Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Is Sharing Salary Information Fair and Productive? Is It Anyone's Business?

I saw an interesting article online about the pros and cons of sharing salary information.  It generated a lot of thought and is worth a discussion.  Off the bat, I have to say that this post has nothing to do with equal pay or with the New York City law which now prevents asking for salary history. 

One observation I have made while recruiting is that people quite freely share their salary information with their friends and associates.  One result of sharing this information is that by telling your friends, it may actually help prevent salary discrimination.  Two people with the same titles and responsibility as well as the same amount of time in grade, so to speak, should be paid the same.  Right?   Well, on the surface it would seem so.

Many businesses are complicated; seemingly similar clients may actually be quite different from one another.  Advertising is a difficult business.  All jobs are not equal, even if their titles are. Should an account person working on Coca-Cola make the same as an account person on Kellogg’s or IBM if they were all at the same agency?  On the surface the answer would be yes, but one would have to thoroughly understand the dynamics of each business in order to answer the question fairly.

All these accounts are large, fast moving, are heavily advertised and have many executions. This would seem to make them equal.  But wait.  Suppose one account was in production almost every week and the account person has to travel to supervise the production – this may mean five or six workdays a week, most away from home for overnight.  Suppose another one of these accounts were highly planning or research oriented and required the account person to constantly attend focus groups all over the country and have intense knowledge of planning and research.  Perhaps the managers on these accounts have very different personalities, ranging from lovely and easy to difficult and abusive; ditto for the clients.  And perhaps, because of the locations of those clients (and agencies), there is frequent travel to and from the client, often over night or, if on the same day, very long commutes from early in the morning until well after dinner.  And finally, the agency/client culture is such that on one (or all) of these businesses, work requirements are 9AM to 10PM daily on one account, but only 9AM to 6PM on another.  Finally, suppose the clients were quite different and required the people servicing them to have different skills – from education to technical knowledge.  Some clients are abusive, some are easy.

There are so many variations that it would be impossible to pay the people working on these businesses the same.  Several years ago I wrote about how MVBMS (now HAVAS) paid people more to work on MCI than on other accounts.  MCI burned through people because it was so impossibly busy.

It is the responsibility of the company to insure equal pay for equal work.  And much of the work at ad agencies is unequal because of the things I have mentioned.

So, among employees, sharing salary information might be counter-productive and create unfair pressure on the employer. Worse still would be the sharing of bonus information at the end of the year.  All work and all workers are not created equal.  Some workers are superstars and deserve to be paid more.  Some may have it much easier than others and might be paid somewhat less. Bonus money is totally at the discretion of the employer.

This has nothing to do with equal gender pay.

None of this is to say that women should be paid less than men, especially if their jobs are equal.  But that is a different discussion.  Assuming that all aspects of the job are the same, then people should be paid the same.  But that information should not be shared.

Besides, there is one inevitable truth when it comes to salaries.  Most people exaggerate their pay to their friends (and potential employers).  Over the years, I have met candidates who tell me how much less (or more) they are making than their friends at work.  In so many of those cases, I know both people and know what they are telling me is just not so. 

When I was brought up, my parents told me that it was impolite to discuss salary, since it was nobody’s business.

My point of view is that sharing salary could be counter-productive and the expectations it sets up may be unrealistic.


  1. Most people are familiar with the expression, “All men are created equal, but some are more equal than others.” But it was iconic English author George Orwell who said it best and first in his landmark 1945 book, “Animal Farm” … “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. A few years later Orwell wrote his equally famous and dystopian book, “1984”. Which is to say, what Orwell wrote then is certainly true today, and Paul Gumbinner has handily reminded us of that reality … “All men and women are NOT created equal”.

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