What is a compensation philosophy?

Compensation philosophy

A compensation philosophy refers to a company's position on employee pay, rewards, and benefits. It consists of a formal document that explains exactly what the company's compensation and benefits policy is, and details the practices used to implement that policy.

The human resources department is typically responsible for developing a company's compensation policy. An organization’s philosophy of compensation should support its broader business goals and strategic objectives, while also ensuring that employees are rewarded fairly for their work. 

Why is a compensation philosophy important?

A well-developed, equitable compensation philosophy can help employers attract and retain top talent, and keep workers motivated. It also ensures fairness and creates a clear standard for how salary, rewards, and benefits are managed within an organization. In short, it promotes transparency.

Here are some more reasons why companies should establish a clear and thoughtful compensation philosophy:

  • Support a strong company culture: Compensation philosophies help ensure that pay ranges are aligned with company objectives.
  • Enhance competitiveness when recruiting: This makes it easier to attract new talent to the organization.
  • Reward high-performing employees: This helps to keep existing employees motivated and potentially improves employee retention.
  • Ensure equitable pay: A clearly defined compensation and benefits policy helps avoid wage disparities, which may otherwise invite accusations of unfair treatment.

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For example, say Worker A and Worker B have the same job. However, Worker A gets $25 per hour, while Worker B gets $20 per hour. This can look like unfair treatment and, depending on the circumstances, even raise questions of a discriminatory compensation philosophy.

However, say the company has a compensation philosophy that notes that more experience means more pay. Worker A has five years of experience and Worker B has one year of experience. The pay gap now seems justified.

Key elements of a compensation philosophy

“Compensation” primarily refers to salary. However, “total compensation” includes other non-salary incentives, like bonuses, commissions, equity, allowances, and other types of perks. All of this can be included in a compensation philosophy, in what would be known as a total rewards compensation philosophy.

The goal of a compensation policy is not to precisely specify what every employee makes or how they'll be paid. Instead, it provides an overarching framework for the company's compensation and benefits practices.

A comprehensive compensation philosophy template may include:

  • Compensation and rewards structures
  • Relevant statutory requirements
  • Compensation review frequency
  • Overtime guidelines
  • Severance policies

Compensation philosophy examples

Every company will have its own compensation policy, though certain industries have similar or comparable approaches to pay and benefits. Examples of a compensation philosophy in action can help bring clarity to the topic.

For example, a market pay philosophy is governed by the competitive market and is usually based on the difficulty of the job and the expertise needed to perform it. Meanwhile, an equal pay policy is as it says—equal pay for all, regardless of roles or responsibilities.

A flexible pay policy is another common example of a compensation philosophy statement. This is usually based on multiple factors, including not only market averages but also individual educational background, skills, and experience.

Another example could be a pay-for-performance compensation philosophy, in which individuals are rewarded according to performance metrics. Alternatively, a sales compensation philosophy might be used in sales teams that are paid primarily on a commission basis.

Creating a global compensation philosophy

Companies that hire internationally will need a global compensation policy. A global compensation philosophy statement helps ensure equity when hiring worldwide. Different companies take different approaches to global compensation, depending on their needs, goals, and budget.

About Oyster

Oyster is a global employment platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, hire, pay, manage, develop, and take care of a thriving distributed workforce. Oyster lets growing companies give valued international team members the experience they deserve, without the usual headaches and expense.

Oyster enables hiring anywhere in the world—with reliable, compliant payroll, and great local benefits and perks.