Why every word counts in Compensation & Benefits

Why every word counts in Compensation & Benefits

Well, we work in HR. It’s a well-known fact that people in the Human Capital function need to be VERY careful with the words we use… in writing but also when speaking, whether in one-on-one or one-to-many circumstances.

After all, we have access to a lot of confidential and sometimes private information. Employees and managers expect us to represent and be the voice of Management as well as theirs at the same time. And even when we use the “correct” words, there are still many subconscious personal filters that distort what employees hear and understand.

And as members of the HR function, like Legal, we have the responsibility of engaging the company in binding relationships as we establish the work contract of our employees.

I believe however that Compensation & Benefits have even more responsibility than the rest of HR when it comes to how we communicate.

Why ? Well, the first reason is fairly obvious. We deal with how much and under which circumstances employees are paid or covered by benefits. Every conversation, every tiny email, gets scrutinised because every single employee, including top management, has an interest in that topic that directly impacts their life and that of their family. And emotions run high very easily in that matter !

So we have to be extremely careful as to how we phrase things. Ensure that we explain things, even the ones that we take for granted. Check every single communication coming out of our computers. Spend a few extra minutes on the phone when we answer a question about a compensation programme. Run our incentive scheme documents through “normal” employees to check their understanding before we roll out. Design communication plans that describe our intention in many different formats and levels of vocabulary.

The second reason why words are so important in Compensation & Benefits, is due to the nature of our role. We deal with both the “technical” and “strategic” aspects of HR. We deal with the “numbers” of HR. Numbers require accuracy, can’t accommodate imprecisions.

A median is not the same as an average. A target bonus is not the same as a maximum bonus. An annualised amount does not describe what a new hire joining late in the year will make. This is especially important when we participate to compensation surveys, as we need to be comfortable that when we later receive the results, we are truly comparing apples to apples. So pay attention to this boring small print !

Also, the numbers we produce inform many decisions that will impact the organisation so we need to be thorough, accurate and confident when we present information.

However Management at your company does not necessarily need or want to see the details of your calculations. Present the results and methodology you used, and keep the details handy in case you are asked for evidence or supportiung information, but don’t bore them with excruciating details of your technical prowess. Your value will shine if you provide the insight they need, not if you scream for attention with a useless KPI report.

All in all, when we pay attention to the words we use and keep in mind the interests of all parties involved (genuinely looking to find a win-win solution), we establish trust in our relationship with our counterparts. And over time, this helps reduce how much negotiation and explanation we need to give when we are discussing new programme features with management or employees. So next time you are tempted to use some shortcuts or ambigities or “fine-print” in order to save yourself some time today, remeber that ! You might be creating some additional hurdles for yourself tomorrow by implementing such short-term tactics…

Related posts :

Compensation Data vs Compensation Intelligence

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Getting examine this I believed it had been extremely useful. I enjoy you taking some time and energy to place this short article jointly. I when yet again discover myself investing method to a lot time the two reading through and commenting. But so what, it absolutely was even now worthwhile!

  2. Philip Mathew says

    This is very apt and true. Especially if employees perceive what is conveyed to them in a different way. And sometimes the HR professional takes things for granted.
    Thank you.


  1. […] have written in the past about the importance of using the right words in compensation communication. Different industries and different companies will use the same word in different ways and […]

Speak Your Mind