How to Create a Well-Designed Salary Structure

You are here:
How to Create a Well-Designed Salary Structure

A well-designed salary structure is essential for every organization as it serves as a framework for determining fair compensation for employees. 

A competitive salary structure helps organizations attract and retain talented employees, establishes a clear and consistent approach to compensation, helps organizations to manage compensation costs, provides transparency to employees regarding their pay, and minimizes the risk of legal challenges related to pay discrimination.

What is a salary structure?
Types of salary structure
Creating a salary structure
Best practices for creating an effective salary structure

What is a salary structure?

A salary structure outlines an organization’s approach to employee compensation levels for each job position within the company based on factors such as experience, education, skills, and responsibilities.  

Adding structure to how you determine salaries and raises ensures that earnings are consistent, fair, and competitive with industry standards. It also helps attract, retain, and motivate talented employees who contribute to the organization’s success.

Salary structure is an important aspect for both organizations and employees. Here are some of the reasons why:

Compensation Metrics
Cheat Sheet

Download our free cheat sheet to gain access to key compensation metrics and learn how to create insightful C&B charts in Excel

Download Cheat Sheet

For organizations:

1. Helps in attracting and retaining talent: A well-defined salary structure helps in attracting top talent to the organization. It also enables the organization to retain its most valuable employees by offering them competitive salaries.

2. Improves employee motivation and productivity: A clear salary structure that defines how employees can progress and earn more can motivate them to work harder and be more productive.

3. Ensures fairness and transparency: A clearly defined salary structure ensures that employees are paid fairly based on their skills, experience, and performance. This helps in fostering a culture of transparency and fairness within the organization.

4. Helps in budgeting and financial planning: A structured salary system helps in managing the organization’s payroll costs and allows for better financial planning.

For employees:

1. Provides clarity on earning potential: A clear salary structure gives employees an indication of how much they can earn over time and what they need to do to progress.

2. Helps in negotiating salaries: Employees can use the salary structure to negotiate their salaries during performance appraisals or when joining a new organization.

3. Motivates employees to improve performance: A structured pay system motivates employees to improve their performance and earn more.

4. Increases job satisfaction: A fair and transparent salary structure increases job satisfaction and feeling valued within the organization.

Types of salary structure

Salary structure defines the range of pay rates for every job classification, and it usually includes compensation factors like experience, responsibilities, education, and skills. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach – distinct types of salary structures have different benefits and challenges.

Here are the most common types:

1. Traditional or hierarchical structure

The traditional salary structure is the most common type, where employees move up in the hierarchy based on their performance, experience, and seniority. The salary increases with every promotion or level within the company. This offers predictability and stability to employees and rewards loyalty and longevity. 

However, it may not be flexible enough for modern workplaces as it doesn’t reward high performers who may be at a lower level than those with more experience and may lead to decreased motivation for those who feel stuck in their role.

2. Graded structure

These are comprised of a number of grades in which jobs of roughly equal value are placed. Employees are able to advance through these grades annually or bi-annually and employees can progress relatively quickly, which means they remain highly motivated. The downside is that they may lose motivation once they have nothing new to work towards.

3. Step structure

The step compensation structure is largely based on the length of time an employee has been with the company. This is particularly effective in industries and roles where there’s not a lot of room for upward mobility, such as teachers, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and first responders. The pay steps reward employees for their loyalty to the organization and dedication to the industry.

HR 2025
Competency Assessment

Do you have the competencies needed to remain relevant? Take the 5 minute assessment to find out!

Start Free Assessment

4. Broadband structure

More flexible than traditional salary structures, broadband salary structures use fewer pay grades and each grade has a wider range than traditional structures. This gives you more latitude when determining an employee’s salary but may lead to greater salary disparities between employees. The other challenge is that employees may reach the top of their salary range and begin looking for another job when they stop receiving increases.

5. Market-based structure

A market-based salary structure aims to match the pay rates of other companies or competitors in the industry. Salaries are set based on the supply and demand for the job role and the region they operate in. This attracts top talent from the industry and may lead to better retention rates. However, market-based salary structures can lead to higher labor costs and may discourage internal promotions and growth.

6. Skill-based structure

This structure pays employees based on their skills and qualifications rather than their job title or experience. It recognizes the value and contribution of individual employees and encourages professional development. But it may promote competition rather than collaboration and could result in wage disparities among employees

7. Flat structure

A flat salary structure offers an equal base pay rate to all employees, regardless of their position, experience, or seniority. Bonuses, profit-sharing, or other incentives may be offered based on performance, but the base salary remains the same. This promotes fairness and encourages teamwork and collaboration, but it can demotivate high-performing employees.

Creating a Salary Structure: Steps for HR

Creating a salary structure

There are several steps to designing a pay structure:

  1. Define job roles and responsibilities: The first step is to define the job roles and responsibilities for each position in your organization.
  2. Conduct a job analysis: Once you have defined the roles, you need to conduct a job analysis to identify the skills, knowledge, and abilities required for each position.
  3. Determine job worth: Based on the job analysis, determine the worth of each job based on factors such as level of education or experience required, qualifications needed, and market demand.
  4. Research market rates: Conduct market research to determine the salary range for each job in your industry and location.
  5. Define pay grades: Create pay grades that group jobs with similar worth and set minimum, midpoint, and maximum salary levels for each grade.
  6. Establish salary ranges: Set salary ranges for each pay grade by determining the difference between minimum and maximum salaries.
  7. Ensure compliance: Labor laws and regulations place restrictions on how employers compensate their employees. Ensure your organization’s compensation program complies with the law and provides clarity and fairness.
  8. Develop a salary structure: Finally, develop a salary structure that outlines the pay grades, salary ranges, and job titles for each position in your organization.

