"Robbie, how much do you make?"

Someone asked me this question at a recent job, and I admit, I was thrown off. The reason they asked wasn't to be nosy, but to find out if they were getting underpaid or not.

Most salaries are private, so my coworker couldn't find out without asking. It's a constant issue.

Well, Buffer, a social media management platform company took salary transparency to another level four years ago.

Their salaries are transparent, both internally and publicly. You heard that right. You can go to this Google doc to find out exactly how much everyone in the company makes, including the CEO. They've really embraced salary transparency head on.

I was intrigued by this and reached out to Buffer with a few questions about what they've learned so far.

The biggest challenges

Buffer's biggest challenge was its own insecurity, according to Hailley Griffis, PR manager at Buffer. "The team was on board because of our value of defaulting to transparency," she says. "We already had salaries live internally, so it was just switching it to a larger audience. There were a lot of what-ifs floating around at Buffer."

What if the made it easy for anyone to poach Buffer employees because they knew exactly how much more they had to pay them? Or what if new people refused to join because they didn't want their salaries online? None of those what-ifs came to fruition, Griffis says.

I find this really interesting. They were already sharing salaries internally, which is a massive first step for any organization. I'd honestly be happy with just internal sharing.

Taking it public is another story.

The positives and negatives

I can't imagine that full salary transparency would be be entirely positive. Still, I was curious to see what the impact has been.

Griffis mentioned three positives:

  1. A jump in applications as soon as they went transparent.

  2. The accountability of being held to a higher standard, and the ability to pay people fairly and without bias.

  3. Increased trust among their team.

And negatives?

"We do get negative feedback, comments and such, from the public when we share updates to our salary formula or our pay," Griffis says. "Pay is something that everyone will always have strong opinions about and we can't please everyone."

Based on comments from several social media sites, Buffer receives negative feedback that the salary formula doesn't account for the individuals who operate at a higher level than their peers in the same category.

Additionally, job searchers are used to negotiating, so when they can't negotiate, they don't feel like they're getting a good deal. This is a common issue for high performers.

Salary transparency isn't for everyone. My stance is that people should be paid unfairly. If you're are performing ten times better than your colleagues, then a formula to calculate your salary will leave you disappointed.

What I do admire about Buffer embracing salary transparency is that they really own it. It's not like the salary spreadsheet is hard to find. They actively market it.

I also appreciate that they created a salary formula--so you can understand what your true worth should be. It's not foolproof, of course, but I think it's a start in the right direction.

How would you feel if your salary was not only available to your colleagues but to anyone with an internet connection?

Published on: Dec 22, 2017