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Much ado about salary hikes? Help staff find meaning at work

There has been a lot of media attention to recent salary hikes and freezes at a few IT organizations in India and I wanted to reflect on the issue, the role of leaders and internal communicators in clarifying line of sight.

It began with Infosys freezing salaries and cutting back on variable pay for staff resulting from a missed revenue guidance. This triggered disenchantment among employees and reports claim that job portals in India have begun seeing a spike in CVs from the staff. Wipro, one among the other established India IT players went ahead and gave their staff hikes which fuelled comparisons and debate.  Looking at the comments and feedback on the topic, it is evident that the jury is out on how much compensation plays a role in retention and engagement in India.

Or is that right?

According to the recent 2012 Kelly Global Workforce Index, company culture and strong market presence were the top two factors that influenced prospective employees while choosing an organization. Employees prefer fulfillment and advancement prospects over compensation and benefits.

Also, how people derive meaning from their work and the opportunities for interesting and challenging work is what keeps them going. Going deeper into how staff in APAC  view ‘meaning’ at work – the report calls out ‘ability to excel/develop in field’, ‘aligned with personal values’ and ‘connection with co-workers’  as the top three factors among people surveyed.

So what makes people stay back and committed?

The primary reason remains – ‘enjoying the work’ for the former and ‘interesting work’ for the latter. If great work is what staff looks for then why is there so much brouhaha on salary hikes and pay cuts?

While some organizations have realized the importance of gauging the pulse of employees before ‘disengagement’ turns to attrition I believe the issue is larger.

If one looks at the spate of ‘why I left my organization’ notes that are doing the rounds – Google, Goldman Sachs, Techcrunch or Infosys the underlying themes are culture, mismatched expectations, fairness and focus.

Phrases like ‘too much about shortcuts’, ‘didn’t find work to be that challenging’, ‘it just doesn’t feel right to me anymore’, ‘hiring smart people and empowering them to invent the future was gone’, ‘see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years’ and ‘lacking the headroom to think, innovate and create’ point to a deep seated unrest ranging from an eroding culture, misguided direction, failed passion and non-committed leaders.

Internal communicators have a role to play in elevating awareness about fairness, culture and line of sight. Leaders and managers need to be made accountable to continually have conversations on where the organization is heading and how the work they do every day impacts performance. By sharing stories of great work the teams do, talking of the changes the organization is making to be successful and highlighting the ‘why’ of their existence.

Leaders need to clarify how the organization makes decisions and why they believe it is right. Employees respect leaders who own decisions and not pass on the buck to ‘the organization’.

How often have organizations invested time to address topics such as ‘interesting work’ and the role of having conversations between managers and staff? What can organizations do to improve awareness on building careers or broadening employees’ horizons?

Internal communicators need to coach managers address fairness; for example – why differentiated compensation is done, what is the process for measuring performance against objectives and why some people get more or less salaries.   They also need to support staff’s understanding of great work, culture, recognition and community that brings meaning to their work and lives. Staff who find meaning in work tend to be more productive and committed and therefore helping their organizations outperform.  Look up the article for some great pointers from Dave Ulrich.

Lastly, they must engage with staff to share how the organization continues to stay honest about its ambitions and build its presence in the market.

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