Ahmad Badr: Employee compensation is about more than just salary

Emphasis on intangibles such as teamwork, respect and atmosphere, in addition to a well-designed workspace, can matter just as much or more to employees than their pay.

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On any given day, a list of the most popular articles on a news website is likely to contain at least one story on compensation and benefits. Whether it’s something looking at “What you’ll get paid in 2017” or a news item considering an industry’s depressingly slow efforts to boost pay to keep up with inflation, such articles are always among those most viewed by the general readership.

This is far from surprising. No matter the effort a company puts into augmenting the employee experience with a vibrant culture, regular praise or an impressive workspace, ultimately a part of the relationship between employer and employee boils down to salary and the balancing point between what an organisation wants to pay and what an employee thinks they are worth.

This balance will probably fall within a generally predictable band and most of us probably have some conception of how our salary sits in relation to industry standards. From the organisation’s point of view, this standard can be very useful, particularly where you consider it from the perspective of an imaginary organisation pitching its salary offer too far outside the realms of industry norms.

At one extreme, the company will quickly become known for offering paltry rates of pay and so must offer significant other enticements to attract the best candidates – perhaps the prestige of its clients or a truly world-class training culture. Otherwise, it will likely always be fishing in a shallow talent pool devoid of decent prospects.

It will also suffer from distracted employees who will, quite naturally, spend a fair part of their time worrying over how they pay their rent or cover their children’s school fees, rather than the work before them. At the other extreme, this imagined organisation will, through its generous package, be able to find a host of willing workers vying for its attention. With this attention, however, comes the risk that their recruits will be motivated solely by the cash and will lack any true drive to keep getting better. Even for those employees who do have broader motivations, they are likely to quickly come unstuck from the corporate wheel if their high-paying organisation doesn’t also pay attention to other important aspects of employee rewards and drivers.

Salary, then, is a delicate balance. Yet singling it out as we are often prone to do potentially places a greater level of importance upon it than many people would actually attribute – certainly numerous surveys on employee motivations have placed other elements above it in importance. Arguably many employees would readily place greater value on other aspects of their role if organisations took as much time to make them as competitive in the market.

Perhaps we obsess over “what jobs will net you the best salary?” lists because salary is the one aspect of reward that is placed even somewhat in our power to negotiate. It is also, within the thin industry-standard band, often the only key differentiator between organisations. If businesses instead decided to take a more holistic approach, where salary is less the dominant centre of their offering and rather simply one aspect of a better-presented whole, they may well reduce its importance in many people’s minds.

People do genuinely enjoy their work more when there is great communication and teamwork. They will be motivated to work harder where they feel respected and listened to. A great, ergonomically designed office space will make people happier about coming into work. However, having all of these things as an organisation is fairly pointless if you keep it to yourself during recruitment. Perhaps resolving to make the “package” a real collection of benefits, rather than a simple euphemism for “money”, is the real way forward for marking an organisation out from the pack.

Ahmad Badr is the chief executive of Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group.


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