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3 Communication Strategies to Change How Employees Think About Pay

By Keith Kitani | 2-min read

Like many HR leaders, compensation is probably on your mind at this time of year. As autumn and the year-end approaches, so do annual processes for merit increases, bonus awards, and long-term incentives. And with new legislation, like the CEO Pay Ratio disclosure rule and local laws around requesting salary history from job candidates, the compensation landscape looks increasingly complex.

Amidst all this activity, companies are facing a pay perception challenge. The truth is that most employees really don’t know if they’re paid fairly. Couple that with the popularity of sites like Glassdoor and, and many employees assume that they’re underpaid. And as Tim Low of Payscale said in the webinar we hosted together, “perception trumps reality.” You may know that your employees are paid fairly, but if they don’t know or believe it, you’ve got a problem. Low pay perceptions easily can have a big impact on your company’s productivity and turnover rates. 

You can right the ship on pay perceptions by rethinking how you talk about pay. Taking a new approach to employee communication will ensure your employees hear what you’re saying, understand how your company determines pay, and see how theirs fits into the picture.

Here are three keys to an improved pay communication strategy:

1) Inspire. Inform. Reinforce. It’s important to think about pay communication as a multi-step process. Traditionally organizations have focused on informing employees, assuming that if they provide information, employees will be organically motivated to learn it. With the overwhelming amount of information your employees receive today across their personal and work lives, you can’t rely on this assumption – there are simply too many messages competing for their attention. With compensation, it can be easy to focus solely on the nuts and bolts of how it works, but the “why” behind your programs is just as important. Once employees understand why your information is important, and what’s in it for them, they’re more likely to engage. Forward thinking companies approach employee communication as a process of inspiring, informing, and reinforcing, and create a variety of content to achieve each of these goals.

2) Use Your Managers. Managers are a critical link between employees and your pay programs. Yet, if your organization is like many others, you may not be confident that they can lead pay conversations effectively. So train your managers to communicate—confidently and authentically—your company’s approach to pay, and the pay decisions that they make based on that approach. Top performing companies spend more time training their managers to talk about pay.

3) Think Like a Marketer. This means evolving away from self-service and portal-based employee communication to a more ongoing campaign-based approach. It also means putting your employees’ concerns at the center of your communication strategy. For your message to reach and resonate with employees, you need to understand how they think about compensation, and provide information that speaks to that perspective.

You’ve put a lot of work into building and maintaining competitive pay programs at your company. It’s worth the effort to ensure your approach to employee communication is creating a strong connection between your employees and those programs.