Seasonally adjusted: Part I

Making a loved one’s eyes sparkle with joy for the holidays isn’t always easy. How long will you work to buy a pair of diamond earrings? First in a series.

To spur useful compensation conversations, Korn Ferry Hay Group has looked at how many days people in different jobs would need to work to earn that special holiday gift. This week: diamond earrings.

It may start with a pay stub dropped by accident in a hall, or a spreadsheet left visible on a computer screen. Sometimes, to the dismay of human resources departments, colleagues get curious and chatter about what others earn. And when they get even the tiniest glimpse, this can lead to a lot of wishful thinking about what it might be like to get someone else’s pay.

But the reality is, “compensation is a complex issue,” says Ben Frost, a global pay expert at Korn Ferry Hay Group. “We may know this intellectually. But it can be difficult, without expertise and experienced insight, to sort out the emotions connected with the complex matters of money and work. People can feel heartstrings tug especially hard during the holidays, when we all want to be generous in showing our love and joy for everyone around us. We’re besieged by demands, and we’re all too aware of our personal financial constraints, especially as these are tied to how much we get paid.”

As Frost points out, compensation varies due to the size and scope of the job, education, experience, accomplishments, and tenure in an organization or a field. It may be higher or lower depending on whether individuals possess skills or capacities in high demand, and where they might work—in costly or affordable markets.

The pay we get differs, of course, and so does the time we spend to earn enough to afford items we want to buy. Korn Ferry Hay Group has drawn on its PayNet database with data for more than 20 million job holders in 24,000 organizations across more than 110 countries, to calculate the days worked to afford diamond earrings:

“It may be counterintuitive,” Frost says, “but we find that even leaders and organizations can get themselves in a muddle about compensation. They can find benefit by tapping objective expertise about these issues. It can be a challenge to stay atop [the] many changes in competitive markets externally, as well as looking clearly at how compensation has developed internally in a company.”

Available pay data, he explains, gets used in intriguing ways—advocates extrapolate from it to show how long taxpayers work into a year to satisfy Uncle Sam or how many more months women must work on average to equal men’s pay due to gender disparities.

“Hollywood built a funny movie like Trading Places around what-if, role-reversal scenarios around pay and position,” he says. “If we all can be sensible, even a little humorous about this serious issue, that can be positive. We can’t make compensation totally taboo. We’re going to talk about it and have feelings about it, especially at this time of year. Let’s do it right.”