How many people know how much money you make? Your spouse probably does. Does your significant other? How about your parents? Your children?
More to the point, look to the left and the right in your office space — do you know, really know, the salaries of any of your colleagues?
Probably not (unless you are their boss).
But how would your workplace change if suddenly, over the weekend, a list of every employee and their weekly pay were posted on the bulletin board, for all to find when they arrived at work on Monday?
At many workplaces, there would be at least a day with no work. At some workplaces, learning the differences in pay among staff members would cause a rebellion, or a riot.
Earlier this week, in a New York Times op-ed column, Susan Reed argued that all businesses in the U.S. should be required to make salary data public (after a one year grace period to make strategic adjustments).
Reed argues that secret salary data masks systemic racial, gender and age discrimination. That’s certainly true, although it’s impossible to know how widespread. In my own experience as a boss, I found that secret salary data frequently camouflaged simple inequity and unfairness.
I wouldn’t go as far as Reed, and make all salary data from all companies public, by federal law. But I think companies should be required to make salary data available to their own employees, easily and on-demand and at every level of employment.
Want to know what the boss really thinks of you? Just go to the company intranet and see how your salary compares to the people who do the same work you do.
I know of only one company that actually does this — the organic grocery chain, and publicly traded corporation, Whole Foods. Any employee, at any level, in any part of the company, can go to a computer in every store and find out last year’s pay for any person in the company.
The transparency is codified in Whole Foods’ basic values, and founder John Mackey says it’s a way of actually justifying people’s compensation, and not allowing favoritism to creep into compensation. (If you know any other companies that allow employees access to their colleagues’ pay, please let us know.)
Pay has been secret for so long, we’ve lost track of why. In most cases, if salary information couldn’t withstand the simple test of openness, there’s something out-of-balance in the pay scales.