Those who control pay increases have leverage over actions that can have far-reaching consequences. For example, at one time, I had a life-changing experience while routinely processing pay increases approvals at a large corporation. Paperwork arrived one day requesting an exceptionally large early merit increase outside policy guidelines for a young research scientist.
After checking the employee's performance evaluation file, I frowned. A few years of excellent work had earned him strong merit increases, but his most recent job performance had slipped badly. No new evaluation supported the extraordinary early increase requested now. His present salary was generous. There was no justification for approval of a policy exception.
When I investigated further, it got worse. The immediate supervisor told me his subordinate's performance had plummeted in the few months since his last review! The performance deterioration was so sudden and dramatic that the employee was ordered to take a complete physical examination. It revealed he was dying of a rare fast-acting fatal brain disease.
Still in his late twenties, with a wife and kids, he would leave little money to his family. His boss had requested the large early pay increase to raise the base salary which would determine the disability stipend paid while unable to work. Everyone in his chain of command was anxious to activate the salary increase before the unfortunate young man officially left work permanently and became ineligible for the raise. I swiftly agreed: the salary increase was a small but worthy gesture.
Before approving the raise, I considered what effects the pay increase would have on his total reward package. His final paychecks would be a little bigger. His disability payments would be slightly higher. His life insurance amount might change as well because it too depended on base salary. It suddenly occurred to me that our company-paid life insurance policy specified fixed absolute death benefits dollars according to where the annual salary fell.
I discovered that the exceptional increase requested by the boss would not change the death benefit. But if the increase were four percent higher, his salary would enter a higher benefit payment category, doubling the life insurance payable to his family.
Quickly calling the relevant top corporate executive, I explained the situation and presented a proposal. By extending our generosity a little bit more, we could perform a REALLY good deed. The executive was aware of the tragedy and had earlier agreed to the original raise for the unfortunate scientist. I argued that another four percent and its miniscule eventual impact on our long-term life insurance experience rate was a small price for the human benefits we could provide.
I clarified that our discussion was confidential. No one else was aware of the opportunity I had discovered to help the family this way. No one would ever learn about the possibility if he rejected it. Pointing out that no one had asked for this and we didn't have to do it, I added that once the thought struck me, I could not in good conscience fail to call the opportunity to his attention. His approval was necessary for such an extraordinary and exceptional raise that exceeded the special increase he originally endorsed.
Delighted with my pitch, he hesitated for hardly an instant before agreeing. I then immediately went backwards through the chain of command, informing the various executives and managers that papers authorizing a new salary increase were being prepared as I spoke. They were overjoyed at the news that I had actually approved an even higher amount, had found a way to supply far more insurance money and had already cleared all obstacles. I expedited the paperwork, making sure that the scheme worked as planned, and then told the employee's immediate supervisor to notify him of the unexpected windfall the corporation had arranged for his survivors.
When the employee did die soon afterward, his passing was eased and his family's burden was lightened somewhat by the corporate action. No one was told of my part; but I still treasure the knowledge that I was able to make a bureaucratic job highly responsive to human values and to assist other managers to feel pride in both their company and themselves.
E. James (Jim) Brennan is an independent consultant with extensive total rewards experience, specializing in job evaluation, market pricing and pay budget distribution. After HR corporate jobs in chemical/pharmaceutical manufacturing, he consulted at retail, government, energy, IT, tax-exempt and other industries throughout North America before becoming Senior Associate of pay survey software publisher ERI until 2015. A prolific writer (author of the Performance Management Workbook) and speaker, he gave expert witness testimony in many reasonable executive compensation cases both for and against the Internal Revenue Service. Jim also serves on the Advisory Board of the Compensation and Benefits Review.
Image "Smart Beautiful Business Woman Posing" courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net