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Job leveling trends create career progression and mobility opportunities

By Ruchi Arora and Mollie Saunders | February 27, 2024

A modern approach to job leveling ensures your organization helps your talent thrive, grow – and stay.
Compensation Strategy & Design|Work Transformation|Employee Experience|Career Analysis and Design

In today’s dynamic evolving world of work, traditional career ladders have become multi-directional journeys that offer vast adventures. This poses opportunities for employees who are increasingly expecting employers to provide greater career development, pay progression and career equity.

As work and careers change, employers are being pushed to create more agile work environments that support this transformation as well as think about how job leveling is changing. Organizations that want to attract and retain the best talent and differentiate themselves as an employer of choice must take these increasing expectations and evolving changes seriously and consider how to address them.

Year on year, WTW research shows that career development is a top 3 driver of employee attraction, retention and engagement. An integrated career ecosystem builds the foundation for your people programs and employs customized tools to bring career experiences to life. Additionally, a strong career framework provides pay transparency and clarity for employees so that they understand their career and growth opportunities.

Ruchi Arora and Mollie Saunders, WTW experts in work, rewards and careers, share their insights into why job leveling is essential to an integrated career ecosystem as well as its critical role in many people management frameworks such as pay, benefits and career paths.

How do you define job leveling?

Mollie Saunders: On a macro level, job leveling is a core element that shows how careers can progress within an organization. On a micro level, it’s the evaluation of jobs to understand their scope, complexity and impact relative to other jobs within an organization. Whether a job is a support role, sales role or management role, we want to support organizations in understanding levels of work within each of those career paths and ensure it is properly described to showcase career opportunities for employees to explore.

Ruchi Arora: Also, job leveling is important in terms of pay equity and transparency legislation, which is top of mind for organizations around the world. Employers are expected to be better at reward management, and that requires objective reasons for pay differentials. Job leveling is an objective way to define the differences in roles and their corresponding pay based on a particular job’s impact and role in the organization.

Work has changed quite a bit since the pandemic and based on the digital transformation many organizations have undertaken. We are seeing a greater focus on agile ways of working and changing employee expectations, and this is bringing career experiences front of mind. For example, a leveling framework needs to show that technical experts have the same opportunities to progress as people managers. Leveling structures need to reflect these different contribution types because they can help retain excellent employees.

Mollie: I completely agree. I’m even seeing this at the executive level. Some leaders want to provide thought leadership and governance around strategy, business, and product development, but they do not want to manage large teams – or manage people at all.

Ruchi: Yes, and over the years clients have asked us if job leveling is dead. The answer is no, it’s still important, but for different reasons than what may have been important a decade ago. Pay equity and transparency legislation, employee expectations and greater focus on careers, skills and talent mobility are just a few of those reasons.

Mollie: Job leveling was born 40 or 50 years ago to contain costs and get a better understanding of market pay data. Now it’s woven into many other things, including employee expectations around building careers, people programs that use levels to help determine succession management policies, and learning and development programs.

How is job leveling evolving?

Ruchi: There can be differences by industry and region around the evolution of job leveling. I’m seeing organizations shifting between very broad and more granular job levels. As automation kicks in, we’re deconstructing and reconstructing work in the most effective and efficient ways and that means our leveling structures need to adapt.

As organizations transform, they may need to define work more broadly; therefore, the degree of breadth in job levels is helpful. At the same time, there also is a need for sufficient movement and growth to give employees a feeling of progression. Some organizations have no job leveling in place, whereas others have granular levels. Everything depends on where you’re coming from and where you want your business to go.

Mollie: Automated job leveling is an exciting feature WTW has introduced. It employs decades of our expertise, knowledge and perspective on job leveling combined with machine learning tools that can help read existing job documentation. This generates an anticipated outcome that can also remove a piece of bias that’s inherent in any job evaluation.

Whether I’m evaluating an HR role, manufacturing role or research role, I can separate my perspective about jobs from the automated output to give us better tools to assess outliers and improve outputs. Ruchi, I know you’ve recently being talking to clients about this.

Ruchi: Yes definitely. I’m very excited about automated job leveling – it’s a great tool that, in addition to taking job descriptions and evaluating roles, it can tell you about the quality of your job profiles or test your level descriptors. Even the online tools that have been available in the past few years still require a lot of time and effort to make the right judgment for the job evaluation factors. Automated job leveling accelerates that evaluation timeline. That’s really where reward professionals can spend their time more strategically to help businesses understand where levels should land.

Automated job leveling provides a degree of objectivity in outcomes and is a game changer for the time spent evaluating roles. At the same time, organizations need to remember that rewards teams need to stay close and involved in outcomes. Keeping the human in the loop is critical for ensuring the right business outcomes.

Mollie: Absolutely. It’s also critical for focusing on what truly matters. While bias is inherent in AI technology simply because it’s built on the past, removing real-time human bias in an initial evaluation can provide a fresh eye on the AI tool’s outputs and still reduce bias.

However, I wouldn’t want to see organizations use automated leveling solutions without corresponding human intervention. For example, the algorithm could generate a result that is technically correct but doesn’t make sense for the organization’s culture. We will always want humans involved, but the degree to which we can reduce our own unintended bias is important.

The next steps in job leveling

Employees want a meaningful career experience that includes career development, pay progress and career equity. An effective job leveling approach ensures your organization is in a place where employees can thrive and want to stay with your organization. Regardless of your current job leveling approach, a review and update of your infrastructure is well worth the effort.


Work, Rewards & Careers Practice Leader

Global Go-to-Market Leader, Job Architecture & Leveling
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