If you are in the trade, facts about the overlaps, differences and distinctions among compensation and benefits work characteristics should interest you. A variety of strings in blogs and internet forums have touched on this topic recently. Here is one more opinion offered, based on actual research, in hopes of stimulating more discussion.
Each job has different requirements. This table ignores the overlaps in how things are done and summarizes the major distinctions observed by neutral evaluators. Jobs that combine both functions tend to be management level and are different from the professional positions that deal with only compensation or only benefits.
Compensation & Benefits Directors have more management leverage, authority and power than their subordinate positions. Of course. They are the boss. What may be a surprise is the fact that the consensus results of job evaluations conducted by Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) over a fifty-year period show that the direct reports may require deeper specific skills than the executive over them. That really does make intuitive sense. The boss directs rather than does the thing. The executive is not necessarily expected to know more details than the narrow specialist who focuses full time on the most current developments. The subordinate is tasked with the duties to investigate, study, analyze and report upwards. The director sets policy and makes things happen. The director of combined comp and benefits actually addresses a greater variety of functions, duties and tasks than any subordinate. With a broader span of responsibilities, the boss is more likely to delegate intensive activities to administrators, coordinators, analysts and specialists. Where the director skims over subjects, the analysts must delve deeply into them. The boss must be conversant with all topics, but the analyst must be expert in some, even if that expertise is deceptively temporary (because things change).
Change is not equally experienced. Executives over combined functions tend to work under a more consistent set of rules from above than their subordinates do. Indeed, they make the rules that are imposed on the underlings. Directors only occasionally have to change direction, while lower levels must be nimble. The subordinates who actually implement the change process naturally spend more time dealing with the need to adapt to new methods and procedures than the big bosses do.
Overall, there are great overlaps in all Selected Characteristics of Occupations (SCOs) that apply from Director C&B down to the entry analysts who specialize in each branch. The differences, however, are distinctive and informative.
Compensation analysts, for instance, are required to deal with a high degree of variety and more frequently exercise detailed instruction memory than either directors or benefit analysts. The essentially variable principles applied on a case-by-case basis by comp analysts do seem to demand more intensive focus on capricious details. Benefits analysts, on the other hand, score higher in reasoning and educational level requirements (same as the directors), have more stable duties and are frequently engaged in activities that require a bit more sustained concentration and persistence than comp analysts and far more than directors. They also make more decisions than comp analysts who rely more on persuasive skills to influence people than the other jobs that have power positions (such as authority or contract terms). For instance, Director C&B does not require a persuasive temperament when they set official policy. Nor does the benefits analyst need to have a silver tongue when the plan documents govern every decision, making negotiating skills irrelevant.
So, there really ARE distinctions. People can and do excel in both, but most tend to gravitate to one or the other, depending on the circumstances or their personal comfort levels. It is generally helpful to know the differences you can expect to encounter before you enter a new field. While this information will not necessarily reflect each situation in every enterprise, it does establish a solid baseline for variation.
What’s your take? Feel free to supply your observations and add to the debate about what kind of people are drawn to each functional role.
 BLS O*NET has a ridiculously broad definition of C&B positions which spans Administrator through Office Manager and Controller and does not parse out various combinations.
 A recent worst-jobs list by Forbes placed C&B in the top ten among jobs lost. This article does not attempt to address the original issue of the July 2011 “how many C&B jobs have been lost in the past 5 years?” string in the World at Work discussion forum at http://www.worldatwork.org/waw/community/discussions/discuss.jsp?did=26632.
E. James (Jim) Brennan is Senior Associate of ERI Economic Research Institute, the premier publisher of interactive pay and living-cost surveys. Semi-retired after over 40 years in HR corporate and consulting roles throughout the U.S. and Canada, he’s pretty much been there done that (articles, books, speeches, seminars, radio/TV, advisory posts, in-trial expert witness stuff, etc.) and will express his opinion on almost anything.