Career Compass

More Than Just Money: Exploring Compensation and Benefits with Megan Nail

Episode Summary

Join hosts Kevin Abbed and Aly Sharp, alongside HR industry expert Megan Nail as they explore everything from unique benefits like pet insurance to the importance of expanded mental health coverage. During this episode, learn how employee needs have shifted over the past few years and the role that compensation and benefits plays in impacting the overall organizational strategy.

Episode Notes

Compensation and benefits are much more than the salary or wage that an employee earns. Join hosts Kevin Abbed and Aly Sharp, alongside HR industry expert Megan Nail as they explore everything from unique benefits like pet insurance to the importance of expanded mental health coverage. During this episode, learn how employee needs have shifted over the past few years and the role that compensation and benefits plays in impacting the overall organizational strategy.

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Episode Transcription

Kevin Abbed: Welcome back to Season 5 of Career Compass, a podcast from SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management and the SHRM Foundation. Career Compass prepares future leaders today for better workplaces tomorrow.

Aly Sharp: As the voice of all things work, SHRM supports students and emerging professionals with advice, information, and resources for every step of your career.

Kevin Abbed: Designed for the student or emerging professional, Career Compass delivers timely, relevant, and critical conversations about work to help you succeed in your career journey.

Thank you for joining us for this episode. My name is Kevin Abbed and I'll be your co-host.

Aly Sharp: And my name is Aly Sharp, and I will be your other co-host.

During this episode, HR titan, Megan Nail will discuss compensation and benefits, including the importance of addressing employee mental health and well-being and how companies are tackling this subject.

Also, just so you know, this podcast is valid for professional development credit or PDCs for the SHRM-CP or SCP. We will provide the code later in the episode. And with that, let's get started.

Kevin Abbed: Aly, before we jump into today's conversation I want to ask you, I know we work for SHRM, which has a host of employee benefits. If you don't mind sharing beyond salary, which benefits most intrigue you and why?

Aly Sharp: Well, Kevin, I honestly didn't know much about our benefits before being employed here so it was kind of a surprise to find out about open leave, which I had never really heard of before. Tuition assistance, as well as a discount on pet insurance, which as you know, I treat my pets like family so that is really beneficial to me and my household.

Kevin Abbed: As someone who doesn't have pets, I really value the parking as someone who worked in DC and how to take the Metro every day. I can't tell you how great it is to be able to take my own car in and not have to worry about parking.

So we have a lot to talk about, and I certainly do not want to keep our very special guest waiting any longer, so without further delay, Megan Nail currently serves as senior vice president for Consulting and Total Rewards at First Person Advisors a subsidiary of NFP, which is a leading insurance broker and consultant, providing specialized property and casualty benefits, wealth management, and retirement planning.

As senior VP, Megan advises clients in a variety of areas including building and designing market competitive compensation structures for organizations. Megan is a current representative of SHRMs membership advisory council, as well as the past state director for HR Indiana SHRM.

She was named one of nine rising stars nationally by Employee Benefit News and recently earned her Certified Employee Benefits Specialists designation in addition to her Certified Compensation Professional and SHRM-SCP designations. Megan earned her Bachelor of Arts and Communications from the University of Dayton and graduated summa cum laude with an MS in Organizational Communication from Purdue University.

When she's not working, Megan loves spending time with her family, including her two sons. We are extremely excited about today's conversation, and with that Career Compass would like to warmly welcome, Megan Nail.

Megan Nail: Thank you so much, Kevin and Aly for the invitation. It's my pleasure to join you all and share some stories and insights about compensation and benefits.

Kevin Abbed: Megan, over the past few years we've had other guests talk about talent acquisition or different aspects of D&I, but I'm not sure if we had the pleasure of talking with someone who specializes in compensation and benefits. Can you tell our audience a little more about what comp and ben means and what you might be managing on a given day?

Megan Nail: Yeah, that's a great question. So compensation and benefits is really that whole area that defines the total rewards experience for employees. So when we think about compensation in general, we're talking about the cash that employees are being paid. So think about an hourly rate that employees are being paid, base salary, and then things like bonuses, commissions, and incentives. So kind of what that paycheck looks like.

