Survey to plot pay in Walla Walla Valley

There are plans to offer two free demonstrations of the website and a paid workshop for managers.

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WALLA WALLA -- The idea for a local salary and benefits survey came to Virginia Detweiler in the classroom.

As a business instructor at Walla Walla University and Walla Walla Community College, she facilitated business counseling sessions with local companies as a training mechanism for students. But one finding from the sessions disturbed her.

"In a small town people tend to make pay decisions based on pretty sketchy information," she said.

"Some businesses are overpaying their employees. There are businesses in town that are struggling only because they overpay."

Conversely others struggle to retain qualified employees because they don't pay enough.

So Detweiler, a labor economist who worked as a compensation counselor in Corporate America before moving to the Valley to teach, decided to create a survey to find out what exactly businesses are paying for different jobs. Her next step is getting them to participate.

The data will provide participating companies with a picture of the high, low and average pay for various jobs.

Her survey site -- PayObjective.com -- is designed to accomplish two goals: collect information that survey firms almost never bother with outside of metropolitan communities, and to get a better understanding of the local value of jobs.

Through a quiet test of the survey, developed over the last 18 months, she said wage decisions appear to be made erratically.

"It is partly because (business operators) don't have good information and partly because they have no training," she said.

As the economy recovers from the recession, thoughtful planning will be a key for long-term stability, she said.

"The thing that's happening now that I didn't expect to see in my career ¬?-- and what made me want to get back into this -- is we are resetting supply and demand."

Companies that were cavalier with their hiring practices before are becoming more deliberate about staffing, she said.

"Five years ago, they'd hire somebody just to make their lives easier. Now that position has to justify itself."

Detweiler plans to offer two free demonstrations of the website and a paid workshop for managers interested in learning about changes in employment, compensation expectations, what employees want, what's happening in the labor market and more.

The first rule of compensation: "You have to accept life isn't fair," Detweiler said.

"Britney Spears is a multi-millionaire, and your child-care provider is barely making it and you trust her with your kid."

But when it comes to determining what's the "right" pay for a certain position, there's no clear answer.

"The right answer to every compensation question is two words: 'It depends,'" Detweiler said.

The skill and performance of the individual workers must be considered with the resources of the company to find an answer. But having a base set of information to compare other companies in the community is a helpful start.

Detweiler's one concern is the site could elicit a different reaction from workers than employers. She fears workers could try to manipulate the data to obtain raises. That's why education is such an important component, she said.

"What a business decides to do with their pay is their decision," she explained.

She said if used correctly the information can mix the "wants" of the employees -- best pay, recognition and job security -- with the "wants" of management -- stability, performance and controlled costs.

"If you do balance the needs of employees and businesses you have a much better chance of success."


How it works:

Participants who access PayObjective.com can submit their data free. Detweiler said a small fee will be charged for reports on the results. The first six companies that get their data in for each size categories will get a 15 percent discount. Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce members also get a 15 percent discount.

Categories are developed for the size of businesses. They include 1-50 employees, 51-150 and 151 or more.

Businesses submit data based on job titles. Participants choose a job that most fits into the description provided. About 65 different jobs provide the base for the survey, but Detweiler wants to hear from businesses about establishing more.

Once the pay data is submitted it goes to a "holding pen" where it will be checked for errors. Detweiler said if the company matches the wrong job or the pay data is unusually high or low when compared to other companies the participant will be called to confirm before the results are plugged into the survey database. The holding pen is cleared within a day or two of submission to ensure the quality of the results.

Validated pay data can be seen in summary composite reports or detailed reports. No data will be reported for a job if fewer than six participants match to a job descriptor. Survey results can be filtered and exported into a spreadsheet.

For more information on the salary survey, e-mail Virginia Detweiler at: Virginia@payobjective.com or call 529-1910.

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