HR specialisms: compensation & benefits

Compensation and benefits (C&B) used to be considered an HR backwater.
To the outsider, at least, it was hardly the most enticing of disciplines.

"When I was an HR generalist I used to perceive C&B as some strange
older guy sitting in the corner," says Glaxo SmithKline’s director of
International Benefits Richard Higginson. But then he "fell into it by
accident" and found he loved it. "Everything we think is important to
people pales into insignificance when it comes to salary issues."

There is no doubt that the profile of C&B specialists is rising and they
are certainly more in demand. Research conducted last year by Salary Survey
Publications showed that the number of experts in its sample rose from 167 in
the year to March 2000, to 259 to March this year – a 55 per cent increase.
Employers, it would seem, are finally beginning to put flesh on the theory that
pay and reward – as the best means of attracting, managing and retaining talent
– is a very useful strategic tool. And many are putting pressure on their
C&B teams to demonstrate a much clearer connection to operating performance
and shareholder value.

Share options are a good example of how a wily C&B strategy can make a
real impact on the bottom line. Because companies do not have to deduct the
cost of options from their income (as they must with salaries), they have often
proved a useful tool to pump up profits in the short term. But even leaving
these semi-shady considerations to one side, it is clear that the discipline is
in line to become the main bridge between the "softer" side of HR and
the "harder" financial side of business. As such it could be the
specialism to go for if you want to get on the fast-track. "A good C&B
specialist could well be a front-runner to take on an HR directorship,"
says William M Mercer senior consultant David Wreford.

Even better, the pay is good: up to 12 per cent higher than equivalent HR
disciplines, according to CIPD reward adviser Nick Page. He puts the average
annual salary at £37k (according to Salary Survey Publications, the figure is
more like £47k). This disparity is partly down to straightforward supply and
demand – these people are still thin on the ground. But it also reflects the
peculiarly difficult nature of the job. As Page points out, "It’s a broad
remit", that can encompass quasi-industrial relations as well as
policy-making and tailoring incentives to business strategy.

At present the discipline continues to attract many more men than women. In
some organisations it remains so unpopular that individuals are often
"volunteered" into the role, says Page. "Companies often rotate
it in training schemes to try and get people interested". The problem, he
believes, is "that it’s still seen, wrongly, as a number-crunching
job" – a perception heightened by the preponderance of high-level C&B
specialists with financial backgrounds. "But now we’re seeing more HR
generalists moving into positions" – a trend the CIPD is encouraging by
making comp & bens a compulsory part of its main HR qualification.

So on the whole, promotion prospects look sound – although the best people
may find themselves at loggerheads with employers who want to keep them where
they are (that supply and demand problem again). Many C&B experts find
their way into general management and a high percentage find a niche in

With a growing number of organisations now signing up to the buzzphrase of
the moment – "total rewards" – there is no doubt that C&B is a
broadening role at the heart of the new corporate agenda.

By Jane Lewis

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