The End of Pay Secrecy?

Julie Cook Ramirez

It's an unwritten rule at many companies, while other employers openly inform their employees they are not to share salary information with colleagues. A 2010 Institute for Women's Policy Research/Rockefeller Survey of Economic Security found half of all workers were either "explicitly prohibited or strongly discouraged" from discussing pay with their coworkers.

That may all be changing, as employees are increasingly seeking to discuss pay issues both inside and outside company walls. In large part, the trend is being driven by social media, coupled with the emergence of millennials in the workplace, according to Kevin Hallock, director of the Institute for Compensation Studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and author of Pay: Why People Earn What They Earn and What You Can Do Now to Make More. Younger employees, in particular, are comfortable sharing virtually every detail of their lives, he says, so divulging their salary doesn't seem like a breach of privacy.

It's not just employees who are openly discussing compensation. A small but growing number of employers are making such information available, either internally to the workforce at large or externally, posting all workers' salaries on their websites for the world to see. The most widely publicized example is Austin, Tex.-based Whole Foods Market, which allows employees to view information on pay and bonuses for everyone from the CEO down. The policy was introduced by then-co-CEO John Mackey in 1986, just six years after the natural-food retailer's inception. The goal was to encourage competition by helping employees understand why some people are paid more than others. If workers understood what types of performance led to greater compensation, Mackey reasoned, they would be motivated to adopt similar workplace behaviors themselves.

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