In today’s job market it is critical to know how much to pay employees while staying competitive with industry and geographic peers. Over-compensation, as well as under-compensation, are two costly problems that many employers will eventually face. One solution for ensuring that organizations make the right compensation choices is utilizing a published salary survey. However, many of the published salary surveys do not always represent the most current information on certain positions, because of the difficulty in compiling and conducting such broad surveys.
An alternative to using a published market survey is to conduct a custom survey. Custom surveys are mainly used when employers have very specific benchmark jobs or market needs on unique positions, positions within a very specific industry, or unusual job market circumstances. In essence, custom surveys are intended to reach out to specific organizations the employer chooses for the survey, gather pay data from the participants, and prepare a survey report for those specific benchmark jobs.
It sounds easy, but it isn’t. There are several guidelines that must be heeded before conducting a custom survey. Otherwise, these guidelines are difficult to overcome if you are not aware of them from the beginning. Here are some tips that employers should recognize before they begin the custom survey process:
1. Department of Justice Sherman Anti-Trust Guidelines must be followed.
When attending industry events and professional associations, many employers unintentionally participate in illegal salary data sharing. Some human resource professionals are still unaware of the fact that this information sharing has been made illegal with the Sherman Anti-Trust Act in place. The Anti-trust law was initially applied to salary data because lawmakers were concerned that employers would engage in “price-fixing” salaries when they had information concerning their competitors’ wages and benefits. This application of the law makes it technically illegal for employers to call up other organizations and ask what they are paying specific jobs. Violations of the law can be followed by fines and even possible imprisonment, making it important to know about the law and how to avoid any legal issues.
The following are steps that need to be taken to avoid legal issues:
- Make salary survey results and other industry research available to both association members and nonmembers.
- Do not exchange information on the expectation that it will be used to level out wages or benefits between competitors.
- Include at least five organizations – and ideally more – in the survey.
- Utilize an outside consultant to gather and analyze information regarding the custom survey. This ensures that participants to do have access to any organization’s specific data.
- Provide the final product of the custom survey process in a collective form. Only then can the results be distributed among participants. Share salary ranges and benefit information on the premise that no data is revealed about a particular job or employer.
- Use salary and benefit information that is at least three months old.
- Finally, use other data sources during the organizational market pricing process. Data from the custom survey should not be the primary source on which employers base their compensation and benefit policies.
For more information on these guidelines visit: https://www.justice.gov/atr
2. Create deadlines and follow timeframes.
It typically takes anywhere from four to 12 weeks to run a custom survey. Managers often incorrectly think it will take a week or two to complete the survey process. That not being the case, it is imperative that Human Resources communicate the actual timeframe of the survey before beginning. Successful custom surveys require planning and a commitment from everyone involved. Start by writing a plan that includes key actions and dates, as well as the resources that will be required to complete the survey. The best way to avoid delays is to work closely on a detailed schedule, with a reasonable knowledge of the participants’ time capacities and limitations. During the survey process, be proactive in offering assistance and ensuring that participants fully understand what they need to do in their allotted timeframes. Frequent communications to verify the progress on how the survey is going will keep participants moving ahead and will avoid any surprises at deadline time. Also remember that this is a collaborative project involving both the participants and the survey conductors. Both have a stake in the outcome. By creating an implementation timeline, the survey developer will be able to run checks, tally results, and make results available by the requested date.
3. Getting participation is not easy.
Increased survey participation means better and more complete results. However, in most cases, in order to get five organizations to participate, you need to start with many more (e.g., 15 or more). Also, the process goes much more smoothly if managers from the organization sponsoring the survey lay the groundwork and get the invited participants interested in participating. Many times when survey providers begin doing cold calls, the invited participants could care less and don’t participate.
Keep in mind that there are good and bad times to do surveys. Do not expect a lot of participation if a survey is being conducted during a certain industry’s busy season or right after annual profit sharing checks are distributed. Focus instead on a slower time of the year with less projects competing for the meticulous attention required from participants.
Another key to success is making the survey user friendly. Easy “looking” surveys will get more participation, so be sure to make the survey colorful and organized with detailed instructions and limited questions to ease the concerns of hesitant participants.
4. Make it worth their while.
Would you fill out a lengthy, time consuming survey for nothing? The answer is probably No. To remedy this problem, employers need to provide survey participants something of value as a thank you for their time and effort. This most likely will be a complimentary report of the customized survey results reflecting the statistics specified by the survey provider. Be sure to include a “Benefits of Participation” section in your survey inquiry to entice organizations to participate. Elaborate on the fact that, as a participant, they will receive the most up to date comprehensive salary survey available normally worth hundreds of dollars – for free. Additionally, organizations participating in the survey process generally take it very seriously and expect that their efforts have made a difference. Be sure to communicate the results as well as appreciation for their contribution, or your survey will not get the same attention the second time around.
A custom survey is only as good as what each participant puts into it. As with any survey, the results cannot be expected to always be perfect. However, surveys are the easiest, least expensive way of getting comprehensive statistics from a large quantity of participants. The success of your custom survey mainly depends on choosing the right participants, getting them involved, and making correct use of the information you take from the final product. Lastly, when you receive your custom survey report, have an action plan in place to keep your organization on track and competitive with others. Your new custom survey will help you make more informed data-based decisions, as well as make educated recommendations to your colleagues.