What is total compensation?

Total compensation

Total compensation refers to the comprehensive valuation of all employee remuneration from their employer. This not only encompasses base salary, but also a range of other benefits and incentives. It includes direct pay such as wages, overtime, bonuses, and commissions, along with indirect pay, like employer contributions to insurance, retirement plans, and paid time off. 

Total compensation also includes non-cash benefits such as stock options, education reimbursement, company vehicles, or subsidized housing. In simple terms, total compensation quantifies the complete value of an employee’s work, recognizing that employee rewards extend beyond their salary. 

For HR leaders, understanding total compensation is crucial as it plays a significant role in attracting, retaining, and motivating employees while ensuring competitive positioning in the market. Total compensation helps define an organization’s overall compensation strategy and policy, which influences its employer brand.

Calculating total compensation

Calculating total compensation involves quantifying all financial and non-financial benefits that an employee receives from their employer. It begins with tallying the direct pay, which includes base salary, overtime, bonuses, and commissions. Next, you calculate the indirect pay or benefits, incorporating the employer’s contributions to insurance premiums, retirement plans, and paid time off.

Non-cash benefits also factor into total compensation. These could include stock options, education reimbursements, company-provided services or facilities like a company car, or housing subsidies. These benefits are generally valued at market rates.

It’s essential to include any long-term incentives as well, like equity-based compensation, which can substantially impact an employee’s total compensation. Just like non-cash benefits, these incentives are usually valued at the current market price.

Lastly, you must remember to factor in any unique company-specific rewards. The sum of all these components gives you the total compensation. You can use a total compensation calculator to accurately calculate this number for each employee. 

An example of a total compensation package

Let’s look at an example of a total compensation package for a hypothetical employee. For the sake of this exercise, we’ll assume the values to be round numbers:

  • Direct compensation: This includes the base salary and any additional earnings. The base salary is $80,000, overtime earned is $5,000, and an annual bonus amounts to $10,000. The direct compensation, therefore, would be $95,000.
  • Indirect compensation: This category comprises benefits paid by the employer. For example, the employer contributes $8,000 towards health insurance, $6,000 to retirement plans, and $2,000 worth of paid time off. The indirect compensation totals $16,000.
  • Non-cash benefits: These benefits have value and take the form of something other than cash. If the company offers stock options worth $4,000, reimburses $2,000 for educational programs, and provides a company car valued at $3,000 per year, these benefits add another $9,000 to the package.
  • Long-term incentives: Equity-based compensation typically involves a longer schedule, and the employee may only qualify after a certain level of performance or seniority. Once an employee reaches the necessary threshold, the equity will vest all at once before switching to a monthly schedule. Let's assume the initial vesting is worth $5,000.

In total, this employee’s compensation package would be the sum of these values, which is $125,000 ($95,000 + $16,000 + $9,000 + $5,000). This is a comprehensive view of an employee’s rewards—which goes significantly beyond the base salary—and underscores the importance of accurately valuing and communicating total compensation.

Reasons to provide employees with a total compensation statement

Providing employees with a total compensation statement offers several advantages to both the organization and its employees.

  • Transparency: A detailed statement allows for open communication about compensation, fostering trust and transparency between the employer and employee. It clarifies the organization’s investment in the individual beyond the base salary.
  • Employee engagement and retention: When employees understand the total value of their compensation, including benefits and incentives, it increases their sense of value and appreciation, fostering engagement and retention.
  • Competitive advantage: Total compensation statements illustrate an organization’s competitiveness in the marketplace. It’s a strategic tool to show potential and current employees the total value they would receive, which can be more compelling than salary alone.
  • Employee education: It helps employees understand their complete compensation package. This is particularly useful when the package includes complex elements like stock options or retirement contributions.
  • Recognition of employee value: A total compensation statement communicates to employees that they are valued. It acknowledges their contributions to the organization’s success and shows the employer’s investment in their well-being and development.
  • Informed decisions: For employees, understanding total compensation can help them make informed decisions about job offers, job changes, retirement planning, and benefit utilization. For employers, it aids in creating compensation plans that attract and retain top talent.

Total compensation statements provide a comprehensive and clear understanding of an employee’s full benefits package, thus fostering a positive work environment and strengthening the employer-employee relationship.

About Oyster

Oyster is a global employment platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, hire, pay, manage, develop, and take care of a thriving distributed workforce. Oyster lets growing companies give valued international team members the experience they deserve, without the usual headaches and expense.

Oyster enables hiring anywhere in the world—with reliable, compliant payroll, and great local benefits and perks.

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