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Where to get the best salary in HR

Written by: Stephanie Sparrow
Published on: 4 Jun 2019

best hr salary

Change is impacting every industry, and this is creating new opportunities, healthy salaries and more flexible working conditions for HR professionals, reports Stephanie Sparrow.

In many professions, today’s climate of political and economic uncertainty would be cause for concern. But for ambitious HR professionals, dealing with unprecedented rates of change and steering organisations through those changes arguably makes it a better time than ever for the people function.

As HR roles are re-designed and re-labelled to meet shifting business needs, and salary packages remain attractive, some enticing career opportunities are available. According to Barney Ely, director of Hays Human Resources, salaries across the HR sector rose by an average of 2.1% last year, higher than the UK average of 1.9%.

Why I moved into L&D

"I could see what my professional development would be here," says Sarah Dena, L&D manager at law firm Royds Withy King.

Positioning yourself for the next evolution of HR can be an important consideration when changing jobs. This was the motivation for Sarah Dena, who identified opportunities for personal and career growth in the role of learning and development manager at solicitors Royds Withy King.

“I took this job because I wanted to move into the talent space and could see that the firm is ready to move into it too. I could see the trajectory and I could see what my professional development could be here,” she says.

Dena was attracted to how the role of learning and development manager is being re-defined at Royds Withy King, evolving from training lawyers in practical skills, into developing their people management, leadership and confidence in relationships.

“The key to unlocking potential is how to identify and assess talent and take that pool through the organisation,” says Dena, “and we need to explore and embrace agility and how more flexible working practices could be introduced.”

Reporting to an HR director, she works alongside colleagues in talent acquisition (recruitment) and HR operations for the firm, which has 500 employees across six offices in London and the south-west. There is a sense of “mutual support and collaboration”, because Dena can draw on previous experience gained with large employers, while simultaneously learning how solicitors work.

“What I offer is the challenge of: ‘why are we not there already?’ in terms of changing practices”, she says. “The learning for me comes from when I should present those challenges. I am still learning about the life of a lawyer.”

Dena admits that her salary is similar to that of ten years’ ago. “But I am happier and more fulfilled in my work, and my values align with those of my employer,” she adds.

London still offers the most competitive pay, with senior director positions in commerce and industry potentially offering a pay package in excess of £130,000, but other parts of the country stand up well.

“Across the regions, the north west and south east are the most comparable with a typical salary for a director level role at £90,000 and £88,000 respectively,” he says.

Specialist skills

Ely predicts that it is those HR professionals with more specialist skills that will be most in demand this year. Sought-after people will be those who can help re-position the company, or who could fit into emerging roles such employee experience manager. New roles are springing up around employers’ need to create a seamless, customer-like experience for candidates, he adds.

Skills shortages across the workforce mean that experts in talent management or reward, or those seeking roles based around operations and technical skills, will be well remunerated “if they possess the appropriate skillset”, Ely believes.

Salary increases in talent and reward are not confined to the private sector, with the public sector ramping up pay for some roles in order to attract high-calibre professionals.

For example, the Hays Salary & Recruiting Trends 2019 guide finds a boost of 3.1% for a public sector head of talent (to an average of £51,750 in contrast with £57,667 in commerce and industry), and a 5.1% increase in salary for a public sector reward analyst (£34,667).

Reward experience in demand

Professionals in reward and compensation are always sought after, and recent years have seen a spike in demand, says Charlotte Faktor, manager for HR interim and contracts at recruitment and search consultancy Frazer Jones.

Referring to its latest HR salary guide for financial and professional services, Faktor points out that reward and compensation specialists in those sectors have seen the most buoyant salaries among their HR peer group in recent times.

“Reward and compensation is where we have seen 15-20% uplift in the past five to ten years,” she says, attributing the rise to the scarcity of individuals who can fit those roles, particularly those that deal with the highly scrutinised topic of executive remuneration.

Their earning potential is impressive. “Salary survey data suggests that in the banking sector the base salary for a head of reward would start from £140K,” she says.

Lucrative career

However, Faktor is also optimistic about HR salaries overall.

“HR is a more lucrative career than people anticipate,” she says, pointing to HR salaries in banking and financial services, where director-level positions could command in excess of a £200,000 fixed base salary. There is also significant potential to earn more from bonuses and long-term incentive plans.

She adds that packages in the technology and telecoms sectors are catching up, and in some instances, because of equity and stock, can far exceed those in financial services.

However, the positive pay trends in financial services remain. At recruitment specialist Oakleaf Partnership, senior manager for financial services Charlotte Matthew explains that internal reviews are helpful, but that job moves pay well.

At AVP level (assistant vice-president, similar to a junior HR manager or senior HR adviser) candidates can expect salaries of £45,000 to £65,000. At VP (or senior HR manager) level, Matthew has seen internal salary reviews result in an uplift of 3-5%, while external moves result in an increase of 10-20%.

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Internal moves

Internal promotions also bring benefits. “Typically, individuals see a £5,000 to £15,000 uplift on base salaries depending on level of experience and role,” she says.

So salaries are favourable, but HR professionals cannot be complacent about their marketability. Businesses in many sectors are restructuring, and banks and corporates are consolidating.

Meanwhile, increasing regulation in the financial services market means that HR departments are evolving to encompass niche skillsets such as corporate governance. “HR in general increasingly needs to upskill on data analytics, reporting and systems implementation to support decision-making and operational efficiency,” says Matthew. “As a result, those HR generalists with the ability to analyse and interpret data will be at an immediate advantage.”

More than salary

With external factors making for unpredictable times, many mid-career HR professionals are cautious about moving, meaning there are fewer of these candidates on the market, according to Lee Krawczyk-Brown, founder of Henlee Resourcing.

“HR generalist talent, with the earning potential of £35,000 to £65,000 is in short supply,” he says, attributing this to the uncertainty caused by factors such as Brexit.

“Fewer people are raising their heads above the parapet to change jobs unless they are sure that it’s the right opportunity.”

Krawczyk-Brown, who recruits HR professionals in the South West across employment sectors typical of his region including manufacturing, logistics and aviation, says that job applicants want more than a salary hike.

“They want to know about security of the role, the company, development opportunities, the culture, and fringe benefits including flexibility,” he says.

Flexibility and workplace culture are becoming equally as important as the base salary for those looking for their next HR role, adds Jemma Rawlins, director of specialist HR recruitment consultancy HR Life.

“We are often seeing candidates asking for flexible working; be that the opportunity to work from home occasionally, or work three or four days a week. This might be because they have caring responsibilities or because they have interests outside work.

“Some HR professionals would rather take a lower basic, knowing it’s a great learning opportunity or gives them the chance to work with inspiring people or really add value to an exciting project. “A higher base salary, whilst it may determine the level of the role is rarely the number one requirement when making the move into a new role,” she adds.

What lies ahead?

Looking to the future, employers will seek HR professionals that can take a more holistic view of what their workforce needs, says Faktor from Frazer Jones.

“Organisations are looking for people who can find answers to employees’ requirements for wellbeing initiatives and work-life balance, and manage societal shifts which could see four generations in the same workplace,” she says.

In return, strategic HR professionals want to share the innovative workplace approaches they have developed for others. Two-thirds of HR professionals rate the offer of over 28 days’ paid annual leave as their preferred benefit, says Ely at Hays Human Resources, yet less than half of employers offer this.

“Employers should ensure the benefits offered are what HR professionals actually want,” he says.