Maybe you've already heard about this. In early October, a Portland, Oregon-based Wells Fargo branch employee emailed CEO John Stumpf that it was time to take some of the banks' profits and turn them into employee compensation. The employee, Tyrel Oates, also cc'd 200,000 of his coworkers using all of the internal email addresses he could cobble together over a couple of days of fiddling around online.
Mr. Oates opened his email with the observation that:
With the increasing focus on income inequality in the United States. Wells Fargo has the opportunity to be at the forefront of helping to reduce this by setting the bar, leading by example, and showing other large corporations that it is very possible to maintain a profitable company that not only looks out for its consumers and shareholders, but its employees as well.
He goes on to belittle Wells Fargo's benefits and 401k contributions because they don't increase his income. He also mentions, "Though Wells Fargo does not allow the formation of unions, this does not mean we cannot stand united." His proposal is for the company to take $3 billion of the company's reported second-quarter $5.7 billion net income and turn it into a $10,000 increase for each employee. Here's a link to the full email, which I encourage you to read.
To paint the complete picture, the story got picked up by The Charlotte Observer, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Business Insider, Time.com, MarketWatch and his local media outlet, The Seattle Times, just to name a few. Adjectives chosen include: "brazen," "ballsy" and "brave."
I imagine you're feeling some tension in your neck at this point. Yes, this could happen to you. To the compensation practices you've approved. To your company's reputation. You've heard from many of us at Compensation Cafe alerting you to the media's growing interest in employee pay, why employees have a point and what you can/should do to improve the compensation communications situation in your company.
After all, many of us who write for Compensation Cafe believe that everything we do in compensation is communication. Here's a true life example of what our lengthy recession has done to many employees' belief in, and understanding of, our pay practices. If nothing else has, this Wells Fargo example should inspire you to act. It's becoming clearer that it's not business as usual any more and you can't remain focussed on spreadsheets.
Get out of the office. Find out what's on people's minds. Listen carefully when they explain how and why they feel the way they do. Be sure you have sound reasoning behind your 2015 increase practices -- and make double sure that your managers are implementing (and talking about) compensation practices as recommended. If not, why do they feel the way they do?
Many of you do not have in-house communications professionals, so let me finish with a snapshot of how Wells Fargo is handling this case based on a short conversion I had with them today. To their immense credit, they reminded me that Mr. Oates was their employee, to whom they have a responsibility for confidentiality and privacy, and that this is an in-house topic. Their formal statement is:
Wells Fargo values and supports its team members. This is why we provide market competitive compensation that combines base pay with a broad array of benefits and career-development opportunities for team members. Team members receive an annual performance and salary review. And all of our team members’ compensation levels exceed the federal minimum.
It's not very satisfying, but take note. I am sure that their conversations with their Wells Fargo employees go far beyond these generalities . . . and I've invited a Wells Fargo representative to visit Compensation Cafe via an interview sometime in 2015. I really want us to continue to learn as much as we can about compensation as communication, so we can go out and make real improvements.
Margaret O'Hanlon, CCP is founder and Principal of re:Think Consulting. She brings deep expertise in communications, compensation and career development to the dialog at the Café. Before founding re:Think Consulting, Margaret was a Principal with Towers Watson. She's wondering if you've read what's on page 12 of Everything You Do (in Compensation) Is Communication? We're not talking about the same old stuff. Find out at www.everythingiscommunication.com. Margaret collaborated with Ann Bares and Dan Walter to bring this ebook into the world. Filled with innovative ideas, practical tips and experienced advice, it's a quick read and a valuable resource for building your influence as a compensation strategist. Come visit and tell us what you think!