And then benefits as you highlighted in the intro can be a whole host of different things. From healthcare benefits, medical plans, disability, to everything like pet insurance, mental health benefits in those different areas of that nature. So it's a really diverse area, just like so many different areas of HR. You're really managing a lot of different things on any given day.

You might be getting questions from managers about the pay range for a particular position that maybe they're recruiting for, or maybe an employee has an offer from another company and they're looking to increase what their pay rate is to retain them. Or maybe you have an employee who just lost a loved one and is looking to see what type of leave and other benefits may be available to them. So it's a really diverse and fascinating area of HR.

Kevin Abbed: Yeah, it's super interesting. Sometimes when you think comp and benefits, you often think about the fiduciary responsibilities that HR has, but I love that you put it on a more personal level, that not only are assisting in the payment of employees and other 401(k) and other payment benefits, but also exactly the mental health, pet insurance that we've heard a couple times, the things that matter to people outside of a compensation.

Megan Nail: Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, I think with that, what's really interesting is being in compensation and benefits it's just, you learn a lot about employees and you're really held in complete confidence with employees and the different situations that they're dealing with. And one of the great things about being in compensation and benefits is you really get to be there for employees during some of the most critical moments of their life.

So on the positive side, maybe it's when they're retiring and they want to know what resources are available from their 401(k) or their retirement plan, to help them transition successfully. Or maybe it's when it's the birth of a child or the adoption of a child into their family, or even those sad moments when maybe it's the loss of someone and you're helping them navigate what those resources are. So it's a great way to connect with employees and really to be there for them.

Aly Sharp: That's great Megan, I didn't even think about how we have FMLA and other disability like that which, I mean because I'm younger and hopefully healthy, I don't think about that in my day to day, but that's a really good highlight.

I just wanted to touch on our next question and I know you've listened to every episode of Career Compass. So you already know that this season we are going in depth with several HR pathways. So you could have selected data analytics or training and development or any of the other HR specializations. What made you choose comp and benefits?

Megan Nail: Yeah, great question. So I initially chose compensation and then I found my way into benefits. So I'll start with why I chose compensation. At the end of the day, I think compensation is along with benefits are really the fundamental piece of the employment experience.

Unless we're volunteering, which again, I do for SHRM a lot, quite a bit. We're choosing to work somewhere partially due to the compensation and benefits. So I see it really as one of those initial pieces that really defines what our employment experience is at the organization that we're choosing.

Compensation and benefits, but especially compensation is so closely tied to what the organization strategy is or what the company strategy is. I've always found that fascinating. I think compensation and benefits are an interesting area between HR and finance often because the biggest expenditure that we have in most organizations is really what we're paying for our people, both in direct pay and in benefits.

So it really gives you that chance to work with the other leaders within the business to make those decisions and really impact lots of different areas, so that was really what made me choose this area to begin with. I think it also is a great area of opportunity. You can be really creative with strategy and do a lot of great things with it. So that was also really compelling for me.

Aly Sharp: And so I have a follow-up, and you already mentioned kind of being a decision maker and being creative, but what are the most important skills to have as a comp and benefits manager, in order to find success?

Megan Nail: Yeah. I think it's two different things, two different main categories. First, and I know you mentioned data analytics earlier. You definitely have to have an analytical mind, and the ability to kind of look at numbers and really have the data to support what your recommendations are.

So like I mentioned, these are typically large spend items when we're talking about salary increases and the difference maybe between a salary increase budget of 4% and 4.5%, that can be hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. So you need to really have that analytical background and that ability to look at the numbers and really make sense of them.

The other key skill area beyond analytics that I recommend is really being able to see the patterns in the information. So anyone can put together a bunch of benchmark data or some benefits benchmarking, and things and really share a lot of data.

But it's the ability to look beyond that and tell the story of what is happening and why your recommendation makes sense. So you have to have both that deep data to support what you're recommending in your decisions, but then the ability to see the patterns and the strategy. That kind of overlay over that.

Kevin Abbed: Awesome. You mentioned how comp and benefits is of a mass importance to pretty much every company. Can you talk about how it's intertwined with the organization's overall strategy?

Megan Nail: Yeah. Great question. I think with that when we think about it, a couple of different ways, it's really goes into the types of roles that you have and what that workforce really looks like.

