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Today, approximately three-fifths of the U.S. workforce is paid on an hourly basis. Yet, low unemployment, increasing levels of automation, and the rapid evolution of jobs have made it increasingly difficult to attract, retain, and reward the hourly employees needed to ensure the smooth and continuous flow of operations. In response to these challenges, employers are seeking to optimize their current approaches to, and spending on, compensation and rewards to better attract and motivate employees.
Developing a solution for hourly employee pay involves three elements:
Structures that define the hourly rate and if/when increases are awarded.
Additional pay, commonly tied to individual or company performance, provided for work performed.
Health and wellness benefits, paid leave, career progression, and other programs meant to reward employees for their contributions.
This article focuses on considerations for selecting and implementing optimal pay structures for hourly employees.
When developing a pay structure for hourly employees, considerations include the work environment, the type and complexity of the work performed, and preferences of the larger organization. In addition, it is also important to understand the ease in which the program can be communicated to current and prospective employees.
There are four typical structures used to manage hourly compensation:
In a recent survey of organizations with significant hourly employee populations, respondents identified that step-based pay and wage ranges are the most common. However, it’s important to note that it is common for organizations to use a combination of pay management structures to compensate employees performing different work.
Source: 2019 Hourly Production Employees Compensation Survey (US Participants)
Before describing each of the pay structures, it’s important to note that most structures reference and reflect market data specific to the roles within each structure. Market comparisons for hourly employees typically use data (from multiple compensation data sources) that represents the local labor market, with some adjustments for the organization’s applicable industry (or industries). Because there is a limit to the distance that workers are willing to travel for work, due to the cost of transportation, local pay data presents the most accurate picture of the competitive market rate for hourly jobs. Combining this factor with the transferable skills of many hourly workers, location-specific market data prevails as a priority.
How does it work?
What about increases?
An organization is looking to retain and reward employees based upon experience.
Sample jobs commonly associated with step-based pay include:
Step-based pay structures can also be performance-based; however, this requires measurable, job-specific, performance metrics.
The work performed by employees has limited variability, low time-to-proficiency and/or limited ability to measure employee performance.
Sample jobs commonly associated with wage rate structures include:
An organization is encouraging and compensating workers to acquire new skills.
Sample jobs commonly associated with skill-based pay structures include:
These skills may be formal (requiring training and/or certifications), or informal (acquired through on-the-job-training). In either case, employees should clearly understand how the new skills can be acquired.
Similar to the traditional pay structure to which salaried employees are often aligned (as defined in this article), and use a similar methodology to develop an employee’s rate of pay.
Sample jobs commonly associated with pay range structures vary widely.
The hourly rate is determined using the employee’s respective skills and past experience, and is regularly influenced by manager discretion during the hiring process.
While pay ranges allow for flexibility — enabling unique employee concerns and/or skills to be addressed — they may result in employees performing similar work receiving different compensation.
While the approach is common, it is challenging to consistently implement in an hourly environment and is sometimes problematic due to the risk of pay inequity due to potentially large variations in wage rates for employees in similar roles. Use of this approach is most appropriate in situations where there are:
Given the complexity of many organizations, it is possible that multiple structures will be needed to best reward and motivate the population. When determining the right approach for your organization, it will be important to balance the precision associated with having a number of varying pay structures with the administrative ease of maintaining only one or two structures.
Ultimately, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to address the needs of the hourly workforce. Therefore, focusing on the specific needs of the organization’s work environments, and the responsibilities of the hourly population, will be the best way to develop an approach for the pay structure used to effectively attract, retain and motivate your hourly employees.
Andre Rooks is a Principal at Mercer where he is responsible for developing strategies that improve the outcomes from base pay, incentive pay and other compensation programs.
Callie Rosenfeld is an Associate in Mercer’s Career practice, who focuses on supporting clients in job evaluation and job leveling, competitive pay assessment, salary structure design, and incentive design.