The University Record, September 24, 1996

New task force will look at updating staff compensation system

The number of job titles in the Professional and Administrative job family has grown dramatically.


By Rebecca A. Doyle 

A lot of things can change in 25 years.

Twenty-five years ago, a bagel was an exotic food in the Midwest and pizza was just becoming something considered edible at mealtime. Fast food restaurants sold hamburgers for 29 cents and made French fries from real potatoes that were delivered, unpeeled and fresh, in 50-pound burlap sacks.

In the past 25 years, so many countries have changed their names that world maps have needed to be revised repeatedly. Grade school children may never have heard of Yugoslavia and adults have difficulty remembering exactly where this Herzegovina place is.

Many of today's doctoral candidates were in diapers 25 years ago, and our undergraduate students were not even born.

And 25 ago was the time the University evaluated its staff compensation methods and changed the pay plan design for its staff job families. Although some modifications were made to the Office job family in 1981, the system has not significantly changed since that time.

Since the early 1970s, says James Murdock, who will chair the newly appointed Staff Compensation Task Force, the number of different job titles in all job families has more than doubled, from approximately 1,100 in 1973 to more than 2,700 today. In addition, the range of pay within a job classification has been stretched so far that it is no longer a helpful guideline to the hiring department.

"The minimums and maximums of salary grades used to range about 35 percent to 50 percent," Murdock says. "Now they are sometimes in excess of 150 percent." For example, if the lowest possible salary in the pay grade were $40,000, the highest might be as much as $100,000. When originally set up, a salary for that grade would have been no more than $60,000.

Murdock, assistant to the dean and director of finance and planning at the Business School, has been asked by Human Resources/Affirmative Action Executive Director Jackie McClain to head a task force to study and recommend changes to the staff compensation structure. The Staff Compensation Review Task Force now meets twice monthly to determine whether the original design of the system as it was established still meets the needs of the University community. Although a review of the office job classifications in 1981 resulted in some changes to the office job category, another study of the entire system made in 1989 by a task force did not result in any changes.

"As recently as seven years ago a study was done," Murdock says. "But no changes were made, and that means that our need for change is urgent."

Murdock stresses that the charge to the task force focuses on plan design, not reclassification of individuals. The task force has been asked to recommend "a course of action to follow in developing a pay system to meet contemporary compensation needs." He also notes that the task force will be looking at ways in which staff compensation changes over time. At issue are the changes in our society away from traditional annual increases and toward more innovative solutions to compensating staff for work they do and recognizing exceptional effort in new ways.

"In the past few years, the concept of non-base salary rewards and team compensation has been piloted in a number of units at the University," he notes. "Those pilot programs have not been evaluated or incorporated into the formal University system. That's one of the things this group needs to look at.

"Merit adjustments are the familiar system, but there are questions about how that is tied to performance planning and evaluation. We need to begin by developing a comprehensive philosophy and strategy for staff compensation that reflects the changing nature of how people work."

McClain has asked that a final report be completed by spring, although implementation of any new plan may occur on a phased basis. Total implementation could be as long as two years away, Murdock says. The task force plans to research the current system, collect information from staff and unit managers, and look at systems in other organizations this fall. A course of action will be formulated by the end of February. Comments from staff may be sent by e-mail to

Members of the Compensation Review Task Force

Members of the Compensation Review Task Force, in addition to Murdock, are:

Robert L. Barrett, Financial Operations; Frank J. Cianciola, associate dean of students; E. Karen Clark, administrative manager, Center for Political Studies; Margaret A. Leary, director, Law Library; Armando A. Lopez, personnel officer, Office of the Plant Director; Katherin K. Morency, director of the Budget Coordinator Office, U-M-Dearborn; Shelley T. Morrison, personnel officer, Medical School administration; Margaret E. Norgren, assistant director, ISR administration; John M. Toller, assistant executive director, HR/AA; Virginia R. Wait, administrative manager, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; and William C. Webb, director of Human Resources, U-M-Flint. Staff support is provided by Gary R. Maki, personnel representative in employee relations and compensation; Stephanie A. Weix, administrative assistant, HR/AA; and Rena J. Worley, secretary, HR/AA.