Show me the money

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Show me the money.

Transparency in business is always a good thing. Even, it seems, when it comes to salaries.

In 2012, Show Me the Money — a British reality TV show — filmed an experiment where the boss of Pimlico Plumbers asked his staff to reveal their salaries to their colleagues.

It was highly dramatic, with staff writing their salary on a white board and introducing themselves: "Hi, I'm Bob from the loading bay and I earn £10,000."

Of course, in the spirit of reality TV, these salary confessions led to unrest and bitterness, especially where two plumbers doing the same job had a £5,000 salary discrepancy and the boss's son earned quite a lot — seemingly because he was the boss's son.

The boss left his staff to sort out their differences, saying: "Don't come to me for a pay rise, ask your workmates". They duly negotiated, cajoled and mounted arguments as to why higher paid staff should 'donate' some of their salaries to lower-paid colleagues.

The show had a happy ending and only the IT manager left the company to find a better paying job.

More interestingly, pay disclosure still exists at Pimlico Plumbers three years on and the staff report huge levels of job satisfaction.

SumAll Technology is an American real-life (as opposed to reality TV) example of pay transparency working effectively. When this tech business began in 2011 with 10 employees, founder Dane Atkinson decided to start as he meant to go on with full salary disclosure. The company now employs 40 staff and details of each person's remuneration are disclosed in a document accessible to everyone, at any time.

Atkinson says the company enjoys much lower staff turnover than the industry average and his employees are happy because everything is in the open; they know they are free to voice concerns if they're unhappy about pay.

He says it is great for employers because it removes any temptation to pay women less than men, or hire cheap minorities, or abuse workers not strong enough nor certain enough of their personal value to negotiate pay.

As for the staff, several admitted they never look at the salary document because they know that, if they ever need to look, the information is there. That whole sense of the boss holding all the power, because only he knows what everyone gets paid, is removed when salaries are so openly displayed.

US researcher Payscale surveyed over 70,000 US employees in 2014 and found how people perceive pay matters more than what they actually get paid.

In recent years we've seen high profile celebrities rally against secret salaries. Both Charlize Theron and Jennifer Lawrence used the hacking of Sony Pictures as an opportunity to negotiate higher salaries.

While they didn't know the exact numbers, the hack revealed that female actresses earned significantly less than male co-stars. Both actresses used that knowledge as an opportunity to negotiate.

Offering an actress a few million dollars more is arguably easier than negotiating with an entire workplace once salaries, and the inevitable discrepancies, are revealed. But there is academic and practical evidence to suggest pay transparency is worth pursuing.

If complete transparency is a step too far, employers could begin by being open with staff about why each role is worth what it is. The fewer gaps we leave, the less need there is to fill them in — and it seems even if a staff member discovers he or she earns less than his or her colleagues, they are likely to be happier and have greater job satisfaction than if remuneration was kept secret.


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