Take a look at most businesses of 100 employees or fewer and you typically find at least one employee who has reliably received good-sized increases throughout the Recession, up to this day. Do you know who I'm talking about?
The CEO is a great guess. The CFO is another. But I wonder if you realize who I'm talking about since these incumbents typically earn far less than the golden handcuffs gang. I'm talking about the CEO's assistant.
We know the string of possible titles -- Executive Assistant, Office Manager, Senior Secretary and so on. If you're in a start up, family run business or other small organization that runs lean, you know the immense value of these individuals through personal experience. Back in the day, a person in one of these positions would often be the first out of the office as the clock neared 5:00. But these days they typically earn a level of authority in the organization that comes from hard work, savvy politics and reliably sound judgment.
And they typically earn far more than what would be considered the maximum salary for their job title.
An HR Manager asked about this salary challenge (paying over the maximum) when I was giving a speech recently, and I gave the standard advice of sticking to the maximum, with subsequent compensation paid in lump sums. But then I got thinking. In 2016, is this still be best advice to offer?
Are experienced Office Managers working from job profiles that reliably describe their skills and responsibilities? Or, in this increasingly complex work context, could some of them be more validly described as entry level professionals? After all, many in these jobs understand the basics of business strategy, know how to staff a decision-making session and communicate effectively to a wide range of team members.
I'll tell you the many things that got me thinking about this.
- One of my CEO clients recently mentioned that his Executive Assistant stepped in as a project manager, and taught his staff a thing or two. Is this a hybrid job that this company is overlooking because it's guaranteed that the Executive Assistant will receive a healthy increase anyway?
- Executive Assistant is a position that has traditionally been paid according to "the person in the job" rather than the job responsibilities, and HR then tries to overlook the practice. Do we, out of habit, just leave it at that -- as an artifact of office politics -- instead of looking more thoughtfully at the actual job profile to understand what really gets accomplished? I bet the company and the employee would both benefit from this insight.
- These jobs are typically staffed by women and, as we all know, we are still working to fix outdated pay practices for women. Should this be next in line?
Oh, on that last point, the other side of the coin matters, too. With awareness growing about how much people in administrative and similar job levels struggle financially, how much respect do you show other employees by ignoring compensation "rules" for one special person who then earns higher retirement and H&W benefits, too?
I'm not suggesting that there is a single best answer to these questions. I am encouraging you to notice the thought bubble over my head though, and decide whether it should be over yours, too.
Margaret O'Hanlon, CCP collaborated with Ann Bares and Dan Walter to create the DIY guide to compensation leadership, Everything You Do (in Compensation) Is Communications. Margaret is founder and Principal of re:Think Consulting. She brings deep expertise in compensation, communications and leadership to topics like the CEO Pay Ratio, performance management and compensation implementation discussions at the Café. Margaret is a Board member of the Bay Area Compensation Association (BACA). Before founding re:Think Consulting, she was a Principal at Willis Towers Watson.