You might think that once a candidate has signed their offer letter, the salary inquiries are over. But even after you’ve sorted out starting salary, you can bet that pay is still going to be on their minds. In a day and age with more information than ever, employees expect transparency around salary not just at the beginning of their tenure with an employer, but at every step.
So before you get caught off guard, it’s well worth thinking through the types of questions your employees might ask and how you would answer them. Below are a few of the most common questions that employees tend to ask — read all about them now before they come up in your next one-on-one.
1. “How is my pay determined?”
“This question can be scary to hear if a company isn’t transparent with their pay model,” acknowledges Scott Samuels, an HR Manager at Business.org. The fix for that shouldn’t be a big surprise — “make the pay model transparent if it isn’t,” Samuels says.
Typically, salary is determined by factors like title, skill set, level, location and more. If that’s the case for your organization, you shouldn’t be afraid to share that with employees. Try saying something like “There is a salary range for this position, and we offer candidates the salary that most closely matches the job role, as well as their specific education and experience” and any other relevant characteristics, recommends HR Analyst Laura Handrick of FitSmallBusiness.com.
[Related: 3 Salary Negotiating Tips You Need to Know]
2. “Am I being paid fairly?”
When asked this question, you might be tempted to say “yes” right away to avoid any requests for salary adjustment, but it’s best not to say that unless you truly believe that’s the answer.
“If they are truly underpaid, I will let them know that I think they can be earning more. I provide details on where I think they should be salary-wise. I never promise a particular salary, of course, but I will always negotiate on [their] behalf,” says Carrie McGrath, Partner/Manager in the Search division at talent acquisition firm WinterWyman.
On the other hand, if you’ve looked into it and already know that they’re being paid fairly, you can say something like “I think you are making a fair salary for your background and [based on] what I’m seeing in the market,” McGrath recommends.
3. “Why don’t I make as much money as so-and-so?”
Savvy employees will do their research to find out how much their coworkers are making, whether by looking on Glassdoor or even asking one other. And if they perceive that there’s a discrepancy between what they earn and a similar colleague does, they may very well become upset.
If this is the case, it’s best to bring the focus back to the employee at hand and not their coworker, says Samantha Lambert, Director of Human Resources at Blue Fountain Media — “redirect the conversation to focus solely on the individual at hand.”
Say something like, “If you are unhappy with what you are earning, then we can set up a meeting to discuss your salary,” she adds. Then, you can assess individually whether or not the individual is being paid fairly, and if any salary adjustments need to be made, without a direct and like apples-to-oranges comparison amongst employees.
4. “Can I have a raise?”
The answer to this will all depend on the performance of the employee in question, when they ask it and the financial health of your business. If the employee is a star, the timing is right and your business has been given the green light to offer raises as appropriate, then it makes sense to sit down and have a formal conversation and about what kind of a raise (if any) is merited.
If this question is asked during an inopportune time, it’s fine to be honest about that. “Our advice is to be open and explain budget and profit,” shares Jesse Harrison, founder and CEO of the employment law firm Employee Justice Legal Team. You could say “a raise is possible after a probationary period and yearly performance reviews, but if our firm isn’t growing, we won’t be able to justify a raise,” he adds.
On the other hand, if the employee just isn’t performing up to snuff, you can let them know that as well (albeit delicately). Let the employee know what they still need to work on before they earn a raise/promotion, and brainstorm discussions about how you can get there.
5. “What can I do to get a raise/promotion?”
If an employee doesn’t get a raise — or if they want one, but aren’t ready to formally ask for one just yet — it’s likely that you’ll encounter this question. And since it can come up at any time, it’s helpful to have an answer on hand.
Specific criteria for raises/promotions will vary by company, but Harrison recommends sharing something like “Satisfactory job performance, of course, and showing that you are elevating us are two characteristics we consider.”
Be careful that you’re not overpromising, though — “employers should be aware that making and breaking verbal contracts, promises of long-term pay and guaranteed statements can be grounds for a lawsuit, and thus should be extremely careful with their wording,” he cautions.
6. “Why is my take-home pay different than my annual salary?”
If you have a first-time or entry-level employee, they might be curious about why the number on the paycheck doesn’t add up to the number on their offer letter. Assuming there were no errors in the offer letter or in the employee’s paycheck, this is usually a result of taxes, 401(k) contributions and various other payroll deductions.
If this question comes up, simply share with your employee that “your take-home pay will be specific to the tax forms you fill out during orientation. You will control/claim your own allowances, but you won’t be able to get an exact snapshot into your take-home pay until you submit the forms and receive your first payroll,” Lambert suggests.
If they still express concern, you can direct them to double check on websites that offer take-home pay estimates, she adds.
Salary conversations are rarely easy, but by preparing in advance for some of the most common questions employees will ask, you’ll set yourself, your organization and your employees up for success. So don’t wait — learn how to respond now.