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I can't help but wonder how much impact the current regulatory environment contributes (along with the overall perception of HR) to the growing reluctance towards more transparency. Regulations are being enforced with renewed vigor, and with the apparent pro-employee bias that virtually any difference in pay between two people (especially if one is in a protected class) doing the same job is potential grounds for a discrimination claim. Despite the higher "threat level", the answer isn't to try and keep it all a secret and hope no one complains, but that is what the survey results tell us more and more companies are doing. The question then is why.

Of course being open and honest about the reasons for those differences - and quickly addressing them when the reasons aren't particularly defensible - will greatly reduce the likelihood of an expensive and potentially embarrassing complaint. My experience has been that although some organizations would like to move towards being more transparent, there is a lack of confidence in two key areas: 1) front-line management's ability to adequately address employee concerns in this area, and 2) HR's ability to teach them how, whether due to bandwidth, ability, or both. Perhaps others have the same perception. Since most of us are expected to do more with less, I can’t help but conclude that the reason for the lack of confidence in HR is mostly due to a perceived lack of ability in HR to be strong, effective communicators.

In an increasingly litigious environment, HR has the opportunity to provide real value to an organization; however, we have an image problem. Changing that perception is hard work, but it is work that needs to be done if HR is to be seen as a strategic partner in the business and not just a group of plan administrators with a narrow focus on their function, myopic to the bigger picture.

Scott makes very cogent comments. Additional obstacles to transparency may also stem from top management's insecurity about the policies and practices, too.

I have seen many situations where HR has effectively taught line management but senior management (especially at the very top levels) remains skeptical, intractable, ignorant and unwilling to be "taught" what they should answer when challenged. Line supervisors and managers are the very first to demand instruction when asked difficult questions. They WANT to know the right answers. Top senior executives tend to be convinced that they already KNOW all the right answers. Accepting corrective instruction is an admission of ignorance and they would rather forbid any discussion than admit they don't know the answer.

Silence is imposed from above, rather than from below, IMHO. What other experiences have others had?

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