For example, when we're thinking about how we're going to make a product or how we're going to reach what our goals are as a business, we have to think about the people and the technology and the different things that we need to really make that happen. And of course, all of that has a spend associated with it. So a lot of what we do in compensation is really think about what those jobs are and how we can plan them, and then what the cost would be to find talent to fill those.

So for example, working with process improvement, or with individuals in operations to say, "Is there a way that we can re-engineer this process to make it more efficient? To redesign people's jobs? To make them more satisfying so we can retain people?" And really kind of reach what our goals are. And benefits plays a big role in that too.

When we think about benefits and their role and well-being, if we don't have employees who have a sense of physical and emotional and mental well-being, they're not going to be as productive and they're not going to be able to put their full energy towards reaching whatever our businesses goals are.

So we have to think about that together. So hopefully we can create an environment and a culture where employees are paid well to meet their family's needs, but then also have not only that financial well-being, but that mental and physical well-being through their benefits package, and support to be able to be as productive as they can be at work.

Kevin Abbed: And you talked about having that financial stability in your role. How do you evaluate certain job positions, and then from there decide what the compensation should be?

Megan Nail: Yeah. It's kind of challenging right now in this market, for sure. So a couple of different things. When I think about really deciding compensation for different roles, there's kind of a two factor approach I like to take or two perspectives that we look at it through.

First is the external market. So if you're in a career, in compensation and benefits, you would typically be pretty accustomed to working with external databases to really understand what the market rate is for a job. So we have to understand what the world around us is paying for a job or a role similar to what our organization is.

But then kind of going back to that strategy piece, we need to look at internally, how we value that role and what is fair and equitable and what we have the budget for, and what makes sense to pay that role internally?

So the external market tells us the lay of the land, so to speak on what's being paid, but then we have to decide internally, where does that job fit within our structure? How do we value it? What can we afford to pay? And make those decisions when we're coming up with a pay range for a given position.

Kevin Abbed: Yeah. Megan, I think that's a great point. One thing that stands out to me is with compensation is you can be... I like to think of the finance industry where you can be a financial analyst and be making, we'll just say, 90K a year.

And you can have someone who's doing your exact role for a completely different company, that's making upwards of $300,000. And it's crazy where there's so much difference in how organizations value certain positions.

Megan Nail: No. I completely agree and it's, there is no one number for what a job pays. So just in that perfect example Kevin, it's what one organization pays can be extremely different than another.

And so it's important to know where you want to follow within that market data and what makes sense for your company within there, because you can go out and spend all day looking at what other companies are paying, but you need to determine based on that information and based on feedback from talent acquisition and looking at your turnover, and all of those different areas within HR, what your company needs to pay in order to operate successfully.

Aly Sharp: And that actually ties into our next question, which pre-COVID pandemic. SHRM reported that the primary reason employees left an organization was related to money. And in 2019, 25% of respondents said that higher pay was the reason they saw a new job.

However, recent trends are showing increased interest and expanded benefits such as remote work, family leave, and mental health services. What do you find is the benefit that employees value the most and why do you think that is?

Megan Nail: Yeah. It's a great question Aly, and I think really with that, it's we will never win just on money alone. So when we think about this, there's always another organization that will pay more than what ours is. It's just a competitive world out there. So we have to think about these more expanded benefits and what that culture is, and what our offerings are.

There's probably not one single benefit and employees value the most. It really comes down to what is happening in their lives and what they need most at that given point in time. I do think flexibility and autonomy are really important for most employees at this point.

So whether it's remote work, whether it's having autonomy around their work schedule, even if they're working on site at a location. Whether it's having that flexibility to be there for when their kids get home from school or to take care of an elderly parent or to be with their pets, as you brought up.

Most employees are really looking for more flexibility and autonomy around their work life and their ability to get the work done in a way that both meets the company needs and meets their personal needs as well. And I think that goes into family leave and mental health in some of those areas that you talked about also.

Aly Sharp: And Megan, to follow-up on that, I'm almost wondering if it, do you think it is more so Gen Z starting to enter the workforce where they value outside of work benefits more so than inside of work benefits? Or do you think that the pandemic has more to say, and it's just across all generations in the workforce?

Megan Nail: I think it's probably a little bit of both. I think the newer generations always in a very positive way over time have pushed us to think about work differently. I think the pandemic has accelerated that, at a level that we have never seen before, because we all had this shared experience that really disrupted what those normal work patterns were for many days.

