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Kestria Executive Compensation Trends Study 2023

In a candidate-driven market, it is a competitive advantage for companies to understand how compensation varies among industries and in large versus small organisations. Moreover, with global mobility still very high on the agenda for professionals and enterprises alike, despite the advent of remote working, it is worthwhile to investigate the differences and similarities between geographical markets in order to attract and retain diverse, cross-border talent.

This report presents the findings of an international study conducted by Kestria Institute to explore global compensation trends. The aims of the study were to:

  • examine the influence of factors such as company size, industry, and geography on remuneration trends
  • explore the use of non-traditional remuneration in different regions and industries;
  • gain insights into the executives' perceptions and expectations regarding compensation practices.

The insights generated were organised under the following key themes:

  • Salary adjustments
  • Transparency
  • ESG
  • Diversity
  • Special benefits over and above traditional compensation

The data was collected by surveying over 400 respondents and the results were segmented into region, company size and industry categories. While efforts were made to ensure the validity and reliability of the data and to account for unequal sample sizes between categories, interpretations should be made with consideration for the limitations inherent in survey research. Additionally, it is important to note that, as an alliance of executive search firms, Kestria has access to senior-level employees and, while some survey items addressed company-wide trends, they largely pertained to executive compensation.

Segmentation categories
Respondents represented 45 countries and were segmented into:

  • Africa
  • Asia-Pacific
  • Americas (comprising mainly the US and Canada)
  • Europe

Pre-selected industry categories were:

  • Agribusiness and agriscience
  • Banking and financial services
  • Consumer and retail
  • Energy, natural resources and infrastructure
  • Healthcare and life sciences
  • Industrial / production
  • NGO / NPO / education
  • Professional services
  • Technology

Additional industry categories that did not yield sufficient responses were either discarded or rolled up into the above-mentioned categories so as to generate more meaningful insights.

Companies were segmented into the following size categories:

  • Small (0 – 1000 employees worldwide)
  • Medium (1001 – 10000 employees worldwide)
  • Large (over 10000 employees worldwide)

Salary adjustments

Table 1: Inflation-related salary adjustments (regional comparison)

This section addresses salary adjustments in relation to events outside of an employee’s career-related progression e.g., inflation, cost-of-living increases and Covid-19.

Respondents were asked a specific question regarding their perception of salary growth in relation to inflation and the results aggregated, revealing interesting regional differences. In the Americas, Africa and Europe, the majority of respondents believe that salaries are not keeping pace with inflation. Conversely, in Asia-Pacific, the respondents have a more balanced perception, with over two thirds of respondents reporting that salaries are keeping pace with, or are above inflation.

Segmenting these results by industry, there are clear differences across the board, showing that, those in agribusiness / agriscience, banking and financial services and healthcare and life sciences feel that salaries in their industries are keeping pace with inflation, while the majority of those in consumer and retail, energy and the NPO sectors feel that salaries are increasing below the inflation rate.

Table 2: Inflation-related salary adjustments (industry comparison)

Table 3: Other salary adjustments (industry comparison)

While pay cut announcements made global news at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, this was not consistent across industry, with only 18% of respondents in the Consumer and Retail sector stating that salaries had been cut during the pandemic and the respondents from other industries showing much lower numbers.

On the other hand, approximately 43% of the full sample, across industries, indicated that their companies had previously granted off-cycle increases to mitigate against cost-of-living increases, with this scenario being least likely for those in Consumer and Retail; Energy, Natural Resources and Infrastructure; and Healthcare and Life Sciences.

Impact of diversity on remuneration

With growing corporate emphasis on diversity and inclusion, understanding the relationship between diversity and compensation is crucial. Racial and gender diversity should, in theory, impact compensation trends, if a company intends to balance out historically unbalanced demographics in its ranks and address existing pay disparities. Challenges, of course, include overcoming unconscious bias and the fact that it is unlikely that companies draft formal policies in order to achieve pay parity.

For this portion of the research, respondents were presented with a series of questions addressing whether they perceived that their organisations pay above market average for diversity appointments and the results show that, for all regions, this is not the case, with less than 25% of respondents in each zone agreeing with the sentiment.

Table 4: Survey statement: My company pays above the market average for diversity appointments (results for items covering ethnic minorities and women were aggregated) (regional comparison)

Table 5: Survey statement: My company pays above the market average for diversity appointments (results for items covering ethnic minorities and women were aggregated) (industry comparison)

When it comes to industry differences, Consumer and Retail shows a low outlier, with only 12% of the sample agreeing that their company pays above market average for diversity appointments. The NPO sample is quite divided, with 31% agreeing that their organisations pay a premium, but 50% disagreeing.