Best practices for creating an effective salary structure

  • Conduct a thorough job analysis to determine the required skills, knowledge, and experience for each position.
  • Determine the relative value of each role within the organization based on its level of responsibility, scope of duties, and market demand. 
  • Identify comparable positions in the industry and use them as a benchmark to establish competitive salary ranges.
  • Create a clear and transparent system for employee compensation that includes base pay, bonuses, and other incentives.
  • Develop a pay-for-performance program that rewards employees based on their individual contributions to the organization.
  • Regularly review the salary structure to ensure that it remains competitive and aligned with the organization’s goals and objectives.
  • Ensure that compensation policies comply with applicable laws and regulations, such as minimum wage requirements and equal pay laws.
  • Communicate the salary structure clearly to employees, including how salaries are determined and how they can advance within the organization.
  • Provide training and support to managers and supervisors to ensure that they can effectively administer the salary structure and communicate salary decisions to employees.
  • Solicit feedback and input from employees and stakeholders on the effectiveness of the salary structure and make necessary adjustments as needed.

Evaluate and update salary structures

Evaluating and updating salary structures is important for several reasons. A fair and competitive salary structure will attract qualified candidates to your organization and motivate current employees to stay.

Regularly assessing salary structures ensures consistency and fairness in pay across the organization, regardless of gender, race, or other factors. Updating salary structures will help your organization to stay competitive. Additionally, employees who feel they are paid fairly are likely to be more engaged and motivated in their work.

When evaluating and updating a salary structure, consider the following:

  1. Market analysis: Conduct a thorough analysis of the salaries paid by other organizations for similar positions and responsibilities.
  2. Internal equity analysis: Evaluate salary levels and pay grades within the organization to ensure fairness and consistency.
  3. Job evaluation: Compare the value and complexity of jobs to determine appropriate compensation levels.
  4. Cost of living adjustments: Take into account changes in the cost of living and adjust salaries accordingly.
  5. Performance-based pay: Link salary increases to individual performance as this can motivate employees to deliver higher results.
  6. Employee feedback: Ask for feedback from employees and make adjustments where needed.

Communicating salary structure to employees

Here are some top tips for sharing your company’s salary structure with employees:

  • Be transparent: it’s essential to be transparent with employees about your company’s salary structure. They should have access to information on how their salary is calculated, what factors are considered, and what are the company’s policies on pay raises or promotions.
  • Be consistent: Apply the salary structure fairly and consistently across all levels and departments.
  •  Be fair: Ensure that there is no bias or discrimination in the salary structure and that everyone is paid fairly for their work and experience.
  •  Set clear expectations: Communicate to employees what they need to do to advance to the next level in the salary structure.
  •  Explain the rationale: Help employees understand how the salary structure was developed and why certain decisions were made.
  •  Educate managers: Ensure that managers are knowledgeable about the salary structure and can explain it to their team members.
  •  Empower employees: Give employees the tools they need to negotiate their salary, such as salary data and negotiation skills training.
  •  Address concerns promptly: Encourage employees to provide feedback on the salary structure and address any concerns they may have. Respond promptly and take appropriate action to address the issue.
  •  Be open to change: Review your salary structure regularly and update it as needed to reflect changes in the market and your organization’s needs.

Key takeaways

The salary structure must be consistent across all employees in the same job position or level. There should be a standard formula that is followed to determine the employee’s salary based on their qualifications, experience, and performance.

Additionally, communication regarding salary structure should be regular and ongoing. Employees should know how their salary compares to others in the industry and within the company.


How do you structure a compensation package?

Look at what other companies in your industry are paying for similar positions to determine what the job market looks like. Clearly define the role and responsibilities of the employee to determine the right salary range for the position based on location, experience, and industry standards. Consider what benefits and perks to add, as well as performance-based incentives such as bonuses, commissions, or stock options. Ensure that all details of the compensation package are documented.

How do you complete a salary analysis?

Gather data on salaries for similar roles in the industry and region through job postings, salary surveys, and industry research, and collect information on employee qualifications, experience, and education. Determine the salary range for the position by considering factors such as the company’s budget, the candidate’s level of experience, and the industry competition. Monitor the market and review salaries periodically to ensure they remain competitive and align with industry standards. Analyze the candidate’s qualifications and experience against the salary range to determine if their salary expectation is appropriate.

How does HR decide on salary?

HR uses a variety of factors to determine salaries. This includes researching the current market rate for similar roles in the industry and region, and designing a competitive salary package that considers the level of education, skills, experience, and certifications required to perform the job. HR then determines the company’s current financial position, projected revenue and profit margins, salary structure, and overall budget to align with their strategy. The employee’s work performance and progression will be considered if a raise or promotion is necessary. Salaries must comply with minimum wage laws, equal pay laws, and other relevant employment regulations.

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to stay up-to-date with the latest HR news, trends, and resources.

Are you ready for the future of HR?

Learn modern and relevant HR skills, online

Browse courses Enroll now