Salary Survey: why is it important to our industry?
This blog has been written as a reflection on the recent 2020 Salary Survey that Red Tiger Talent have been working on throughout December 2019 and January 2020 (with support from The Society for Location Analysis – www.thesla.org). It outlines the journey we have been on, what is happening next, and also highlights some of the challenges and misconceptions we have found along the way.
In the Beginning
In the very beginning (April 2002), a group of work colleagues, clients and I decided that the Location Planning Industry needed some sort of official representation. The Society of Property Researchers (www.sprweb.com) is a vibrant membership organisation but it is dominated by wider research professionals working in real estate agencies, property companies and pension funds. We felt that there wasn’t a body that truly represented the interests of ‘location planners’ and so the SLA was conceived after a ‘committee’ meeting in the Red Lion pub in Wendover.
I consider myself a location planner (with over 25 years’ experience) and The SLA really gave a focus and a sense of belonging to myself and my fellow practitioners. Through a healthy mix of networking and informative presentations this group grew to become the well-respected society that it is today. Throughout my working career I have had both a personal and professional frustration that there hasn’t been a robust salary benchmarking survey of our industry. Location Planners are often seen as very niche skills in larger businesses – and businesses themselves often struggle to find appropriate benchmark comparisons internally. Typically, we are compared to different niche skills in other departments in order to determine salary benchmarks, which aren’t always fit for purpose.
A Salary Survey initiative needs resource and in mid 2015, when in the early stages of my next venture, Red Tiger Talent, I started the planning for what would ultimately become the inaugural 2016 Salary & Remuneration Survey for Location Planning Practitioners. This proved to be an ideal vehicle with which to launch Red Tiger Talent – a recruitment agency focusing on Location Planning, Customer Insight and Property Research.
The 2016 Survey boasted 140 responses and we managed to grow to 180 responses for the 2018 Survey. The 2020 Survey will draw upon 217 responses, a true reflection of the growing recognition of the value of our initiative and our ever-expanding network of practitioners. One of the other interesting things about the 2020 Survey is that we had 90 partial completions (started but didn’t finish) – we have all been there, we start something but get distracted and never get back to it. There is no way of identifying how many of those went on to complete the survey but even if 50% of those didn’t that would have increased our sample to 262 respondents.
In my 25 years of employment it is fair to say that there are varying attitudes to revealing something as personal as your salary. There is a reason why the 2011 Census decided to omit questions on salary from the survey. Some people offer their salary uninvited during a casual conversation, whilst others wouldn’t want to reveal such information to their own partner. I recall as a teenager asking my Dad what he earnt, and he flatly refused, on account of it being very personal and frankly, none of my business.
In my 4 years of being a Recruitment Consultant, current salary (and expected salary in their next role) forms part of my standard question set, and whilst I do sometimes feel uncomfortable asking the question, particularly to people I know, it is a necessary part of the recruitment filter process. Most people oblige – I would say it is one person in a hundred who flatly refuses to reveal their salary. That is their personal choice but it certainly doesn’t help me in providing career guidance and finding them a role. What I would say is that we use a candidates’ current/expected salary to filter suitable roles we send (no point in bombarding candidates with roles that are £20k short of what they are currently on) and it also allows us to manage both the candidate and our client’s expectation on salary. It works both ways, some candidates can be totally unrealistic about their next hike in salary.
Our salary survey is anonymous, but with the range of questions we ask in the survey, in theory, we could reverse engineer responses to identify likely individuals. A couple of people have raised that concern directly and my answer back to them is threefold:
- The nature of my primary job in recruitment is to know people’s current salaries so I would estimate that 70%-80% of people on our database have shared that information with Paul or I in a direct conversation anyway.
- I personally don’t have time (or inclination) to work through 217 responses to try to ‘guess who?’. My effort is focused on looking at various crosstabs and comparing the time-series we now have between 2016 and 2020.
- Critical to the ongoing success of the Salary Survey (and our reputation as recruiters) is trust – more on this later.
The financial cost of executing the survey is fairly minimal. With the exception of the licence costs for the survey platform, the majority of the cost is in terms of time and effort. This can be summarised into 5 key stages:
- Planning – Planning for the 2020 Survey started in October 2019 with various email exchanges and a face to face with Jonathan Reynolds, the Chairman of the SLA. These discussions focus on shaping the question set, considering new themes to address, agreeing on survey timings and confirming tasks involved with marketing the survey. There is always a balance to be had with the question set, ensuring consistency with previous years’, seeking new insights on relevant issues for the current year, and also keeping it within 5 minutes to complete. I am very conscious of how stretched for time a lot of practitioners are and it is important that we ask as few questions as possible in order to glean the most useful output.
