September 11, 2023

The Most Common Compensation Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Cheryl Goh, Product Marketing Manager

The Most Common Compensation Mistakes and How to Avoid Them


Inconsistent decisions about pay are one of the most significant mistakes an organization can make. However, this happens frequently, even in well-established organizations. To build and retain a strong team, it's essential to make consistent pay decisions based on your company's compensation philosophy and compensation structure. Here, we explore common compensation mistakes, the risks they pose, and the best strategies to avoid them.

Understanding Inconsistent Pay Practices

Inconsistent pay practices often develop unintentionally over time, as organizations make on-the-fly decisions to retain and attract employees. A classic example is the story of ExampleCorp, a fast-growing company that made several inconsistent pay decisions while trying to attract and retain top talent. These decisions, made with the best intentions, led to disparities in pay for similar roles.

The revelations came to light when an HR employee accidentally uploaded a compensation spreadsheet to a shared drive. Employees discovered that some of their colleagues, even those in junior positions, were earning more than them. This breach of trust resulted in many valuable employees leaving the company.

The Risks of Inconsistency

Inconsistent pay practices can have serious consequences for an organization. Here are some of the risks:

Increased Employee Turnover : Employees may leave for better-paying jobs when they feel that their compensation is arbitrary and disconnected from their performance.

Lowered Employee Morale : When employees perceive pay decisions as mysterious and unfair, gossip, mistrust, and perceived favoritism can erode morale.

Wasted Time : Organizations with inconsistent pay practices may spend more time and energy on each pay decision, creating inefficiencies in HR and management.

Unpredictable Budget : Without a consistent pay structure, budgeting for hiring and salary reviews can become unpredictable and biased towards those who negotiate or complain the most.

Salary Compression : Over time, if salaries for new hires increase while existing employees' pay remains stagnant, you may experience salary compression, where long-time employees earn the same or less than new hires.

Pay Gaps and Opportunity Gaps : Unconscious bias can infiltrate your pay practices when managers rely on subjective judgment for raises and promotions, leading to pay inequity for women, people of color, and other protected groups.

Legal Liability : Irregular pay practices may result in illegal pay disparities, exposing your company to legal and compliance risk.

How to Make More Consistent Pay Decisions

To create a more consistent and equitable pay system, consider the following strategies:

Write Down Your Compensation Philosophy : Collaborate with leadership and HR to define your company's approach to pay, including your employee value proposition, market competitiveness, location-based pay, and transparency.

Build Your Pay Structure : Develop a framework of job levels and pay bands that determine the pay range for each role. This structure should reflect the seniority and career progression of each job and align with market data.

Communicate Often : Ensure that hiring managers and employees understand your compensation philosophy and pay structure, so they feel confident in your company's pay policies.

Limit Negotiations and Exceptions : Avoid inconsistencies by limiting negotiations and exceptions in your pay practices. Implement a no-negotiation strategy for new hires or establish a clear performance-based pay system.

Revisit Frequently and Adjust As Necessary : Periodically review and adjust your pay bands to align with the job market, ensuring your compensation practices remain relevant and consistent.

Bringing Consistency to Your Organization

Inconsistent pay practices are often the result of cumulative individual decisions over time. By creating a pay structure that guides your decisions and regularly monitoring your pay practices, you can build a fair and equitable approach to compensation that benefits your employees, attracts great candidates, and safeguards your company from risks.


Compensation mistakes are common and can have serious consequences for organizations. However, by taking a strategic approach to compensation, you can avoid these pitfalls and create a more consistent and equitable pay system that benefits both your employees and your organization.