7. 10. 24

Achieving Pay Balance: How to Align Internal Equity with Market Competitiveness


A hand placing a blue figure on top of a stack of coins, representing different levels of compensation, with a blurred person in the background.
Balancing internal pay equity with market competitiveness is essential for attracting and retaining top talent.


In today’s competitive market, companies must continuously update their compensation programs to attract and retain top talent. However, with inflation and rising minimum wages driving salaries higher, many companies face the risk of creating long-term pay challenges across their workforce as they strive to reach market ideals.

Balancing competitive pay packages for both new and existing employees while preserving equity and ensuring long-term financial stability is a delicate task for many businesses.

This article explores strategies for achieving an optimal balance between internal pay equity and market competitiveness in compensation programs to attract and retain top talent.


Understanding Internal Equity and Market Competitiveness

Part of navigating the complex landscape of compensation planning involves understanding and balancing two crucial concepts: internal equity and market competitiveness.


Internal Equity

Internal equity refers to the fairness of compensation within an organization, ensuring that employees are paid fairly based on factors such as experience, skills, and performance. It is vital for maintaining employee morale, engagement and overall retention. Pay inequities can create feelings of resentment and unfairness among employees. While the concept of internal equity is straightforward, achieving it can become challenging when considering market competitiveness.


Market Competitiveness

Market competitiveness ensures that an organization’s compensation packages are attractive compared to those offered by competitors within similar industries and geographies. Staying competitive in the market is essential for attracting and retaining top talent. However, while offering higher pay than competitors can help attract high-quality employees, this strategy must be balanced with internal equity to ensure long-term financial feasibility.


Understanding the Interplay Between Equity and Competitiveness

Understanding the delicate interplay between internal equity and market competitiveness is crucial for effective compensation planning.

For instance, when the market rate for new hires rises significantly, whether from inflation, demand, or other factors, companies often respond by raising salary offers to attract talent. This can result in new employees being hired at salaries close to or even exceeding those of existing employees with more experience and tenure.

If an organization does not regularly adjust the salaries of its current employees to keep pace with market rates, inflation, or performance achievements, the pay gap between new hires and long-standing employees narrows, leading to pay compression.


Pay Compression

Pay compression, also known as wage compression, occurs when there is minimal difference in pay between employees regardless of their skills, experience, or job responsibilities.

At a time where employees are increasingly sharing their salaries with co-workers, the effects of pay compression can be detrimental to an organization, resulting in decreased employee morale and motivation, as well as higher turnover rates.

Experienced employees who see new hires earning similar or higher salaries may feel undervalued and demotivated and believe that their experience and contributions are not being adequately recognized.

This dissatisfaction can lead to a decline in overall productivity and engagement. Furthermore, these employees are more likely to seek employment elsewhere where their skills are better recognized and compensated.

This turnover can disrupt organizational stability and incur additional costs associated with recruiting, hiring, and training new employees.


Strategies to Achieve Balance

To strike a balance between internal equity and market competitiveness, organizations should practice the following strategies:


Regular Compensation Reviews

Compensation is not set-it-and-forget-it. Regular reviews are essential to ensure that compensation packages are competitive in the market and equitable internally. Employers should review their compensation programs at least annually and during significant market changes, company growth, regulatory changes, and strategic shifts, addressing any disparities promptly.


Transparent Compensation Policies

Transparent compensation policies help ensure fairness and consistency in pay practices. When compensation decisions are made based on clear, objective criteria such as job responsibilities, skills, and performance, the likelihood of bias or favoritism is lowered. Employees are more likely to be paid equitably and understand how their pay is determined when transparency is built into the overall compensation strategy.


Merit-Based Increases

Merit-based increases link compensation to individual performance and contributions, ensuring that employees are rewarded fairly based on their efforts and achievements. This helps maintain clear and justifiable pay distinctions within the organization.


Market Benchmarking

Market benchmarking helps organizations set salary ranges that are appealing to top candidates. Through accurate, up-to-date compensation data, HR and management can make strategic decisions about salary adjustments and benefit offerings. This ensures that organizations remain competitive without overspending on compensation. Market benchmarking should be performed annually for larger organizations, while smaller organizations can opt for biannual or triannual assessments to ease the administrative burden.


Job Classification/Salary Structure

Job classification and salary structures provide a structured approach to defining roles, evaluating contributions, and setting compensation levels that are fair, transparent, and aligned with both internal and external benchmarks. This approach supports effective talent management and enhances overall organizational performance and employee satisfaction.


Total Rewards Approach

For full-time employees, organizations can consider a comprehensive approach to compensation that includes benefits, bonuses and incentives in addition to base salary. By offering a mix of financial and non-financial rewards, companies can tailor their compensation packages to meet the diverse needs and preferences of employees while remaining competitive in the market.


Career Growth Opportunities

Career growth opportunities help nurture employee development, align career paths with external market expectations, attract and retain talent, and foster a culture of fairness and meritocracy. By investing in career growth, organizations create a supportive environment where employees can thrive professionally while contributing to the organization’s overall success and competitiveness in the marketplace.


Internal Equity Analysis

Organizations should conduct regular internal equity audits to ensure fairness and transparency in compensation practices. By comparing the relative value of different positions within the organization, these audits help mitigate disparities in pay for similar levels of work or responsibilities.


Variable Pay

Organizations can use variable pay programs to tie a portion of employees’ compensation directly to individual or organizational performance metrics. By offering variable pay based on performance, organizations can reward high performers more effectively while maintaining equity across different roles. This flexible strategy lessens the burden on fixed payroll costs while still rewarding high performers.


Building a Fair and Attractive Compensation Program

By implementing these strategies, organizations can maintain a balanced, competitive, and equitable compensation plan that attracts and retains top talent while ensuring long-term financial stability.


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