Let’s Talk Compensation: How Business Owners Can Have Cringe-Free, Productive Conversations with Prospective Employees

CNBC research showed that Americans would rather reveal how much they weigh than their yearly earnings. Because of the cultural taboo surrounding money, talking about compensation changes in a workplace environment is even more uncomfortable. Yet, these conversations are necessary and crucial to a business’ success. 

Creating space for clear communication and expectations is paramount when discussing compensation. For an in-depth guide on compensation conversations, check out West Virginia University’s Tips for Having Compensation Conversations. But to save you time, here are a few quick tips to make compensation conversations more productive and comfortable. 

Check out this compensation discussion during our recent AMA event:

Have Conversations Early On

The best way to mitigate awkwardness in money conversations is to discuss the issue early during the interview process. In an article by Harvard Business Review, author Amy Gallo explained that timing is everything when it comes to  compensation discussions. If you don’t bring it up right away, it will only get more complicated as time goes on. 

Even if there hasn’t been a conversation yet, it is never too late. While talking about money after the hiring process might feel uncomfortable, there are a few ways to go about it with success. An article by Katie Couric Media revealed nine tips for navigating a difficult conversation at work. Relevant tips include giving yourself time to craft conversational bullet points, and knowing how you will respond if the conversation does not go well.

Avoid Superlatives

“Never” and “always” tend to be common words in the English language. Yet, how often do we actually mean them? Do we always mean something? Not often. Avoiding superlatives while speaking about money is crucial. When discussing compensation, superlatives often make unintended promises that can cause issues. A few examples of phrases that may turn sour down the road are: 

  • “We definitely plan on raising the pay range of this position in the future.”
  • “No, we never plan on getting rid of the Christmas bonus.” 
  • “We’ll always stick with this insurance package.” 

Be Prepared to Deal with Conflict

When walking into a work discussion surrounding paychecks, prepare yourself to receive negative feedback. Individuals on edge might react differently if the conversation doesn’t go their way. Take time to mentally prepare in case the other party takes it poorly. Composing questions and answers in a document might help direct the conversation’s flow if it begins to go awry. 

If you begin to feel tense or the conversation has awkward pauses, try taking a few deep breaths and releasing the tension in your shoulders to reset the atmosphere. Remember, you’re working with your employee(s), not against them. Coming to an agreeable middle ground is the entire point of the conversation and should remain the central focus. Lastly, try not to take critiques or negative recoils personally. If a resolution cannot be reached, walk away from the conversation and attempt it again at a different time.

Remember the Human Element

Understanding the human element of a compensation conversation is very important. Oftentimes, certain elements of a person—such as their personality, hobbies and family life—are hidden from the workplace. You might be shocked to find out your tidiest employee works at their family’s farm on the weekends, or that your quietest employee moonlights as a standup comedian. 

The same goes for a conversation revolving around money. You may never understand the reasons behind why an employee may urgently ask for a raise, or why they might be frustrated during compensation conversations. Maybe their significant other recently lost their job, or is in the midst of an expensive health crisis. If you’re anticipating a difficult compensation conversation with an employee, challenge yourself to remember the multitude of reasons they might be upset. 

To read more about hiring challenges and compensation, check out Marcomm’s article on hiring strategies. For more information or support hiring talent with marketing-specific experience, reach out to Marcomm on our Contact Us page and tell us more about the services you’re looking for.