Should we all be open about our pay?

_45933762_thompsonIf I had to host BBC Staff Have Your Say today there’d be no debate about what subject to do. And as this story is sitting top of ‘most read’ on BBC News Online it seems you’re interested too. We’ve learned who the BBC’s 50 most highly paid managers are (sadly no WHYSers feature) and what they earn.

Our Director General Mark Thomson has emailed all staff to say ‘I don’t underestimate the extent to which this may feel uncomfortable for individuals’. He’s not wrong. Some colleagues are furious the information is out there, others angry at how much money people are earning. All of which reminds me of a dressing down that I got when I worked at Time Out
My last job before joining the BBC was Editor of timeout.com. We had made plans to hire a new designer and one afternoon we finally agreed how much we’d be able to offer the new recruit. I was pleased as punch at getting a salary which would guarantee a designer worth is salt, and went into our office and told one of my colleagues what funding had been agreed.

The next morning I was hauled in front of the woman who dealt with all staff contracts and told in no uncertain terms that discussing any pay issues, whether my own, a colleague’s or even for a job that had yet to be filled, was totally out of bounds.

The reason I’d been so relaxed was because of my previous job. I was the Editor of carlton.com (now part of itv.com) and was in charge of a department of ten people. We all knew how much each other earned and would go and celebrate if one of us got a rise. There was no bad feeling at all because of it. Naively I thought other workplaces would be the same. How wrong I was.

And we can take the BBC as another example. I would really struggle to guess the salaries of everyone on WHYS. The BBC does have guidelines but they are so broad that they don’t tell you much. I’ve never been told a salary by anyone else, nor discussed mine with anyone other than people who know it already (like our editor Mark).

And I can be very sure that if the whole of BBC World Service News suddenly revealed everyone’s salaries the fall-out would be long and difficult. I’m sure there will be people doing much ther same jobs getting paid quite different salaries. I’m not suggesting everything should be revealed. There are benefits to a company cutting specific deals to keep people that wouldn’t be possible if everything was public.

I am interested in hearing from you and whether you feel total open-ness or total secrecy works best. I can see pros and cons to both.

What about you?

22 Responses to “Should we all be open about our pay?”

  1. 1 steve
    June 25, 2009 at 15:39

    I think public servants, those who work for the government, shouldn’t be able to keep their incomes secret because the taxpayers pay it.

  2. 2 John D. Augustine - WI USA
    June 25, 2009 at 17:13

    And who could argue with Steve on that account?

    My perspective may be harder to see from, but given that economic inequality is basic to so many social problems, I would take income disclosure to the next level wherever possible. Corporate disclosure might be a good place to start.

    Why shouldn’t consumers know how much money drug companies are spending on promoting drugs *they own,* as opposed to studying their effectiveness in comparrison to other treatments? This point assumes that consumers have the option of choosing non-privatized medicine if they’re not happy with waste they’re paying for from commercial providers. But that’s a much broader argument.

  3. 3 Tom K in Mpls
    June 25, 2009 at 17:28

    Since knowledge is power, and most people receive, not write paychecks. I would think most people would want the word to be spread. But for some form of propriety many think it is a sacred secret. I don’t know why, I don’t care.

  4. 4 Ann
    June 25, 2009 at 17:33

    Personally I think openness is always the best policy in any kind of organisation. Secrecy only leads to the suspicion that there is something to hide or that some people are getting more or less than others. Jealousy and a lack of trust does not lead to a harmonious workplace.

    And interestingly, I’ve never seen coyness and secrecy among low paid workers.

  5. 5 stephen/ portland, Oregon
    June 25, 2009 at 17:37

    I am not as concerned with the management and staffs salaries as I am with the so called “talent” like the obscene amounts paid to Chris Evans and the like.

  6. 6 Vijay
    June 25, 2009 at 18:19

    Should we all be open about our pay?

    Yes of course.

    Due to the hysterical media feeding frenzy over MPs expenses and public concern about bankers pay ,post bailout any “public sector” employees pay should be open to srutiny if they earn say more than £50k
    (we should examine their expenses and know their salary)

    If you knew peoples salaries, you’d find women ,minorities and the disabled would earn less money for equal work as compared to white males and relatives of senior employees(nepotism)

  7. 7 Mike in Seattle
    June 25, 2009 at 18:38

    This is really an issue of employee empowerment.

    If salaries are made public, employees can see quite clearly if there is workplace discrimination going on, and better allow them to bargain for fair wages.

    Here in the United States wages have been stagnant, and this would be help a great deal.

