Know thy worth – HR salary trends

by 15 Apr 2010

HR salaries are set to gradually increase following tough economic times. HR Leader examines some of the latest trends in HR remuneration and looks at how HR professionals can improve their pay prospects

The global financial crisis brought former year-on-year pay increases for many HR professionals to an abrupt halt. With many companies freezing salaries and recruitment and/or implementing redundancy programs, some HR folk were happy to keep their job let alone worry about a pay rise.

At present, the general consensus among HR recruiters is that HR salaries are fairly stable. However, there are signs that this will change in the near future with an upward trend in HR remuneration. Emma Egan, manager of Hays Human Resources, says organisations are looking for more value for their dollar and have much higher expectations regarding a candidate’s skills and experience for the salary on offer. “Candidates meanwhile will only change roles if it comes with a salary increase,” she says.

“Those candidates who accepted lower salaries during the downturn are also looking for more attractive salaries now. Candidates currently in contracts are also looking for an increase.” As the shortage of quality candidates intensifies across the range of HR disciplines, Egan says pressure will return to salaries.

Craig Mason, director of The Next Step, says that salaries are most definitely on the march again after being put on hold during 2009. The early career market which was most impacted in the downturn is definitely the big mover in 2010, he says, and there has been a strong bounce in both the volume of roles and salaries. Other areas of demand include the specialist markets of reward and learning and development/organisational development.

Variable pay is still an area that HR lags in, according to Mason, who cites a Next Step survey of almost 2000 HR professionals across Australia, which found that 60 per cent of HR professionals earn less than a 10 per cent bonus. This compares with only 21 per cent of HR professionals that think this level of bonus is appropriate. At the other end of the scale, only 18 per cent earn more than 20 per cent in bonus. “Clearly, the opportunity exists for companies to differentiate themselves by linking reward and performance in HR,” Mason states.

Increasing HR’s earning power

There are a number of things that HR professionals can do to increase their earning power. On an individual basis, David Owens, managing director of HR Partners, says it’s important to add value, contribute to the effectiveness of the organisation, innovate and be commercial in your implementation of HR knowledge.

“Make yourself indispensable, be the go-to person for know-how, if you are not participating in a bonus scheme propose a scheme – establish your KPIs, communicate these to all concerned parties and drive your own performance in response to the key measures,” he recommends.

“How better to prove your willingness to be considered a fully fledged member of any leadership team than offer to participate in the same assessment and reward program as the majority of performance sensitive employees. Finally, regularly exceed your KPIs – that should do the trick.”

Mary Joseph, Robert Walters’ associate director – HR, business support, sales & marketing, notes that in some organisations, HR professionals will face considerable challenges in maintaining delivery with reduced budgets and resources. “Candidates who can help drive cost efficiencies, improve staff performance, directly impact staff retention and attraction and help win new projects will be the ones who can increase their earning power this year,” she says.

“Although the majority of permanent salaries remain stable, there is increased competition for the best candidates. This has led to talented professionals being counter offered and, on occasion, receiving sign-on bonuses.”

Long-term trends

While there may have been redundancies last year, HR job vacancies are now rising and candidate shortages are already starting to emerge in certain areas, Egan observes. So as the year progresses, she says salary pressure will inevitably return as employers compete for the top talent. “Candidates though still need to remain flexible in their expectations. Those that demand an increase could see themselves priced out of the market. Certainly candidates with specific skills are likely to receive an increase, but in the mid-term increases are unlikely to occur across the board,” she explains.

Mason agrees, and says that the continued strength and rebound of the Australian economy would seem to indicate that demand for various areas of HR will remain strong, which will be reflected in salaries. “The sleeper so far has been the senior HR market and with more confidence and some churn in this space, we could see some significant increases at the top end,” he says.

Also, as Asia continues to recover, Mason believes there could be pressure in the Australian market from companies recruiting locally for roles in the region. “Australian HR professionals are well regarded and the scale and complexity of roles means that potentially offshore HR opportunities will be able to reward people at stronger levels than in Australia,” he asserts.

HR salaries by the numbers

Role Permanent salary per annum


HR director $250-280K

National HR manager $160-170K

HR manager $140-160K

HR advisor (5+ years' exp) $90-120K

HR advisor (1-4 years' exp) $70-80K

HR officer $65-70K

HR coordinator $55-65K

HR administrator $55-65K

HR graduate $45-55K


Industrial/Employee relations manager $160K+

Remuneration and benefits consultant $135-160K

Organisational development manager $130K+

Change manager $130K+

Learning & development manager $130K+

Recruitment manager $100-150K

Organisational development advisor $90-100K

Industrial/Employee relations advisor $90-120K

Learning & development advisor $70-85K

Workforce planning consultant $70-80K

Recruitment officer $70-80K

Source: Robert Walters Salary Survey 2010. Note: Figures are basic salaries inclusive of superannuation, but exclusive of benefits/bonuses. Figures are relevant for Sydney.

If you take away only one thing

David Owens, managing director of HR Partners, predicts a distinct move to a HR talent shortage in the next three to six months. "The number of HR opportunities being handled by HR Partners has doubled since the beginning of February, and by July I expect the market to be even hungrier," he says.

“In short remuneration for successful and effective HR professionals is headed up, and it's hard to see how the bubble can be burst. In fact I think because of the increased appetite within organisations for HR to manage flexibility, diversity and workforce planning, the opportunities for HR professionals to make a meaningful contribution have just improved and expanded even more. With a future this bright HR people are going to need to wear shades.”


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