Careers Spotlight: What Is a Total Rewards Manager?

August 27, 2021
November 7, 2023
Manasi Patel
Lattice Team

More than ever, businesses are focused on attracting and retaining top talent. Compensation plays a big role in this process, but most organizations have realized that employees are looking for more than a salary when it comes to making career decisions. Today, employees place significant emphasis on intangible rewards that improve their wellbeing and make their lives easier, such as benefits, vacation time, career development, and more.

As competition for talent continues to grow, businesses are making efforts to differentiate themselves from competitors by defining their total reward strategies. This has led to the high demand for total rewards managers to develop, adopt, and implement holistic policies that drive engagement and boost retention. In this career spotlight, we’ll delve deeper into exactly what total rewards managers do and what it takes to be one.

What Is a Total Rewards Manager?

In many organizations, the total rewards strategy is owned by a department within HR and headed by the total rewards manager. Reporting to the Head of Human Resources or Chief People Officer, total rewards managers are usually brought on board to provide direction on how businesses can foster stronger relationships with their employees. Most notably, they are responsible for creating meaningful and competitive benefits structures that motivate the workforce and drive retention rates up. 

What Does a Total Rewards Manager Do?

Total rewards managers pave a new path for how companies can and should support their people. They design, plan, and implement rewards packages for employees that include a combination of monetary compensation, traditional and voluntary benefits, learning and development, wellness programs, and remote flexibility, and more.

Because total rewards managers are tasked with attracting, engaging, and retaining top talent, they’re responsible for knowing what each candidate and employee wants from the organization. In most cases, they analyze existing compensation structures and make necessary modifications that improve employees’ experience and enhance their success. 

4 Skills Total Rewards Managers Should Have on Their Resume

  1. Analytical skills: To build a successful career as a total rewards manager, you must be able to analyze and interpret compensation metrics and emerging market trends. This will allow you to evaluate your strategy, validate your decisions, and make nimble adjustments as business needs change.
  1. Excellent communication: A total rewards manager needs to convey their vision clearly to both employees and leadership. Being an excellent communicator with strong interpersonal skills will help you connect with employees around their needs and align stakeholders behind shared goals.
  1. Business acumen: As a total rewards manager, you must be able to see and think beyond the current scope of the business if you want to make an impact on the employee experience. Balancing added value with cost means getting creative and thinking outside the box to solve problems.
  1. Industry knowledge: Total reward managers must understand changing industry landscapes and provide direction on how to stay ahead of competitors. If you’re interested in a career as a total rewards manager, it’s important to network with other rewards experts and stay up-to-date with market trends.

How to Become a Total Rewards Manager

Any HR professional interested in becoming a total rewards manager should consider pursuing further education at the graduate or certificate level with a specific focus on HR models, strategy, operations, or other relevant fields. HRCI, HCI, HRMI, and SHRM are world-recognized institutions that offer certification programs focused on organizational rewards. These programs provide credibility to your HR qualifications and boost your chances of landing a job as a total rewards manager.

However, while relevant qualifications are essential in the HR field, most of the skills that make up a successful total rewards manager are gained through years of work experience. Many professionals in this career track gain relevant experience as HR generalist before transitioning upward into a more specialized role like total rewards manager. To be an effective total rewards manager, you must be able to prove your competency at making decisions and leading initiatives related to compensation, benefits, and training. 

The glossary of HR roles is quickly growing, along with the impact that HR teams have on employees across all industries. Total rewards managers are a relatively newer addition to most workplaces, but they are quickly becoming a necessary mainstay for forward-thinking businesses who want to stay competitive. For any HR professional drawn to the rewards field, pursuing a career as a total rewards manager is a surefire way to make a meaningful difference in employees’ lives.