    As to the concerns of employers, if someone truly has the skills and experience, then no one should feel bad about paying them well.

  8. 8 Lisa from Pennsylvania, US
    June 25, 2009 at 19:05

    I agree that no matter what, government salaries should be made public. I think in the corporate world its inappropriate to know exact payment levels. Where I work there’s probably a range in salaries for each level of employment. I think it would be appropriate to know what that range is, but not exactly where each employee falls in the range. Each person’s privacy must be protected but if you don’t know the range in which your pay may fall you have no way of knowing whether you’re being fairly compensated for the time and effort you put into your job.

  9. 9 John in Salem
    June 25, 2009 at 19:43

    By law, publicly funded organizations in this country have to post tax statements including the salaries of their executives (but you already knew that…)
    Private companies can have valid reasons for not sharing the wages of different employees. The person who works next to me doing the same job might not feel that my 38 years of experience are worth 3 times the wages he’s paid for his 5 years of experience and if the product suffers from his resentment we all lose. It’s just being naive to say that openness is always the best policy.
    So I don’t have a problem with secrecy with one exception – the gender disparity. At this point all a woman can do is trust that the company she works for is being fair. It may be that legislation to enforce fairness isn’t a good idea but something more could probably be done.

    June 25, 2009 at 20:01

    Its a good policy to be open about paycheck for motivational purpose. Nobody should complain about that and it would further lead to a lot of poorly paid workers to end up working harder or even advancing through training and personal research so that they can attain a higher pay. In this way the quality of staff alongside what is being marketed is bound to improve tremendously.

    BBC has an eye for quality and transparency could enhance its image. It should be transparent to its workers who are proud to be part of its showcase. There are employees who do not care whether the pay is good or not provided they are working with an outfit that they want to identify with. The soul and vision of this station resides in its workers’ minds and they should not be kept in the dark.

  11. 11 Dennis Junior
    June 26, 2009 at 03:39

    Public Servants in this case e.g. BBC Staffers should be REQUIRED to be open and transparent about their PAY….

    No, I would not tell anyone about what I make….

    ~Dennis Junior~

  12. 12 Tan Boon Tee
    June 26, 2009 at 03:46

    Of course, we should, especially people who work in the corporate, public institutions and government agencies.

    Is the word “transparency” losing its magnetic appeal?

    Had it not because of the covert incomes, remunerations and bonuses, the current financial meltdown might not have been that severe.

  13. 13 RightPaddock
    June 26, 2009 at 05:03

    In the late ’60s I along with some colleagues formed an IT company where everyone was paid the same, from the MD to the girl on the front desk, most recruits were new graduates. Base salary was 1.5 times average male earnings. 80% of the annual net profit was evenly distributed on a pro-rata basis, in the worse year the bonus about the same as base, in the best year the bonus was nearly 4 times base. The stockholders got the other 20%.

    Peak employment was about 100. The average graduate stayed about 4 years.

    The company went out of business in the early ’80s. The remuneration scheme played a part in its demise, it became increasingly harder to find good graduates with an idealist streak, the culture of greed was taking over by then.

    How were people recognised for extra effort? Every one paid 5% of their base income into a prize pool. If 5 people nominated someone then they were a candidate in the monthly awards. Everyone would rank the candidates and the top 5 would share the monthly prize pool equally.

    The only other extra the execs got was a car parking space, the person who got the highest ranking across all the monthly prizes also got a car space for a year.

    Needless to say that we never wondered who was getting what – it was all up on the notice board in the canteen.

  14. 14 Marija Liudvika Rutkauskaite
    June 26, 2009 at 13:31

    Thank you for this slot and for the email.
    There are several reasons why we should not be open about our pay. First, it is the security of one’s home and belongings. Second, it is common politeness that demands discretion. It is not long ago that money counted among the five basic taboo topics in conversation, and, in fact, it still does count. Third, what counts as liberty in the famous American quotation from the Declaration of Independence if one’s individual income is not treated as one’s private matter which one has a liberty to spend the way one desires? There is a difference, though, when the difference in wages for equivalent jobs is extreme or, as one commentator says above, when the people who pay desire to have an account of how their money is spent. And finally, this last point becomes especially sensitive when the community of tax payers is mendicant. And it becomes endless because we live in societies in which rules of politeness applied and we were brought up with them. These rules do not apply to criminals, and so there must be a difference who is charged with publicising their accounts. Thank you.

  15. 15 Marija Liudvika Rutkauskaite
    June 26, 2009 at 13:37

    I am sorry I cannot appreciate Michael Jackson’s music as I was not his fan. I can only offer my condolences to the mourning. Thank you.

