What is a salary freeze?

A salary freeze, also known as a pay freeze, is when a business makes the difficult decision to suspend salary increases or merit increases for a certain period of time. 

Companies usually implement this due to some form of financial constraint, with the goal being to improve their bottom line. 

Navigating a salary freeze can be a challenge for both employees and companies. 

It’s crucial that you handle the process with care, while maintaining transparent communication with your team. You should also emphasize the temporary nature of the situation, making it clear that salary benchmarking is set to resume as soon as possible.

Types of salary freezes 

There are two main types of salary freezes:

  • Basic salary freeze. This involves keeping an employee’s basic salary fixed while reviewing other pay elements. This type of wage freeze can help alleviate any tension among your team and maintain morale. 
  • Guaranteed salary freeze. This involves freezing all items tied to basic salaries. As this is a more extreme measure, it’s best to make sure this situation is as brief as possible—as it could lead to unhappy team members and eventually retention issues.

Salary freeze best practices

Salary freezes are difficult situations to handle, both for management and for your team members. To make the process as painless as possible, it’s best to consider these key issues:

  • Communication. When a pay freeze occurs, managers should be empathetic and transparent in the way they communicate with their team members. This includes being honest and open about the reasons behind the freeze, as well as giving an idea of how long it may last. 
  • Alternative compensation: To keep morale high, consider creating an alternative compensation plan for your team members. This can include more flexible hours, additional paid time off, performance bonuses, or other company-specific benefits and perks to make sure people feel valued and appreciated. 

How can employers communicate salary freezes?

Effective communication is absolutely essential when announcing a salary freeze. 

You can communicate this verbally, but written communication is generally considered to be a far more effective method. This allows employees to have a reference they can consult at any time, reducing the chance of miscommunication or misinterpretation. 

Example salary freeze letter template to employees

Dear [Employee Name],

As we navigate through the current economic climate, we have had to make the difficult decision to implement a temporary salary freeze for all employees, effective [date]. This decision was not made lightly and is an unfortunate necessity to ensure the financial stability of [Company Name].

We understand that this may be disappointing news, but we want to assure you that this freeze is temporary and will be re-evaluated as soon as our financial situation improves. Our priority is to protect you and our other team members while maintaining a strong and stable work environment.

During this time, we encourage you to take advantage of the number of alternative benefits we plan to offer, such as flexible work arrangements, extra paid time off, and additional professional development opportunities. 

We value your hard work and dedication to the company and we are confident that, with your support, we can weather this challenging period together and emerge stronger than ever.

If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out to your manager or the HR department. 

We are here to support you during this time.

With gratitude and optimism for the future,

[Your Name]

[Your Title]

[Company Name]

Salary freeze influence on company culture and employee happiness

A salary freeze can impact your team members and your company culture in a number of different ways. The most likely areas to see a significant impact would be people’s morale and overall job satisfaction. This can then have a knock-on effect, leading to:

  • Decreased motivation and productivity. Your team may feel less motivated to perform at their full potential if they feel they might not be properly compensated for their efforts. This can reduce their productivity, leading to a negative impact on your company’s overall performance.
  • Hindered growth and development. If they are lacking financial resources, companies may also cut back on vital resources such as employee training and development programs. This can hinder the growth of your team members as well as their satisfaction, as they may feel their career is stalling. 
  • Strained relationships. A freeze on salary reviews can lead to tension among your team. They may start to compare their compensation to other members of the team or the industry standard, leading to strained relationships and more workplace conflict. 
  • A loss of talent. If team members start to feel that their financial growth is restricted and their compensation no longer reflects their skills and contributions, they may seek opportunities elsewhere.