Most Employers Offer Pay Incentives, Shift Focus to Short-Term

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In May of 2014, pay incentives, primarily at the uppermost executive levels, have been seeing quite a bit of negative press due to push-back from shareholders over the size of the incentives, concerns over company performance, and even internal scandals and abuses to artificially inflate the incentive amounts distributed.

From Chipotle to Staples, and now the Veteran’s Affairs Department, the power and perils of pay incentives have been front and center. Of course, most organizations are looking at pay incentives at a much more basic level for the vast majority of their employees and with much more well-meaning goals in mind. Two recently published examples of incentive pay research help to shed light on the current landscape of incentive pay including, which incentive plans are being offered, to whom, and based on what metrics. Key findings from both surveys, one at the national level and one at the local level, are outlined below.
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Integrating Incentive Pay into Your Performance Management Process

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When structuring an effective Performance Management process at any organization, including some type of incentive to help drive performance is a key step. Particularly in recent years, large financial incentives are not always feasible, nor are they always found to be the most impactful driver for incentivizing employees. Nonetheless, a consistently strong majority of organizations both across the region and nationally, tie pay to performance either directly or indirectly.

For a closer look at how organizations in Northeast Ohio are implementing these financially based incentives, we turn to the 2013 ERC Pay Adjustment & Incentive Practices Survey.

Types of Incentives

Annual bonus plans remain the most common type of incentive pay, with individual incentives and profit-sharing filling the second spot, depending upon the employee group being compensated. Other less common incentives reported include, longevity service awards, retirement-based profit sharing, and executive performance bonus plans for select executive level positions.
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Executive Pay: The Power of Indirect Incentives

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In a PricewaterhouseCoopers study of 1,106 individual executives across 43 countries, researchers found ample evidence to suggest that the effectiveness of executive pay hinges not only on a total dollar amount, but also on several key intangibles. Despite much focus on variable pay as a key element of executive total rewards packages, the PwC study reports that as a performance driver, variable pay is only a part of the story.

Instead, for this group of executives, their motivation to excel at work appears to stem from a combination of factors including, perceptions of fairness, job satisfaction, recognition and of course, to some degree, the final dollar figure. For example, when asked how much of a cut in pay they would be willing to take if offered their “ideal job”, on average, participants indicated that they would take a cut of up to 28% for the opportunity to pursue a more personally fulfilling job. However, it should be noted, that when asked the same question for someone beside themselves, their threshold for pay cuts was significantly higher in this less personal hypothetical scenario- with some breakouts as high as 70% and averaging at a 60% pay cut.
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Over 2/3 of Local Employers Still Offer Incentives/Bonuses

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The results of the 2011 ERC Pay Adjustment & Incentive Practices Survey show that the majority of employers are still offering an incentive/bonus plan. However, the percentage is down from the past few years.  

The survey reports that 67% of organizations surveyed have an incentive/bonus plan, compared to 79% in 2010 and 89% in 2007. Although this is the lowest percent reported in years, it’s important to note that the majority of respondents continue to offer an incentive/bonus plan.

The survey also shows that incentives including annual bonuses, profit sharing, spot-achievement awards, and individual incentives remain the most common incentives offered by employers. Gain-sharing, small-group incentive pay, and stock options continue to be less common.

Additional Resources
More info about this survey and other compensation surveys: click here