Transparency

Transparency in compensation refers to the practice of openly sharing information about an organization's pay structure, salary ranges, and the factors that influence compensation decisions.

The organisational advantages are:

  • It inculcates a sense of trust in the organisation and assures employees of fairness
  • It reduces bias and pay imbalances by highlighting disparities and prompting decision-makers to take corrective action to address these
  • It helps with attracting top talent to organisations that compensate their employees well
  • It helps with employee retention, with staff less likely to actively consider other opportunities, if they know they are fairly compensated

Despite the very strong reasons for being transparent about compensation, it appears that most industries and regions have not yet adopted these practices, with respondents in the survey indicating, in an aggregated transparency score that covered four survey items, low levels of perceptions of transparency.

In the tables below, a maximum transparency score is 5 and anything under 3 shows that respondents feel that remuneration is not transparent.

Regional spotlight – Nordics

Pay transparency has been mandated by law in Norway since 2001 and any citizen can access another’s salary and tax figures. While this information is freely available, subjects do receive notification of who may be looking up this sensitive information, presumably to prevent abuse of the system.

Sweden employs a similar system, whereby “tax calendars” are published annually, to show the taxable income of all adults and legal persons in the country.

Finland set plans in motion as recently as 2021 to implement a similar system to that in Norway, but the annual tax calendar has been in place for many years.

Table 6: Salary transparency (regional comparison)

Table 7: Salary transparency (industry comparison)

Special benefits

The tables below show the % of respondents who indicated that certain special benefits form part of their compensation packages. Short-term incentives / bonuses and medical plans / health insurance are the most common for all regions and industries, while company-sponsored education for family members / dependants and free or subsidised childcare do not feature as prominently.

With the advent of remote working following the global pandemic, it appears that flexible working conditions are now considered a perk in most regions and industries.

European respondents show that their companies mostly do not offer parental leave over and above what is already government-mandated. This stands to reason, as government-mandated parental leave is higher in most European countries than in other countries.

European compensation practices are marked by a strong emphasis on work-life balance and social welfare with taxes funding social benefits and comprehensive healthcare systems, much unlike the USA or many Asia-Pacific economies. In Germany, the co-determination model gives employees the right to representation on company boards and to shape their working environment, which will influence compensation.

Table 8: Special benefits (regional comparison)

Table 9: Special benefits (industry comparison)

Regional Spotlight – Asia Pacific

In South Korea, companies find it difficult to attract candidates away from the traditional chaebols (large conglomerates run by single families) where benefits are cross-subsidised by other companies in the group). These benefits include discounted retail, heavily-subsidised healthcare, insurance and reduction on automotive expenses, all big-ticket, high-value line items on a payslip, which smaller organisations will struggle to match.

Compensation practices across the region do vary due to the diverse economic and cultural landscape. In Japan, traditional practices like seniority-based pay are still prevalent, emphasizing loyalty and stability and employees do not often consider inter-company shifts. On the other hand, in Singapore, which has a large expatriate population, companies embrace performance-based bonuses and large living allowances to attract global talent.

Impact of ESG on compensation

ESG considerations have increased in importance for corporate stakeholders and customers alike. Integrating ESG goals into overall corporate strategy is critical for long-term sustainability, reputation and risk management. By aligning executive compensation with ESG performance, companies cement their commitment to responsible and sustainable business practices.

Transparent reporting and independent verification of ESG performance are essential to maintain credibility, both for the company as a whole and for the executives who stand to benefit from the targets being met, as stakeholders are unlikely to support monetary reward if they suspect any form of greenwashing or impact washing.

The table below shows that companies in the Industrial / Production and Energy, Natural Resources and Infrastructure sectors are more likely to incentivise the meeting of ESG targets than others. Given the resource-intensive nature of these industries, this is unsurprising.

Table 10: Survey statement: My company currently incentivises executives to meet ESG goals (industry comparison)

Table 11: Specific incentivisation of ESG goals

This survey item required respondents to indicate which ESG measures are incentivised in their companies. DEI is thus seen as a very important metric in financial services, while reduction of carbon footprint is a priority in the Energy sector and, in agribusiness, product quality and sustainability ranks highest.

Conclusion

Compensation practices play a pivotal role in shaping an organisational culture, performance, and employee engagement. They are influenced by a multitude of factors such as cultural norms, economic conditions, regulatory frameworks and industry dynamics. This study aimed to provide a high-level view of differences in compensation trends among regions and industries. If you are interested in more detailed feedback, please reach out to your local Kestria consultant.
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