I’ll Have What She’s Having

Pan-galactic Gargle Blaster.jpg

Pan-galactic Gargle Blaster

There is no wrong way to make a Pan-galactic Gargle Blaster because there really is no right way. If you feel there’s enough alcohol in the shaker, there isn’t. If the aroma isn’t enough to cause convulsions, you’ve likely made a gin and tonic. If you don’t have that Ol’ Janx Spirit, no, what you have is not an acceptable substitute.

There are certain questions we are taught at a young age are inappropriate to ask in polite company: how old are you, when are you expecting, how much money do you make? While the advice is valid in social settings and the first two questions remain taboo in the business world, the National Labor Relations Board holds that employees are allowed, even encouraged, to discuss salaries. Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act forbids employers from limiting employees’ concerted activities for the purpose of “collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” The exception is the employee who has access to company wage and payroll information. She can share her own salary information, but obviously cannot divulge other salaries without express permission of the employer or an investigating agency.

Pay transparency is increasing in popularity, from universities to Whole Foods. Transparent employers claim lower turnover and a less toxic work environment. A Wall Street Journal article notes that absent a discussion, employers “leave a pay-information vacuum that staff want to—and can—fill.”[1] With talk of the wage gap, concerns about gender inequality in the wake of Ledbetter v Goodyear (link to Cornell Law website), and fears of falling below living wages, employees should be free to discuss among themselves their pay rates.

Of course, there is always a down side to such transparency. If wages are based on productivity or a similar metric, the lower paid employee may not view his or her contribution as “that much less” than the higher paid “star.” Similarly, in uniform wage companies, the normally high-performers may settle to the lowest common denominator.

A solution proposed by Tim Lowe of Payscale is that management “be transparent about the methodology and technology used to arrive at compensation decisions”[2] which may excuse them from providing exact numbers. Such a mechanism with a pay range would both fill the information vacuum and protect the company from sharing exact numbers.

How does YOUR organization communicate pay structures? Please share your thoughts below.

[1] Jennifer Deal. Why Companies Should Make Their Pay Transparent. Wall Street Journal. March 14, 2016

[2] Lindsay Levine. The Hidden Downsides to Salary Transparency. NPR Planet Money. July 24, 2014

One thought on “I’ll Have What She’s Having

  1. I learn something new every time I read your blog. I did not know about the NLRB encouraging employees to discuss salaries. I, too, was brought up that it’s uncouth to talk about how much you are making and in fact learned (incorrectly) that it was illegal to do so.


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