I was actually with my kids in Chicago over the weekend, and we went and visited the Willis Tower and went up on the observation deck. And I was explaining to them how not that many years ago, most employees came to an office building like that or came to a work site and really came in.

They worked there, eight to five day or maybe longer. They had lunch, they had that in-person experience every single day, they commuted, as you shared, Kevin on the Metro. And just thinking about that, it really blew their minds because as they've witnessed everything that has changed in the past three years, they could not imagine a world where really there wasn't the flexibility to work from home because that's what they see now.

And so it's interesting as we have these different generations come forward. Myself being a little bit older of a generation than Gen Z is something that I think we all looking back makes sense, but we need either circumstance or a future generation to really push it to the forefront. And that's what I think has happened, especially with flexibility and autonomy.

Kevin Abbed: I want to pause just for a second to take care of a couple housekeeping items. First, those of you listening to this podcast, we're seeking professional development credit.

This program is valid for .5 PDCs for the SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP. The code to redeem your PDCs is 23-THDQC. Again, that is 23-THDQC. Please note that this code will expire September 21st, 2023.

Aly Sharp: And speaking of PDCs, one place to earn more than 20 PDCs while networking with your peers, connecting with mentors and expanding your HR knowledge is at inclusion this October in beautiful San Diego, California.

Inclusion 2022 is more than a conference. It's a chance to change the way you see the world and create a more equitable world of work. And it's even better for students with discounted member pricing at just $395 for in-person registration, and $245 for virtual passes. For more information, visit

Kevin Abbed: Jumping back into the show. The month of October is right around the corner and has several key days to recognize the importance of mental health.

For example, October 10th is World Mental Health Day. And SHRM and the SHRM Foundation will host Visionaries Summit 2022 in Chicago, October 17 through 18th, which focuses on making sure mental wellness is top of mind.

Can you talk a little bit about how companies are addressing the mental health concerns of employees and what more can be done?

Megan Nail: I really hope this can be one of the positive outcomes of and otherwise pretty dark time for most people with the pandemic, is that we can really create more of an awareness and a meaningful dialogue around mental health within our companies.

I think one of the best things that can be done to kind of set the stage on this area is for company leadership to really normalize having this discussion in making the company a safe space for employees to come forward and share their challenges if they wish to do so.

I've seen a really positive impact at this in the company that I work for, with some individual leaders stepping up and sharing their journey with mental health, their struggles, and really making sure that others feel comfortable about bringing that forward.

We're seeing some really creative things that are being done within companies to recognize the acute needs that we have for mental health and also to recognize the reality, that the availability for resources, professional resources around mental health are somewhat limited within our country.

So we've definitely seen an increase in benefits around virtual therapy, text therapy, and some of those different ways that employees can access help and resources 24/7 through technology, which for some may be more comfortable than physically going to find a provider and having an in-person appointment. Which we know that even if individuals choose to go that route can be really hard to find someone with availability right now.

I also think that along these lines, it's really just coming up with those creative ways to allow, again, those schedule flexibility and those different pieces that just support positive mental health and really help to support a culture that supports well-being overall. So just thinking about holistically, what can be done?

I do a fair amount of work with government and what I've seen in government, especially with those positions in public safety and those nature that really have acute needs, they've gone so far as to hire counselors themselves for their employees because they just can't find the access to resources in their communities. So we're really starting to see companies step up, but we know there's a lot of opportunity and more needs to be done.

Aly Sharp: I think that bringing a counselor on site is a great idea. And I know as far as SHRM is concerned, we did a lot during May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month and the SHRM Foundation even came out with a Workplace Mental Health Ally Certificate. So I think that was really important. It also kind of shows the importance of workplace mental health from an HR standpoint.

And I just want to jump to the next question, which is, over the past few years, companies are seeing employees leave at a frantic pace oftentimes for larger salaries or perceived better benefits.

Have your compensation and benefit strategies changed during the great resignation to keep retention numbers, satisfaction rates, et cetera, high while maintaining business operations?

Megan Nail: Yeah. Now as employees expectations are changing so much in compensation and benefits, there's no better time than right now to re-look at your total rewards package and everything that you're offering.

On compensation, I'll start there. We're seeing obviously a lot of movement in the market, but the other factor that's really happening within compensation as a strategy to help combat a great resignation and keeping up these retention numbers as best as we can, is more transparency.

