Pay to Play

As our economy heats back up (albeit slowly), the competition for talent naturally follows suit. Employees at all levels are starting to consider their options. Realizing they potentially and finally have some choices, they’re reviewing their status.

After years of working in a lean work environment, making do with less and working longer hours, some sectors are expanding their payrolls and workers are recognizing that maybe the devil they know isn’t necessarily better (or safer) than the one they don’t.

Along with the re-emergence of talent competition, comes the sometimes murky arena of compensation. In many sectors base pay has been stagnant and often rolled backward. Bonuses were reduced or suspended and equity became even more regulated and harder to realize than a lottery ticket. Rich benefit packages come with a higher price tag attached and the employee often makes up the difference in premiums and higher deductibles.

In the real world of recruiting passive candidates, compensation can be all over the board. Comp surveys, often considered the gold standard of determining  base pay, don’t always align with actual pay levels. This is especially true for the ‘A’ player employee with a highly desirable skill set. They are often compensated above the norm. Retention is cheaper than replacement.

Some candidates who stay at their company for a long time end up being perpetually underpaid. Starting at a lower base and title, they are often recognized, rewarded and promoted, but they never seem to catch up to their peers. Those that took a step back and the pay cut that went with it now find themselves with the potential of choice as the economy ramps back up. These candidates are potentially ripe for recruitment.

As more internal and external recruiters tap into Social Media for talent, these hidden gems of opportunity will eventually be found – or if motivated enough, will explore outside opportunities themselves.

It’s a cautionary tale of opportunity and timing. I see more and more of my clients coming to terms with the shifting employment market. The reality of paying competitively for exceptional talent is being driven home by their star prospects receiving multiple offers and counter offers. Those that recognize a great hire when they meet one are more often stepping up and offering competitive comp packages, including sign on bonuses.

And for the underemployed or underpaid employee, the question is more often, ‘what am I worth?’, rather than ‘is it worth moving?’. The time is upon us where the great hire will no longer be happy to stay just because they have a job or simply for loyalty. If they haven’t seen an increase, promotion or are not achieving their own goals, they will be more apt to heed the recruiter’s call. The passive candidate is on the prowl again.

Human nature is curious and restless by nature. If an opportunity offers more in the way of personal, professional and financial growth, the most stalwart and loyal employee is going to think twice before settling for less.

Personally, I think this is indicative of a healthy, evolving marketplace. After years of stagnation, the game of musical chairs has begun again. Who will be left standing?