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Base Salary Rise of 3% Forecast for 2015
Flat post-inflation increases based on modest wage pressure

By Stephen Miller, CEBS  7/9/2014

U.S. workers can expect a median base salary increase of 3 percent in 2015 across all main employee categories and most industries, still below pre-recession levels, according to separate research findings by pay consultancy Hay Group and WorldatWork, an association of total rewards professionals.

The limited growth indicates no major change in the degree of upward pressure on wages—for now.

Preliminary results from the WorldatWork 2014-2015 Salary Budget Survey, published on July 8, show actual 2014 and projected 2015 salary budgets in the U.S. as follows: 

Total U.S. Salary Budget Increases

Employee Category

Actual 2014
Mean

Actual 2014
Median

Projected 2015
Mean

Projected 2015
Median

Nonexempt hourly nonunion

2.9%

3.0%

3.0%

3.0%

Nonexempt salaried

3.0%

3.0%

3.0%

3.0%

Exempt salaried

3.0%

3.0%

3.1%

3.0%

Officers/executives

3.0%

3.0%

3.1%

3.0%

All

3.0%

3.0%

3.1%

3.0%

Source: WorldatWork 2014-2015 Salary Budget Survey, preliminary findings. Survey data collected through May 2014.


The limited growth in salary budgets indicates that there has been no major change in the degree of upward pressure on wages, given the tepid post-recession economic recovery. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the monthly hiring rate fell from 5.5 million in 2006 to as low as 3.6 million in 2009, according to the Labor Department. It had only partially rebounded to 4.7 million in May 2014, the latest figure available.

Should economic growth speed up, expectations for higher wage increases may rise as well.

“Although salary budgets in the U.S. are still below historical levels, budgets have been slowly but consistently increasing since 2009,” Kerry Chou, WorldatWork senior practice leader, commented to SHRM Online.

But while the unemployment rate is decreasing, many long-time unemployed have simply quit looking, which makes the rate look more favorable than it is. We would expect that at some point, true unemployment will fall to a level low enough to begin putting more upward pressure on wage growth,” Chou said.

When that might happen, however, remains uncertain.

After Inflation, Flat Wage Gains

The Hay Group’s figures, released July 9, also forecast a median base salary increase of 3 percent in 2015 across U.S. executive, management, professional, clerical and operations roles—in line with the year over year median base salary increases of 3 percent the consultancy expects for 2014.

After factoring in annualized consumer price index growth at 2.1 percent, the resulting base pay movement for 2015 is expected to be a minimal net gain of 0.9 percent, according to Hay Group. This compares to an expected 1.6 percent net gain for employees in 2014 and a 2013 net gain of 0.8 percent (see the SHRM Online article Salary Budgets Projected to Hold Steady in 2014.)

Hay Group’s forecast results are based on data provided by over 400 U.S. organizations from March through June 2014. Typical respondents include compensation professionals in the HR departments of small to large U.S. organizations across a wide range of industries.

Industry Variations

Hay Group expects the 3 percent median base salary increase to hold steady across most U.S. industries, including chemical, consumer products, financial services, health insurance, industrial goods and utilities. Two sectors, however, stood out from the status quo:

Oil and gas industry employees can expect a median base salary increase of 4 percent in 2015.

Hospital employees can expect an increase of 2 percent for most employee groups in 2015.

Sectors with salary increases that vary from the general industry outlook typically have business performance expectations either significantly above or below the general trend, according to Hay Group.

Variable Pay and Nonfinancial Rewards

In 2015, U.S. employers will increasingly look to tie reward programs to performance management processes, according to Hay Group research that shows:

 Increasing future emphasis on improving their variable pay programs (56 percent of respondents).

 Improving key nonfinancial reward programs (63 percent), such as career development opportunities.

“Improving performance management processes and better linking these to rewards programs are top of mind for many reward leaders,” said Tom McMullen, Hay Group’s North American reward practice leader, in a news release. “Said another way, organizations are quite willing to pay for performance, but only if they achieve their performance goals.”

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow him on Twitter @SHRMsmiller.

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