So we know there's a lot of legislation that has gone on around pay equity that has really forced depending on where you're located within the country, more transparency around pay ranges. But even if you're not living in one of those locations, we know that there is more compensation data available than ever before to employees just by searches and through sharing with the organizations that they're a part of.

So really one of the big challenges that I've seen is for companies and employers, to be more transparent about how they determine compensation, so that employees understand what that process looks like. What went into determining what their pay bands are and what the compensation rate is.

And then importantly, especially for your listeners that maybe earlier in career, how you can progress in your career, what skills you need to gain to kind of increase in what your compensation is over time. So I would say compensation transparency and improving communication has been one key tactic.

Another area within compensation would be bonus and incentive programs. So how can we look at setting up bonus structures and incentive structures to really align individual goals with what the company's goals are, and then to give that good reward for when those goals are met? So that's something that we're seeing quite a bit of.

When we're really thinking about size of companies, there's different levels of sophistication when it comes to things like incentive structures, but even at larger companies and smaller companies as well, we're seeing more long term incentives.

So looking at a strategic plan cycle of three years and what incentives can we tie out to that in the future to give employees the ability to look forward and say, "I have this opportunity if I stay." And, "If I see this project through." Or, "If I see this business cycle through." And then on benefits, one of the biggest opportunities, whether you're a bigger or smaller company is really communication.

So we know that there has been a lot of focus on health over the pandemic, very understandably so in mental health that we've already talked about but how do we ensure that our employees really understand all of those benefits that are available to them and then actually know how to use them.

So I don't know if you're like me, you have a lot of benefits, but at your time of need, when you need something it might be hard to find the resource or hard to remember exactly what you have. So really that communication piece, so that employees know at their fingertips what they have available and how they can use them really makes a big difference.

Kevin Abbed: Finally, before we get going, any advice or parting tips for students and emerging professionals that are looking to start a career in comp and ben?

Megan Nail: I would say, first, just consider compensation and benefits when you're thinking about your career and where you might want to go. This area is so rapidly changing within the field of HR. I promise you, you will never be bored. There will always be a new challenge to face and a new way to make a difference.

So my first advice is to consider it. And then second, really just think about those skills and just having that openness to learn. So I know in my career, I really started more as a generalist in HR and just found my way into compensation and benefits, and really found it as an interest area for me. I love the analytics side of it. I love the strategic impact in the individuals I got to work with. And then like I said, how I really made a difference for employees.

I think there's often a misconception for a career in compensation and benefits that you're really going to be sitting behind a computer, crunching spreadsheets all days. And while I've had many days like that in my career, that's really not what it all is. It's really working with people, again at those key points in their life, at those key points in their career, is helping to support managers that help to support your employees with the information that they need and really making a difference.

In comp and benefits, we not only impact the employee but we impact their whole family through what their pay rate is, through what the benefits are that we provide. So we have a greater impact on the world at work than almost any area of HR, but again, I'm a little bit biased. So that would be my recommendation.

Kevin Abbed: Megan, that was a phenomenal sales pitch for comp and benefits. And I think our next episodes, people are going to have to top that one. But thank you so much for taking the time to share your journey and thoughts about compensation and benefits, as well as touching on the importance of mental health in the workplace.

Megan Nail: Thanks, Kevin. It is a great career. I strongly encourage it and thank you for the opportunity to share a little more about it in this podcast.

Aly Sharp: And with that, we're going to bring this episode of Career Compass to a close. We'd like to thank SHRM and the SHRM Foundation for providing us with this platform. But more importantly, we'd like to thank you all for joining us and hope you stay with us throughout the season as we discuss more topics like this episode.

Kevin Abbed: For more exclusive content, resources and tools to help you succeed in your career, consider joining SHRM as a student member.

You can visit us at to learn more about being a part of a community of over 300,000 HR and business leaders who impact the lives of over 115 million employees worldwide.

Aly Sharp: If you like what you heard, follow and subscribe to Career Compass on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

If you have a topic or guest you would like to hear from on the podcast, email us at

Kevin Abbed: Lastly, are you looking for more work and career related podcasts? Check out All Things Work and Honest HR at

Thank you again for listening and we'll catch you on the next episode of Career Compass.