Icon of hand with coins

Companies often struggle with whether or not to ask about pay in their employee survey. The reluctance is typically based on the belief that changing pay practices is unlikely, so why ask? Of course, underlying this is the expectation that employees will complain about their pay in the survey. And that seems reasonable – after all – doesn't everybody want to make more money?

The reality though is that asking about pay on a broad-based employee survey can be a wise choice, for several reasons.

1. Benchmarks provide valuable context

First, the fear that survey scores will paint a negative picture about company pay is often overblown given comparative benchmarking. For example, according to the current Willis Towers Watson US National Norm, only 52% of employees believe pay at their company is as good as or better than the pay in other companies. Even in High Performing companies that number is only 63%. That's a pretty low bar, and what that means is that, in all likelihood, your score will probably end up looking a lot more competitive than you fear.

2. Engagement is rarely impacted by pay perceptions

Beyond the absolute score and how it compares with benchmarks, the next consideration for any survey topic is how it impacts employee engagement, and the reality here might surprise you. Although pay is often top of mind for employees, it only very rarely shows up as a top predictor of engagement. This could be used as an argument for not asking about pay in the first place. But, to me, I think it’s a much stronger argument for including it in order to document its lack of impact in your company. This gives company leaders many other things to focus on, other than pay, to drive engagement in the future.

And in the rare cases when pay is a driver of engagement, I believe it makes sense to thoughtfully reconsider whether or not some action should be taken to address it. “Some action” doesn't necessarily mean raising pay, either. Opinions about pay are often entirely a matter of perception, and it is sometimes perception as well as (or more than) reality that needs to be addressed through improved communications, for example.

3. You can change perceptions about pay

This last point brings up another reason people are often reluctant to ask about pay, which is that employees don’t really know the market very well, and thus their views are entirely subjective perception. This is true, but it’s equally true that a) just about everything on an employee survey is perception, and b) perception drives reality. Indeed the analysis of employee survey data is really about understanding the perceptions of your employees and addressing those that are undermining performance. Think about it: If your employees perceive their pay less favorably than employees in other companies, even if in reality it’s not, wouldn’t you want to know so that you can address it?

4. Don't let pay be the elephant in your survey

Finally, not asking about pay often makes it conspicuous by its absence. Excluding pay questions may provoke employee suspicion that company leaders aren’t truly interested in understanding and addressing the most important issues. Trust is a critical part of any successful employee listening strategy, and it is often built on a foundation of transparency. By including questions on pay, as well as any other difficult topics, leaders are role modelling a strong and genuine desire for organizational improvement and employee involvement: the goal of the survey in the first place.

Willis Towers Watson Employee Engagement Software includes several questions related to pay, all of which can be benchmarked against industry and national norms. Sign in to your account today to see them in the library, or contact us for a demo.


Photo of Adam Zuckerman 

Adam Zuckerman, Product Leader
Willis Towers Watson Employee Engagement Software

Adam is responsible for the overall development and direction of Willis Towers Watson Employee Engagement Software. His goal is to create the world’s greatest software for delivering insight and enabling actions that enhance employee experience, company culture, and business performance. Outside of work, Adam enjoys off-roading in his Jeep and spending time with his family. Follow Adam on Twitter.