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What Utah workers should expect for pay increases in 2021

Survey projects raises for typical employees and ‘top performers’ in Intermountain region

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The Governor’s Office of Economic Development recently awarded what are called Rural Fast Track grants to eight businesses to help boost local employment, at wages higher than average in the respective areas.


SALT LAKE CITY — Many Utah workers may be in line for slight bump in pay in 2021 in the wake of a year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Utah’s Employers Council, a nonprofit provider human resource and employment law services for business, this week released the results of its 2020 Planning Packet Survey that details the forecast regarding compensation budgets for 2021 and this year.

The survey revealed a projected 2.3% average pay hike for Utah employees in 2021, with a 4.6% bump for elite performers. Utah’s overall average wages are expected to rise by 2.3% this year, down 0.8% from the 3.1% projection anticipated this year in the Employers Council’s earlier survey that included data collected prior to the coronavirus outbreak in March.

“The survey projects Utah’s salaries will continue to increase and employees will continue to experience an upswing in overall compensation during the continued volatile economy, In the past year, average employee pay increased by 3.3% and it’s estimated to grow another 2.3% in 2021,” said Ryan Nelson, president of Employers Council’s Utah office. “This survey is an incredibly extensive estimate of where the entire state is headed in terms of compensation, and we are pleased to provide such relevant and helpful information to employers.”

The survey calculated pay increases among four states — Arizona, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — as well as areas within Utah, including Wasatch North, Wasatch South, Mountainland and Central-Southern.

In comparison to the other states surveyed, the Beehive State’s average wage hike for the typical employee was in line with its neighboring states. However, Utah’s projected pay increase for top producers was down almost half a percent since last year, while all other participating states’ projected pay for its best performers increased.

This 2020 survey also examined business trends and staffing/hiring level data with information related to the 2021 business outlook, the greatest challenges to achieving business growth, the most challenging job groups to recruit and/or retain, along with strategies to overcome recruitment and retention challenges.

Nelson said what Utah employees should anticipate in the form of potential pay increases will depend on the employer and the industry in which they employ workers.

“I have heard and also experienced firsthand a variety of responses from employers to the situation. Some are reductions in force, salary freezes, where everything is on hold to the other end of the spectrum where employers are doing quite well and are experiencing exceptional revenue growth and unprecedented year over increases in revenue or sales or business,” he said. “It depends on the employer. Not every employer was well positioned for the pandemic and some adjusted and maneuvered quicker, or were able to adapt and continue the revenue streams that they had or had new ones. Others not so much.”

He noted that one data point stuck out — that the average projected pay increase for an “average or typical employee” in Wyoming at 1.2 % was nearly half the other states surveyed and significantly less that of the 5.5% expected for a top performer in the nicknamed Equality State.

“Reading between the lines ... what I think that says is employers realize the need to keep quality talent in order to continue in business or to maintain their holding point whatever that may be,” Nelson explained. “So that top performing talent is critical to the success of the organization, and in some way employers are justifying above average pay increases for those individuals in order to keep them.”

He add that the higher increase could also be a recognition of the cost of turnover in general, but also more importantly the cost of turnover for the top performer.

“When he or she leaves, institutional knowledge is lost, subject matter expertise, connections, relationships and all of those come with a cost to the employer,” he said. “In these times, employers are wise to recognize who those individuals are and take appropriate steps to keep them and not lose them to competitor or someone else in the market.”

Projected raise for typical employee

  • Utah – 2.3%
  • Arizona – 2.3%
  • Colorado – 2.0%
  • Wyoming – 1.2% 

Projected raise for “top performer”

  • Wyoming – 5.5%
  • Colorado – 5.2%
  • Arizona – 4.7%
  • Utah – 4.6% 

Source: Utah Employers Council