Probing professionals' paycheques

Probing professionals' paycheques McGill University

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McGill Reporter
July 27, 2000 - Volume 32 Number 18
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 32: 1999-2000 > July 27, 2000 > Probing professionals' paycheques

Probing professionals' paycheques

| It's no secret that McGill's academics are underpaid in terms of what professors earn at Canada's major research universities. The University commissioned a report two years ago illustrating McGill's relatively poor track record in that regard and the University has already taken steps to bolster the paycheques of its academic corps as a result.

But what about managers and professionals, the folks who recruit students, handle departments' budgets, administer student aid, organize events for alumni and tend to McGill's computer systems? Are they reasonably well paid in comparison to other organizations similar to McGill?

That was the question posed by a recent survey put together by the Department of Human Resources.

The answer, with several qualifications, is that McGill's managers and professionals earn salaries that are roughly comparable to what people holding down similar jobs in other organizations are making.

In general terms, "we're in the game" when it comes to our pay structure, says salary administration manager Jean-Claude Provost. "If we were leaders, I would be proud to say so, but we're not. In some areas, we pay higher than average, in some we pay lower than average.

"With the survey of academic salaries, the results were pretty clear -- McGill was lagging behind other universities," says Provost. "With this survey, there is no wall-to-wall solution that's obvious. We're not going to raise everybody's salary by x per cent. That's not what the data says."

In putting together the survey, "we didn't see any point in comparing ourselves to 100-employee firms," says Provost. Organizations in the study had to be big and they had to employ people in a wide range of jobs. They also had to be in the general vicinity of Montreal, "the geographical area where we usually recruit from," explains Provost.

The organizations that McGill used as comparison points included universities (Concordia, Université de Montréal, Laval and Bishop's), the public sector (the City of Montreal, STCUM) and businesses (Bombardier, Air Canada, Metro Richelieu).

Several specific job types that had counterparts at most of the other organizations in the study were used to gauge how well McGill paid its managers and professionals. The study made a point of looking at many different types of positions.

"There are some areas where we clearly have to be more market-sensitive," says Provost. Namely, people who work in information systems and information technology -- particularly people with skills in hot areas like Unix systems or new media.

"There continues to be a shortage of these kinds of people," says Provost, and he believes McGill needs to rethink how it pays them if it wants to be competitive with other organizations.

"We need more flexibility to be able to offer competitive salaries in certain areas. The salary structure that's in place now doesn't always make that easy."

Provost says that McGill is quietly making moves to ensure that the University doesn't lose people with essential skills or staff who are making critical contributions to important projects for "only a money issue."

For instance, non-base salary bonuses are increasingly being offered to certain staff who might be particularly attractive to other employers. So far these bonuses are only being offered in the information systems/information technology area.

Term appointments, which don't offer staff long-term job security, allow McGill managers the elbow room to offer salaries to new employees that exceed what the University generally offers within its salary scales. For certain types of staff, this trade-off between job security and a higher paycheque makes sense -- fundraisers, for instance, command good salaries these days, but rarely stay at one institution for very long.

In terms of salary scales, what McGill offers as a minimum salary for different jobs is "generally in line" with what other organizations offer. But in terms of the maximum salaries that McGill offers in different scales, "we come out less favourably more often," says Provost.

He explains that McGill salary scales typically offer a 40 per cent range in pay. Salary scales in other organizations offer more room to manoeuvre -- ranges of between 50 and 80 per cent.

This is offset somewhat by the fact that McGill offers a greater range of job levels than do most organizations. A high-performing systems analyst at McGill might quickly move from being classified as an M.2.1 to becoming an M.3.4. -- in which case, her pay rate wouldn't be too limited by the 40 per cent salary range that exists for each job classification level.

Still, Provost believes McGill must take a closer look at its salary scale structure and bring it more in line with what's offered at other organizations.

The results of the salary survey were somewhat skewed by the sometimes large variation in salaries paid to staff from different generations.

"Like other universities, we have an aging population, many of whom are career lifers who were hired in the '70s when universities had a lot more money to work with," Provost notes. As a consequence, these veterans tend to draw good salaries, as they worked during a period when raises were much easier to come by. In fact, they tend to be paid more than their counterparts at other institutions. But there is still dissatisfaction in their ranks because they hit the maximum salary levels within their classifications long ago and can't move up as a result.

Meanwhile, more recent additions to the ranks tend to be somewhat underpaid compared to their counterparts at other organizations, as they were hired at a time when an underfunded McGill had to pinch its pennies.

They were generally hired at the minimum salary levels for their classifications and moving up, salary-wise, has not been an easy task in recent years.

Discussions have begun with the McGill University Non-Academic Staff Association (MUNASA) about rejigging compensation levels for managers and professionals. "One thing we're interested in is having fewer, but much wider, salary ranges," says Provost. Staff would have fewer job classifications to move between, but they could have access to better raises in the jobs they are in.

The plan is to create new job profiles that would be general enough to cover several related positions -- jobs that require similar skills, work intensity, qualifications and responsibilities would be lumped together into these job profiles. Once these are compiled, McGill would again look to comparable institutions to see what the pay structures should be.

For its part, MUNASA supports the move -- with some reservations. In a recent executive bulletin put out by MUNASA, the staff association agrees that the current job classification system is "dysfunctional."

MUNASA identified several points that it believes are crucial to a successful revamping of job classifications and pay levels. These include a clear commitment to the change by the senior administration and an assurance that the process will get the financial and human resources it will need to be done properly.

Provost says McGill also plans to make job descriptions and salary ranges more transparent. The information will become available on the web, for one thing. "There is an impression out there that we lock this information up in a black box."

Provost emphasizes that salaries "are only one slice of the pie" when it comes to creating workplace conditions conducive to retaining staff. Access to training and job development opportunities is another critical factor and McGill needs to do more on this front.

The University has indicated that it will begin investing more money in this area and as a first step, pilot projects will be established to tackle a long-time sore point at McGill -- the performance management evaluation process.

Many McGill employees complain about receiving performance appraisals that don't tell them very much, while several managers confess to feeling awkward about formally evaluating the work of their staff. "Managers aren't trained to do it," notes Provost. "They aren't recognized for doing it either."

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