Will Telling Your Coworkers How Much You Earn Lead to Pay Parity? Probably Not.

Want help with your hiring? It's easy. Enter your information below, and we'll quickly reach out to discuss your hiring needs.


You don’t really think you work for someone else, do you?

You might be paid by an organization, even receive benefits, but the truth remains that you work for yourself. As an employee, you work “at the pleasure” of someone who decided to take a chance on you — and, hopefully, that has worked out for both of you. But the bottom line remains: You have to deliver measurable value, or you can’t stay. So, really, you work for yourself.

What does this have to do with pay parity?

I recently published a book where I suggest that it is the employee’s responsibility, not the employer’s, to do something about their pay. I share this with you because, from where I sit, I’m just not sure that the sharing of pay information with coworkers will be a trend that has legs.

Sharing Salary Information May Be a Good Thing — Until It’s Not

In an effort to achieve pay parity through transparency, Buffer recently made available to the public the current base salary rates for its 86 employees. (Note that number. I’ll get back to that in a minute.)

While I applaud the intent, I don’t see how my knowing how much an employee at Buffer makes in Singapore helps anyone very much — even the rest of the Buffer staff. To be fair, I appreciate what Buffer is trying to accomplish. I just don’t think this becomes a best practice other companies will want to emulate.

So now, assuming you opened the link above, you know what everyone at Buffer makes. Except for this story making for a pretty decent sound bite, how does that benefit you, me, or any other worker?

And Buffer has a relatively small staff of 86 workers. How could this kind of pay transparency possibly translate to a company like Amazon? Would it have to roll out a spreadsheet containing pay rates for its 750,000+ employees? There are probably as many pay variables across the internet giant as there are workers!

Equal Pay for Equal Work? Really?

Since we are talking about pay parity, I think you should know that I don’t believe in equal pay for equal work (an axiom that came out of the Equal Pay Act of 1963). Instead, I believe in “the proper pay for the best performance.”

If you compare these two ideas — equal pay vs. proper pay — you will notice that proper pay removes any type of discrimination from the discussion. The fact is that unless you and your coworker work together, were trained at the same time in the same way, and started your respective jobs on the same day, it’s pretty hard to find two people who truly do measurably equal work.

For more expert HR insights, check out the latest issue of Recruiter.com Magazine:

More to the point, when the (measured) best performer receives the best pay, the pay disparity issue simply disappears.

The concept of proper pay also illustrates one of the central conundrums of equal pay: There are all kinds of valid reasons to pay a person according to their skill set, on-the-job performance, education, experience, and tenure. Did your coworker happen to mention that they had recently earned a highly relevant graduate certificate from Harvard? Maybe that is the reason why they make 6 percent more than you do for doing the same work.

Furthermore — and important to the “equalizing” of pay across the US — proper pay for the best work also separates those who do the work from those who don’t. Yes, you do have to take some measurements to determine who is actually doing the work. Just know that I am a proponent of pay for performance principally because pay is one of the easiest places to discriminate — especially against those workers who do not recognize that it is occurring.

Recruiters Can Advocate for Proper Pay

Interestingly, while pay disparity impacts women (as well as people of color and other protected classes) more than men, it is women who make up, give or take, 70 percent of all HR professionals. I know from my experience calling on the HR profession — and recruiters specifically — for better than 10 years that I have dealt almost exclusively with women.

I am not recommending that anyone in recruiting or HR cross any company lines when it comes to negotiating pay rates or sharing what anyone in the organization is currently earning. However, I do think that recruiters should be somewhat proactive, behind-the-scenes players in the game of overcoming the pay disparity issue. Point candidates to Salary.com,  GlassdoorPayScale, the Robert Half salary guide, the Bureau of Labor Statistics — any resources where candidates can find relevant pay rate information.

These subtle efforts made by recruiters may even help drive the very thing every employer has always wanted: higher levels of employee engagement. When a person is paid to the level of their output, they begin to think and act like an owner. Productivity grows and, hopefully, turnover rates drop.

For the sake of this discussion let’s all agree that whether we work on a team or work alone, we all work solo. We are, every one of us, working for ourselves. Every person should be paid fairly and equitably for what they deliver.

Share what you will over drinks with your best friend from work, but personal pay should remain personal. Remember: Pay transparency may be a good thing — until it’s not.

Rick Gillis has been involved in the “business of employment” since 1997, when he was instrumental in introducing the first local employment website to the greater Houston, TX, market. He is the author of The QTNT.

Read more in Salary

Rick Gillis has been involved in the business of employment since 1997, when he was instrumental in introducing the first local employment website to the greater Houston, TX, market. Since that time, Rick has aggressively studied employment and the practice of job seeking from the perspective of both the employer and employee. Rick has a street-level knowledge of the technological and "mechanical" aspects of the employment business, including resume development (specifically, his short-form resume format designed to navigate resume-filtering software), employment advertising, recruiting, preemployment
assessments, networking and social networking, age-discrimination issues, the HR function, management best practices, diversity considerations, legal issues, staffing companies, web based applicant-tracking systems and, of course, internet employment protocols.