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What Thanksgiving Dinner can Teach us about Pay Conversations

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the holiday season with the annual American Thanksgiving holiday.  For many, this is a joyous holiday full of feasting on delicious food and enjoying the company of friends and family. But for others, this time can be uncomfortable, both on the waistband and in terms of the conversations had around the dinner table. As can be the case with family and friends, dinner table topics can get controversial, heated, or emotional. It occurred to me, when thinking about preparing myself for some of those potential anticipated conversations at my family’s dinner table next week, that there are some striking similarities to conversations in the workplace about compensation. Conversations about pay can also be controversial, heated, and emotional. Sometimes it might be easier to just avoid the conversation all together. But, they don’t have to be. Here are some dinner convo examples and what you can do to avoid an upset.

We only get together like this once a year.

For many families, Thanksgiving is the one time out of the entire year when the entire family gets together around the dinner table. The focus is on the food and the conversation. It’s understandable, since it doesn’t happen very often, that the conversations can get heated. People forget how to talk to one another from year to year. The same is true for having conversations with employees about pay. If you only talk about it once a year, that leaves room for misunderstanding and a misalignment of expectations. Don’t leave employees in the dark. Talk to them early and often about their compensation. Compensation isn’t a once a year thing. The more frequently you have the conversation, the easier it is on both sides and there is less likelihood of a bad reaction to the pay decisions you are making.

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You forgot to bring your side dish to the meal

There is so much preparation that goes into making the meal a success, that when you show up empty handed, it isn’t a good feeling. Preparing for conversations about compensation is no different. It’s very important to prepare for meetings with employees about their pay. Think about how they will hear your message or how it will feel for them. You might not be able to give them the raise that they are expecting, but if you prepare for the conversation, you can share data, focus on why you believe the raise is fair, and help them understand your rationale. Think about their base pay as the turkey, and everything else your organization has to offer as your side dishes. It takes them all to make a full meal.

The conversation at the table gets heated and someone gets offended

Let’s be honest, conversations around the thanksgiving table can be controversial. Not everyone has the same views and opinions on all topics and it’s easy for tensions to rise. Given this election year, that is likely to be even more of the case. Pay is also a very emotional topic. It’s important to remind yourself of that when going into the conversation. Listen to the employee’s emotions but don’t necessarily give in. If your decision is fact-based and rational, explain that to them and tell them what they need to do to get more pay at the next increase cycle. You may not have to agree, and you may not be able to agree, but you do have to listen to one another.

With that, it’s time for me to start making my corn pudding so I don’t show up empty-handed tomorrow. Have a happy holiday for those who celebrate. And feel free to leave us stories about your awkard comp conversations below.

Karaka Leslie
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