My boss put everyone’s salaries up on a power point slide

A few weeks ago during a department meeting, the general manager put all of our salaries in an overhead screen projection and exposed all of us to each other. The salary info included someone who was recently fired.   I am still stunned!  While I am trying to figure out what the purpose of this “reveal” is, I’d like to know if this is a legal act?  I know, on the other side of it, it’s illegal for an employer to prohibit discussion among employees about salary, but what about the flipside?

I totally get the stunned part of this, because in American culture this is just.not.done. Salaries are all hush hush. And, even while it’s legal to share your salary with your co-workers, we don’t because it’s been beat into us that it’s inappropriate to talk about money and especially not salaries. Shhh.

So, when a boss breaks that taboo, we all freak-out. But, to answer your basic question–yes, it’s legal. Unless your state/town has some specific law prohibiting the sharing of salaries, there’s not thing to prevent companies from renting a billboard on I95 and listing employee salaries there. (I have to state, on the record, that I’m opposed to them renting the billboard for that purpose.)

But, I love it. I love that you know all your co-workers’ salaries and that your co-workers know yours. (With the exception of including the fired guy. That’s just weird.) Why do I love it? Because knowledge is power.

We can whine all we want about the “wage gap” between men and women. We can argue whether it’s discrimination or it’s choice or it’s due to number of hours worked, but it won’t be solved until we’re open about salaries. Our culture is so strongly against it, that it’s hard. Bosses generally want people to be silent because then they have all the power. Imagine you get a job offer that is like this:

Dear Jane Doe,

We’re pleased to offer you the position of Sr. Technical Analyst, at an annual salary of $65,000, paid biweekly. For your information, here are the salaries of your co-workers:

  • Jose Garcia, Sr. Technical Analyst $75,000
  • Howard Watson, Sr. Technical Analyst, $82,000
  • Uli Schmidt, Sr. Technical Analyst, $76,000

Would you ever, in a million years, accept that $65,000 salary? Of course not. You’d say, “Why am I not being offered what Jose, Howard and Uli are making?” Now, there could be a very good reason, “Howard has an MBA from Harvard. Jose has 10 years of Experience, and Uli just has one of those cool Swiss names that we wish we could use if we ever had another baby. You, on the other hand, just finished your undergrad degree yesterday. That’s why we’re offering you a significantly lower salary.”

Unfortunately, though, those gaps do occur but we don’t know about them. The only thing that allows them to continue is the secrecy around salary. And, even when you find them out and want to complain, it’s not considered correct to say, “Hey, I just found out that Jose, Howard and Uli all make considerably more than I do. I need a $12,000 raise, minimum.” We say, “You need to show market data and blah, blah, blah.” Well, what better market data is there than your actual co-workers’ salaries?”

If a boss can’t explain why there is a salary discrepancy between two people doing the same job, either you need a new boss or someone needs a new salary. There are lots of valid reasons why Howard should make considerably more than Jane. For instance, Jane wants a 35 hour work week, and Howard regularly works 60 hours a week. Or Howard handles 250 calls per week and Jane is lucky to squeak in at 125.  But, if they are doing the same level of work with the same performance, their salaries should be very close.

So, yeah, stunning that your manager would do this. Maybe not wise, given the current culture. But, I would really like to see a move towards more open salaries. Sunlight cleanses a lot. Some managers, though, are like vampires and hide from sunlight. You share a salary and they freak out. But, there’s no reason to freak out if we’re all honest and above board. Some managers are not.


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19 thoughts on “My boss put everyone’s salaries up on a power point slide

  1. I agree this is a great idea and would love to see this practice become ubiquitous! However it is a big culture shock, the manager did his employees a huge disservice by not introducing the plan and framing it as a positive culture shift (I’m assuming they didn’t) before dropping the salary bomb slide.

    Buffer have an awesome blog post on how they’ve set it up – culturally and logistically:

    1. Thanks for the info. Fascintation.

      And yes, a huge culture shock. I’m not surprised that the OP was stunned.

