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How do I introduce a controversial pay structure and maintain motivation?

How do I introduce a controversial pay structure and maintain motivation?

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Nothing has the potential power to unsettle and demotivate employees more than negative changes in their pay structures.

The immediate impact of a change such as this on your teams can be anxiousness, concern and even anger – which leads to destabilisation and a drop in morale and motivation. But crucially, the longer term implications of a badly communicated change to a pay structure can engender deep, cultural mistrust from employees, potentially leading to widespread disengagement and declining business performance.

Clear, sensitive, brave and honest communication around this type of operational change is crucial –  not just to protect against the immediate effects on employees’ emotions and reactions, but also the long-term health and performance of your business.

Address the needs of the individual
There is no single set of instructions or guidelines to manage the delivery of this type of information, or a way to make 100% sure that employees come out the other side motivated and driven rather than deflated and disappointed.

As always, when it comes to any type of internal communication, the key to effectively and successfully communicating a controversial or new pay structure is to consider and address the needs of each individual.

Employees will be immediately – and rightly– concerned with the personal impact of the news. Understanding and addressing this explicitly is how sensitive and effective internal communication around pay and payroll starts.

Although communication channels, specific messaging and timescales will be different in each business, we have five universal communication tactics to ensure your employees come out the other side of this type of operational change feeling understood, heard, and engaged:

  1. Be human and avoid corporate messaging. Don’t talk about the business! Employees need to hear that you care about what’s happening to them. Speak to your teams in a human, down to earth and understanding way by explaining how this change is going to affect them first.
  2. Explain the reasons why, second. The bigger picture is still important. After addressing the personal impact, your employees will want context around why pay structures are being changed – but they need to hear that you care about them personally and the impact on them, first.
  3. Use simple, jargon-free and down-to-earth language. Connecting with your employees by talking to them simply, in real-life terms, using everyday language will help keep those corporate barriers down and build trust. Don’t hide behind jargon, as this can feel like you’re distancing yourself from the impact.
  4. Establish two-way communication using the most appropriate channels for your employees. It may be email, written letter, or face-to-face – but choose communication channels that you know your employees will respond to and engage with the best. Empower your employees to feedback and ask questions, so you can address concerns quickly and honestly.
  5. Inspire. This is a challenge when you’re sharing complicated and often difficult information. However, being honest, creating a space to share concerns, finding the positives in the situation, being clear about the way forward and addressing individual needs all inspires confidence and trust in your leadership team.

Not all pay restructures are negative
Of course, not all pay restructures result in negative outcomes for employees. Often pay restructures produce mixed outcomes, with some employees enjoying positive results. In these situations, it’s even more important to ensure a tailored, employee and individual-focused approach to your internal comms. This will ensure clarity, honesty and clear reasoning behind the changes that are affecting people differently.

Indeed, when businesses are performing well, pay structure reviews can also be overwhelmingly positive. In these instances, naturally the pressure on communication is not as acute, but the approach of sharing the impact on employees first, is still sound as this will make the biggest impression on morale and motivation.

Build trust and respect to inspire
Operational changes to your company may, on paper, lead to increased efficiencies. Indeed, a simple Google search will give you templates and ‘to-do’ lists of practical tasks to undertake when communicating a change as controversial as a pay restructure. However, using templated letters and sending long emails about what’s happening, without putting your employees at the centre of your comms strategy, ignores the human and emotional aspect.

Maintaining team morale and engagement is paramount and can mean the difference between success or failure.

Without a focus on your people and how these changes will affect them, alongside transparent communication around the reasons behind these changes, you’re likely to have a demotivated team on your hands which could have a longer term impact on your business performance.

It is the workforce and employee buy-in to the operational changes that is going to make the difference, not the operational changes themselves.
Being direct, honest, and clear about what is happening on an individual level and delivering the message in a caring, personalised and respectful way will build the trust and respect you need to inspire your employees to keep motivated through this change.