Adapting Comp and Ben for Today's Workplace With Halina Ellis

December 14, 2023
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As part of our series of interviews with HR and comp & ben leaders around the world, we recently sat down with Halina Ellis, Global Compensation & Benefits Manager in an Oil & Gas company.

Halina took the time to chat with us about: 

  • Her journey from payroll to comp & ben leader
  • The challenges facing comp & ben pros today 
  • What the future holds for HR and comp & ben

From payroll to Comp and Ben 

Like many others, Halina’s journey to comp and ben leader started with a random ask. 

“I was working as an executive secretary in a printing company in South Africa, and the payroll manager went on leave. And suddenly, they asked me to do payroll,” Halina explained. 

Halina went on to work in payroll for a number of years, before getting the opportunity to move into HR — a chance she jumped at. 

“When you’re in payroll, you get information about people’s salary changes, and you just process it. I wanted to know how that process came about.”

In other words, moving into HR gave Halina the opportunity to understand the why behind the information that she’d simply processed while working in payroll. And from there, it was a short jump to compensation and benefits — the field Halina has worked in ever since. 

“When I was in HR, the HR director could see that I loved numbers, people, statistics and reporting — so he asked me to set up comp and ben. That’s how I started — I was thrown in!”

What keeps comp and ben leaders up at night?

Naturally, we wanted to pick Halina’s brain about the challenges that today’s comp & ben leaders are facing. Here are a few things that came up over the course of our conversation. 

Educating stakeholders 

One of the biggest challenges comp and ben leaders face is helping people to understand compensation, and that compensation is not just your salary but actually ones total reward statement.

“What is compensation? People don’t understand what it is. And how I like to overcome that is by explaining everything that I do,” Halina told us. 

Halina also talked about the importance of using visual aids to help your audience understand what you’re talking about. After all, while things like salary benchmarking data are a comp & ben expert’s bread and butter, they can be difficult for us regular folk to understand. 

“My favourite way to do it is to use a traffic light system. So if I’m benchmarking salaries and want to pay at the 50th percentile, then everyone who’s at 80% of that or above gets a green traffic light. If you’re between 70 and 80, you get a yellow, and if you’re below, you get a red.” 

Put simply, it’s all about making complex compensation data accessible to the people who need to understand it.

Looking after Comp & Ben Globally,one needs to constantly try to align what we offer globally but taking into consideration what is a legal /statutory requirement.  Thinking of different cultures and needs.  Dont assume that you can just implement something globally.  Talk to your stakeholders and people fellow comp and ben professionals.  

Tackling the gender pay gap in tricky industries 

Although she’s previously worked mainly in Retail, Media and Tech, Halina is currently handling global compensation and benefits for a Oil and Gas company. And, according to Halina, tackling the gender pay gap can be particularly challenging in this sector. 

“Engineering / Oil & Gas is tough, because it’s always been seen as very male-dominated,” she explained. Another particularity of this industry: it typically has low turnover, with some employees staying in the same role for 20 years or more. 

“It’s about training and upskilling people, but also trying to change the mindsets of those who have been there a long time, and saying, ‘I know that’s how you think, but it’s not like that any more.’ Changing that mindset isn’t easy.”

Dealing with constant change 

Another key issue facing compensation leaders — especially right now — is constant change. That includes changing legislation, like the EU’s upcoming Pay Transparency Directive — which we’ll get to in a moment. 

But it also includes big, seismic changes that happen within organisations, such as those brought about by mergers and acquisitions.

We need to keep on top of change, what is happening globallyThis brings us on to one of the most evergreen challenges for comp and ben experts everywhere… 

The ‘b’ word

…No, not that one. The ‘b’ word in question here is one that’s enough to bring every comp and ben leader out in night sweats: budgets. 

“Always budgets. There’s never any money to do anything,” she said. “It’s trying to think ‘What can I do, at a low cost?’”

Halina’s solution? Look for creative ways to reward employees, without overspending. 

“Little things like birthday leave. What’s it going to cost us to say, ‘Take a day off, it’s your birthday’? It’s not going to cost the company any money.’

According to Halina, what’s important is to look beyond the obvious: 

“And that’s why I have problems with ‘set’ organisations. Because they think ‘I can’t do this’. But I mean, think outside the box a bit!”

What does the future look like? 

During our conversation, we also got to chatting about the future of HR and compensation, as Halina sees it. Here are some of the things that she believes compensation leaders will be focused on over the next few years. 

Preparing for pay transparency legislation in the UK

It’s pretty hard to discuss compensation in 2023 without talking about pay transparency — we’ve certainly been discussing it a lot here at Figures. And, like us, Halina thinks it’s something that all compensation professionals should be focusing on right now. 

“Pay transparency isn’t just one issue,” she explained. “It’s the gender pay gap, it’s equity. It’s D&I, EVP  and  a whole suite of things, it’s a whole bundle that we’re about to face. And it’s something that I do believe people really must start looking at now.” 

Although Halina works out of the UK — which won’t yet be affected by the EU’s Pay Transparency Directive — she’s aware that similar legislation is probably coming, and that compensation pros need to prepare. 

“It’s a hell of a lot of work to do,” she said. “But I’m aiming for 2025. Europe’s already got it, and we don’t know when it’s going to hit the UK. So I think we as HR professionals need to really have our finger on the pulse now.” 

Adapting to new ways of working 

As the way we work — and think about work — changes, the role of a compensation and benefits leader changes too. And Halina believes that tomorrow’s comp and ben pros will be much more focused on helping employees to thrive, both inside and outside of work. 

“Comp and ben is not all about salaries,” she explained. “It’s about work-life balance too.” 

And the one interesting trend Halina is interested in going forward? The four-day work week (or, more accurately, the compressed work week). 

“I think it’s an incredible idea. I’ve spoken to my manager about it, and in certain roles, we could look at doing it. We all work more than eight, nine hours a day. So with an extra two a day, you could easily have every Friday or Monday off.”

Halina’s biggest wish for the future of compensation? More collaboration between leaders 

Above all, Halina would like to see a future where like-minded compensation leaders are able to come together and share their  Global ideas, insights and best practices. 

“When I was in South Africa in retail, I belonged to a retail forum. And yes, we were all big retail companies that were competing. But we still shared what we could with each other. And I think here, we’re not doing that enough — we’re not sharing our knowledge with each other,” Halina told us. “I think there’s a huge opening for organisations to open up, be able to talk. It’s all about learning from each other.” 

Well, we’re all about openness and transparency here at Figures — so that sounds pretty good to us!

Get more expert insights from compensation leaders

Want to learn more from today’s top minds in HR, compensation and benefits? Check out the other articles in our interview series for more insights: 

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