Banks spurn talk of a 2009 pay freeze

Dec 18 2008 by Nic Paton Print This Article

They may be axing jobs left, right and centre, but most of Britain's financial services giants are refusing even to consider freezing pay for those staff that remain next year.

According to a poll of 50 financial services firms by consultancy Watson Wyatt, only one said it was planning to introduce a pay freeze next year.

In fact, eight out of 10 forecast their pay review budget would in all likelihood increase during 2009 by three per cent or more.

The finding came at the same time as Watson Wyatt published separate research stressing the need for organisations, next year more than ever, to keep a tight focus on their employee reward.

Nearly three out of 10 of the financial services companies polled by the consultancy were restructuring and more than a quarter had frozen hiring.

A range of other restrictions had been put in place too, including cutbacks on company travel, restructuring the HR function and eliminating or reducing training programmes.

But money was something most were not prepared to compromise on, although the majority did accept that bonuses would be lower in 2009.

A total of 16 per cent said they were looking to introduce greater differentiation in pay schemes next year to retain and motivate key employees.

And, while bonus budgets were decreasing, higher performers would probably receive a proportionately higher award.

"In 2008 financial services companies have been facing the twin pressures of high inflation forcing up pay settlements and uncertain economic times reducing available budgets," pointed out Iain Nichols, a senior consultant at Watson Wyatt.

"Most companies have been forecasting increases in the range of three to four per cent, lower than in previous years but with rapidly decreasing inflation we now expect this range to reduce further by the time salary increase budgets are signed-off," he added.

At the same time, stressed organisations were in danger of making employee reward and pay decisions they could come to regret later on and so needed to focus very clearly on what they wanted from their reward programme, warned Carole Hathaway, head of strategic reward consulting at Watson Wyatt.

What was important in times of rapid change and uncertainty was that organisations retained both their flexibility around pay and reward while remaining focused on the underlying principles behind their approach to managing reward and talent, she argued.

"Those organisations that have gone furthest towards integrating their reward and talent strategies are likely to be best placed to come through the recession with a productive and engaged workforce," she added.