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It's interesting that (in the private sector) we already have pay transparency at the bottom of an organization in the form of fixed and (typically) posted hourly rates, and at the top in the form of exhaustively-disclosed compensation information for 16-b officers.

So it's only in the middle that there's any mystery. It's my own suspicion that this comes from the fact that not too many organizations are comfortable disclosing their "merit pay" practices.

Discomfort with the prospect of pay transparency is inversely related to the confidence you have in your pay system. Good programs are easy to defend. Inferior programs create anxiety. Rather than hide problems, try to correct and end them with improved, upgraded and defensible methods.

Where open publication already occurs, such as due to union rules at the bottom or government requirements at the top, satisfactory accommodations have been made. No reason the middle range can't be handled, too. View it as another professional challenge. This is an opportunity to clarify and refine deficient methods so they no longer create controversy or inspire skepticism.


Good point - there are already pockets of transparency in many private sector organizations, especially those that are publicly held. There are also many, particularly privately-held, employers where pay from the very top to the bottom is completely under wraps ... the Buffers of the world notwithstanding.

I share your suspicion about "merit pay" being at least one of the factors behind the need for mystery...


You've hit the nail on squarely on the head - perhaps we should call that Brennan's Maxim? Also agree that this is a challenge we, as a profession, may need to step up and embrace. There is indeed an opportunity here...

Thanks for the comments!

Great thought-provoking post. As Millenials begin to make up the majority of the workforce it will become an even more important issue.

I predict we will end up changing many ways how we compensate people. Reasons:

1)employees cannot understand it regardless of our "clean up" and communication.

2)it's a company culture issue. And cultures will have to change or explaining comp as an isolated event won't work

3)transparency will never work until executive compensation is part of it. If we're going to clean up our act --- it needs to be for all plans --- not just those of the "masses". Can't exclude it --- employees already believe there is no pay-for-performance at that level to begin with

Don't mean to be a "wet blanket" and not saying it shouldn't be done. Just saying we need to be sure we don't just deal with a piece of the pie --- when the whole pie needs to be included.

Done. The phrase, "Discomfort with the prospect of pay transparency is inversely related to the confidence you have in your pay system," has been added to Brennan's Laws. It is now listed as Fair/Competitive Pay Law #12, alternatively labeled "AKA Brennan's Maxim").

Thank you all for leading in the area of pay transparency. And thank you Ann Bares for this post. In Minnesota we just passed a law allowing employees to share their wage information. Apparently pay secrecy is no longer working for everyone.

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