  2. I tell all my friends and some of my co-workers how much I make for that exact reason, ERL: knowledge is power and I want my friends to have knowledge. My job is different from theirs, but having any information is better than having none. I think some of them are a little shocked and maybe think I am tacky, but this is one of my missions in life – to get the word out about money.

    1. I’m happy to share my salary info as well. I don’t do so on the blog because it would tick off my clients, and I don’t want ticked off clients.

      But, if you ask me directly, I’ll tell you. And then you will all be happy with your current jobs. Heh.

  3. I work for the Federal government. Our salaries are considered public information and are visible on publicly-accessible websites. Even so, we have one manager who — at the end of his employees’ periodic reviews — still instructs them not to publicly disclose their salaries!

    1. Seriously? Does he not know that this is almost certainly illegal? (If it were a private employee, I would be certain. However, I don’t know if Federal agencies get an exemption from the laws around employee discussions.) Does he not know that you can’t keep your salary secret even if you wanted to?

  4. Nice post. As you know, public universities post their faculty/staff salaries (varies by states in the USA). Still, some universities put that info behind a firewall. How am I supposed to negotiate a salary when I don’t know what my potential range could be? So, transparency is great, I think.

  5. I come from the old school where I attended with the “Business Sisters,” Nunya and Mindya. We learned that while knowledge is power, certain knowledge needed to be kept to oneself. And advertising one’s pay can lead to hurt and/or hard feelings between peers and bosses.
    As I read this, I wonder if the boss might have two purposes. The first would be to possibly quell any gossip within the work group. The second to possibly put pressure on the higher ups and muckity mucks to increase pay. Then there is the whole pay transparency movement. In any case, it will certainly lead to some interesting conversations. 🙂

  6. How about employers going back to the “old days” and posting salaries with job postings? This would provide nice transparency and would eliminate the silly guessing game that goes along with job searching–we all know that the employer has a budget in mind, so tell us up front instead of basing the job on what our previous employer paid us for a totally different job in hopes to save a few bucks. Then you also don’t need to make PowerPoint slides with everyone’s salary.

    1. I hate that. Especially when they demand your salary history before you speak up.

      1. Huh, I guess that would be a downside – if your potential future employer could just google what you were making before.

        Then again, if everyone was calculating salaries fairly and based on skill level then it wouldn’t matter, right? (what a utopia that would be.)

        1. Job postings are pulled after the job is filled so future employers wouldn’t be able to google them to determine salary history. If companies listed their salary for a job when they advertise this would help eliminate some unfair salaries…so the pay rate would be based on the job and the company’s budget upfront, free of bias. Not sure how much of a “utopia” this would be, but they used to do it this way all the time, so it’s not a new concept.

  7. We have started being more transparent with wages, and although we haven’t started putting names to the salaries yet, employees can see the wage ranges in their departments. As HR, I do my best to be honest with a staff member that approaches me and asks ‘why they are not making that top range yet’. I have a list of questions/criteria for each position and I will go through it with them: I go over their experience, education, performance, as well as attitude and attendance, and make suggestions what they need to do to jump into the next wage bracket and how long it might take.

    Since we’ve been doing it this way, there isn’t nearly as much “I can’t believe that she/he makes more than me and we are in the same department” kinda talk. I really have seen employees taking more responsibility for their own wage increases & advancement in the company.

  8. My company does the direct opposite – not only are individual employees’ salaries not disclosed, the pay bands at each salary grade are kept secret by HR! So we have absolutely zero idea how much we have an opportunity to make in our current gigs, and zero idea how much we might make on an internal transfer or promotion.

  9. Try working in the public sector and having your salary published every year. Not only that, but they consider reimbursements for things such as travel and mandatory conferences to be “income” and add that on so it seems we make much more than we actually do. That was the primary reason I left public sector employment for private–PRIVACY.

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