John D. Rockefeller is widely considered the richest man in modern history. Adjusted for inflation, his peak wealth would be worth over $340 billion today. For perspective, Jeff Bezos is currently the richest man alive with a mere $131 billion fortune.
Someone once asked Mr. Rockefeller, “How much is enough?” His response: “Just a little bit more.”
When asked, the richest man in modern times still wanted more. And so it is for all of us. Ask me if I should be paid more and the answer will always be yes. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m not paid fairly now, or that my current salary isn’t sufficient for a comfortable lifestyle. But if I’m asked, I’ll always take more. Why not?
We have a complex relationship with compensation. Money is a motivator. It can mean more comfort, security, influence, and/or entertainment. We will go to great lengths for more money. But it is important to remember that money does not create meaning and purpose in our work, and it certainly doesn’t guarantee our engagement. To borrow a cliché, money isn’t everything.
When I’m helping my clients design an employee engagement survey, I strongly encourage them not to include questions about compensation. Salary and wages are important inputs into the employee experience, but a compensation strategy should be informed by market information, attrition data, and other relevant metrics. It should not rely on popular opinion from an engagement survey.
Here are three reasons why you should not include compensation survey questions in your next employee engagement survey.
1. Survey Compensation Questions Trend Low
For all the reasons I mentioned above, questions about compensation (and benefits, for that matter) almost always trend low. Since we can predict how compensation questions will score, why ask them? They tell us something we already know. Why waste our employee population’s time? Yes – they would like more money.
2. They Change the Tone of the Survey
Employee engagement is unlocked when employees find the right mix of meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection (ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®) in their work. Employees also need a foundation of what we call “satisfaction items.” Satisfaction items refer to the transactional items employees receive from their employer (compensation, benefits, tools and resources, etc.). These items are important and questions about them need to be included in the survey. However, satisfaction items do not engage employees. By asking unnecessary satisfaction questions on a survey, we emphasize the transactional side of an employee’s work experience and we may unnecessarily stir up negative perceptions. These questions distract from the true goals of an employee engagement survey – engagement.
3. They Demand Action
At DecisionWise, we advise our clients not to ask a specific survey question if their organization will not be willing to take action on the results. Sometimes an organization insists on including compensation questions, but when the results come back low, they are powerless to change the existing compensation strategy. If a question is asked and returns unfavorable results, the employee population expects the organization to respond. When positive changes don’t occur, employees are disappointed and frustrated. When the results come in low, are you prepared to take action?
Occasionally, there are legitimate reasons to include compensation survey questions. For example, if the organization has been using compensation questions in prior surveys, it can create doubt and unrest if the questions are conspicuously absent from the next survey. However, even in such cases, it is wise to gradually move away from these questions.
When contemplating the use of compensation survey questions in your next employee survey, consider the risk/reward tradeoffs you will be making. Asked within an engagement survey, these questions frequently cause more harm than good. If you are still wondering how employees are feeling about compensation, let me help – they would like “just a little bit more.”