  16. 16 Grahame Shadbolt
    June 26, 2009 at 17:31

    My comments aren’t being posted, submit third and last time.

    Yes! of course we should all be open about our pay! The problems with pensions schemes, fat cat salaries, bonuses, expenses and kick-backs are all due to institutionised, corporate and private greed. Pensions. There has always been enough money going into pensions, its just that the managers handling it have squandered it and taken unjustified risks for their own profit, without concern for the majority investors (ie pensioners). Look! I’m an ordinary Joe on an average salary but from me alone these guys have taken £32,000 over 20 years. Seven years of fighting and the regulator made them give £25,000 back. Now I’m fighting for the rest – this was nothing to do with stocks and shares going up and down – they stripped my account (Equitable Life). These guys take it because we let them. What everyone needs to realise is that none of these guys make money – there is only one economy and the rake off these people take really does comes out of your pocket and mine. if you don’t believe me then explain away Fred Goodwin, Stephen Hester & Jonathon Ross. City traders get bonuses because their behaviour pushes up your mortgage.

    Some submissions above don’t want to disclose their pay – that can only be because they don’t want the guy on the next-door desk doing nearly the same job is earning significantly less than them. Even in my company there is a very wide disparity in same job salaries, and a “secret” bonus scheme for staff of dubious entitlement, providing large bonuses for the work that Iis done by ME, and the others at my level.

    Publish everyones wages and salaries, from the lowly to the high, in every industry, institution and business. Before very long those with the lowest wages will see theirs increasing and those with the exhorbitant excess will see theirs come down. Tell you what, eventually the knock on effects will introduce and new stability to the domestic markets. Workers and consumers will all get a better deal and there will be fewer cheats ripping off those of us who play straight.

  17. 17 Tom D Ford
    June 26, 2009 at 17:37

    @ steve
    June 25, 2009 at 15:39

    I agree with you about openness for publicly paid people.

  18. 18 J. Augustine - WI USA
    June 26, 2009 at 18:13

    I have a more radically different idea about what a government employee is, and what taxpayer dollars are. Let’s say I want to buy some food, or some shoes. The government is not forcing me to buy food or shoes, but I do not have a choice. I must buy food, or I will die.

    I have a choice where to buy this food, but because all food is sold by private businesses, I do not have the right to know how much profit one store is making as opposed to some other store. I am forced to pay taxes, so I have the right to know how my tax dollars are being spent.

    But I am also forced to buy food. Why don’t I have the right to know who is taking how much of the money I spend on food?

    And shoes.

  19. 19 Harald
    June 27, 2009 at 09:08

    The question of remuneration is obfuscated throughout.

    I have just been watching the “One World Media” awards ceremony (on BBC).

    For the purposes of this discussion about pay, I am leaving quite aside the ignominy of journalists receiving awards from politicians and other journalists.

    The master of ceremonies lavishly praised the jurors for their “sacrifice” in selecting the award-winners. If the jurors REALLY do NOT get compensated for their work – why not say so? (I doubt it very much.)

    Or are we “ordinary” viewers encouraged to think that documentaries, made for our edification, become drudgery for the jury to assess?

  20. June 27, 2009 at 12:22

    Certainly. But make sure there are a few trillion ambulances on emergency call to cope with those suffering from acute shock.

  21. 21 J. Augustine - WI USA
    June 27, 2009 at 17:10

    I did finally think of a simpler way to phrase the question I had in mind.

    Will our children ever learn to think of wage slavery as an institution as peculiar to them as our ancestors peculiar institution of race slavery is to us now? Martin Luther King already answered this question, although not in words made famous enough for me to quote precisely. He said something to the effect of: History proves that society always moves slowly but surely towards justice.

    The reason this simple answer is not so famous is that the question it answers, if asked in a survey today, would most likely be so overwhelmingly not understood. In order to understand it, one would probably be best served to begin by asking the simpler question: What is wage slavery?

  22. June 28, 2009 at 07:59

    Secret wage levels merely serve to increase management control over the workforce. Control of information is always about preserving power and influence. The widespread myth about “competition” in capitalism ignores the reality; it is much more like Sun Tsu’s “Art of War” in which any method is acceptible to win which entails minimal losses to yourself.The sickening way in which business pays politicians and government to intervene on their behalf; normally against the public’s best interest tells the tale. I believe that establishing an open pay scale systen AND ENFORCING ROUTINE PERFORMANCE TESTING is a much less divisive way to operate, and ultimately more productive.

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