Why salary surveys are often misleading
In a recently conducted survey, the US career platform Blind asked 3,000 employees of 45 companies, among those Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan, which of two options they considered the better benefit: a USD 30,000 pay raise or being allowed to work from home (WFH). Presented this choice, 64% went for the WFH option. Only at JPMorgan and the technology giant Qualcomm, a majority of staff preferred the (fictional) pay raise.
Intrigued by this outcome, LinkedIn News Europe carried out a similar survey, in which 20,284 people participated. Given the options of a EUR 25,000 plus in their paychecks and the permanent right to work from home, 63% selected the raise, 30% the right to WFH, and 7% found the question too difficult to answer.
What can we learn from these results? Are LinkedIn users just out for the cash or are they more social and miss their work colleagues more than employees of the US companies surveyed? NONE OF THE ABOVE – the only conclusion to draw here is that surveys can be incredibly misleading.
According to glassdoor.com, software engineers earn between USD 105,000 and USD 125,000 at Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, and Google. Including benefits and equity stakes, they make between USD 152,000 and USD 180,000 a year. The average annual pay of US staff at JPMorgan, on the other hand, is a USD 89,000 base salary plus USD 9,000 in benefits. These are respectable figures also for the US, for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculated a median salary of USD 51,168. If Blind had not focused on the staff of the mentioned top companies and instead surveyed a more representative sample of US employees, the outcome would have been radically different.
According to an official report by the country’s Court of Audit, the median gross salary of all employees in Austria amounted to EUR 29,458 in 2020. Keep in mind, the alpine country counts among the richest member states of the EU. The team of www.apollotechnical.com estimated the LinkedIn user base at 756 million around the world in 2021, 73% of which were based in the US and a total of 198 million in Europe (with 16 million in the German-speaking countries). Considering that 20,000 people participated in the LinkedIn survey, we can assume that just as in the US, where 51% of LinkedIn users have a college degree, only few users with a small paycheck voiced a preference.
Either way, somebody with an average salary of EUR 30,000 (Austria) or USD 51,000 (US total) will view a potential pay raise that would increase their income by almost 100% or 60%, respectively, differently compared to somebody looking at a pay raise of 20-30% (in the case of Apple and the other mentioned companies).
Whether somebody works from home or not does not change their responsibilities and sphere of impact – which also means that this factor is irrelevant for their market value.
Asking employees whether they would prefer a pay raise or a WFH option is misleading because it suggests that people working from home are less efficient.
In the course of the coronavirus pandemic, we learned that investments were required to make individuals’ homes suitable work places. In Austria, this has been recognized by tax reliefs by now. It’s also fair to assume that, sooner or later, many companies will be able to reduce the floor space they rent as many employees take them up on the offer to work remotely.
Before the pandemic, WFH was among the most frequently mentioned benefits on employees’ wish lists. Today, it has become a standard setting in the work realities the coronavirus has given rise to. To attract good staff, companies need to go further and consider topics such as performance, leadership, and trust. Innovative office concepts are another perk excellent applicants will look for. Cawa Younosi, Group HR head at SAP Germany, which employs about 25,000 people, is a role model in this respect. “For the majority of tasks within our organization, it really makes no difference from where they are done. Unless their responsibilities make it necessary for staff members to be at a certain location, we let them choose where they want to work.” The office interior company Bene has established a test space in the center of Frankfurt that is intended to serve as the “heart of the company”: “Just like a port, this is a meeting place of people, ideas, concepts, and projects. There is space for spontaneous social interactions, which breed creative approaches, innovations, and relationships.”
One thing is for sure, however: all such efforts to keep the best employees will be in vain if salaries are not suitable for the respective labor market standards to start with.