- Designing – The next stage in the process is designing/testing of the survey and creation of the marketing collateral (logos, words, images) in time for its launch in early January 2020. It is absolutely critical that the survey works and makes sense from a user’s perspective as we potentially only have one chance for completion when the respondent clicks on the survey link.
- Promoting – Promotion for the latest survey started in late December 2019 and carried on up to the end of January 2020. Promotion was done in coordination with The SLA and was a combination of e-shots, Social media (Twitter) and use of LinkedIn. In total we estimate around 1,000 emails were sent (personal and automated) and we posted 20 twitter items. LinkedIn activity amounted to 19 posts which generated 2,700 impressions. Alongside that, particularly as deadline day approached, Paul and I worked through our list of contacts to check if they had completed it. This was done via a mixture of calls, texts, LinkedIn messages and personal emails. We stopped short of hanging around outside the places you live and work to check if you had completed it!
- Analysis – We are now at this stage with the 2020 survey, which started with a thorough review of the respondent data. This review checks for any obvious errors, for example, people filling in the survey from irrelevant professions (working behind a bar or on a supermarket checkout doesn’t count as a location planner) and people putting their annual salary as £25.6. This review also involves adding some calculated fields (e.g. whether respondents live and work within the same region) and re-classifying data (e.g. allocating Government Office Regions to London & the South East, and the Rest of the UK). The next stage in the analysis is to replicate the cross tabs from previous surveys in order to see what the updated statistics show. This data is provided in the Key Tables which will be released in early March 2020. The final part of the analysis is to look at some of the new questions introduced this year, in this case it is focused around the types of job titles people have, recent changes in role, and whether respondents have a clear career development plan.
- Reporting – The final part of our output is to pull the cross tabs into visuals (usually in the form of infographics and charts) and write some narrative around the findings. Add in an introduction by Jonathan Reynolds and I and we have the formal report. This is then made available to download and is emailed to anyone who has already requested a copy of the survey. Incidentally, the 2020 Survey has received record levels of requests for a copy of the survey which demonstrates its usefulness to the community. If you would like a copy emailed directly to you feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the list. The report will be officially launched at an SLA event (TBC) and I am sure we will be showing a few slides with the headline findings. I am certainly interested to see how things have changed over the last 2 years – particularly with the backdrop of increased political uncertainty and the ongoing restructure of the UK retail industry which has certainly seen an impact in terms of team sizes and structure.
I mentioned this before but thought it was worthy of a section in its own right. Critical to our continued success as a Recruiter and for the ongoing success of the Survey is trust. Our whole ethos has been about long term relationships with candidates and clients and that has to be built on a strong foundation of trust.
Candidates trust us to a certain degree with their careers, we pride ourselves on our practical advice which positions our candidates at the centre rather than shareholders or profits. We are sometimes in situations where there are significant sensitivities (particularly with regards their current employer) and we never disclose details of conversations or their availability to prospective employers without their permission.
Respondents to the Survey trust us as guardians of their anonymous data, they trust that we are not going to use it for means other than its intended purpose (GDPR) which is in an aggregate, anonymous form that protects individuals. This is why we deliberately omit any small samples (>3 respondents) from any individual cross tab cells we publish. It is also why we take great care in ensuring this data is securely stored in a single location (with dual factor authentication) and is never passed on in its raw form to representatives outside of the Red Tiger Talent team.
This data, along with the data we collect on a daily basis after conversations with candidates and clients is our crown jewels – it is our life blood.
One contact (who shall remain anonymous!) demonstrates that trust perfectly. They had informed me that they had completed the survey but had made a critical error on the salary question. After the completion deadline had passed, I phoned them up and explored further what the error was and gave them the opportunity to provide me with the correct information (this was one of the c20% that I hadn’t had a recent conversation with about their salary). They started their response with ‘I wouldn’t normally, but as it’s you I am happy to’. This sums up the trust that we strive to build with the community.
It is fair to say, that for me, the Salary Survey is a labour of love and the effort (and ultimately opportunity cost for a small enterprise like Red Tiger) for doing it is paid over countless times by the personal reward of knowing it does make a difference to my industry. Over the years we have done the survey we have had a number of emails from candidates (and HR/Hiring Managers) thanking us for the information and how useful it was to help their particular purpose.
It is neatly summed up by a recent respondent who took time to leave the following comment:
“Very useful to see the results – please continue running this survey!”
Following completion of the 2020 Survey project we will take a moment to reflect and document what we would do differently next time. We are always looking for new ideas, not only in terms of subjects covered, but ways to collect the data, promote the survey and also in ways of delivering the results. If anyone has any further suggestions, improvements or comments feel free to let us know – your opinions are really valued.
In the meantime, we will look forward to revisiting the whole process in late 2021 when we start planning for the 2022 Survey and set our targets high in terms of number of responses.