their next steps are and how to deal with their emotions that inevitably will come up.

How do you begin these conversations? Let us know in the comments below.
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