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When looking at a reward system, it is normal to get stuck into the structural details. Pay structures, salary bands and pay grades are the foundations of any reward strategy, with the next most common focus being the benefits that organisations can offer their employees. However, there is a lot more to an effective reward system than these measurable details.

Often the difference between a successful reward strategy and a failing one goes beyond the overarching structure. Whilst the theory behind a reward system might be sound, the attitudes towards a new approach, its introduction to employees and the culture of the business all play a huge role in its overall success.

Some companies choose to operate open salary policies, where information about every employee’s wages is available for all members of staff. Every employee can see what they are paid in comparison to their colleagues and in some cases an explanation is given for why that wage difference exists. Open salary policies are more of a cultural choice for businesses that feel as though this level of transparency will amplify their system’s performance.

Having specialised in all areas of pay and reward design for over two decades, our pay and reward consultants at Paydata help all manner of companies shape a bespoke reward strategy for their organisation, culture, and structure. Leveraging this knowledge, we outline the major advantages and disadvantages of being open about salary in the workplace, helping you consider whether it is right for your own organisation.

Pros of being open about salary

When utilised in the correct circumstances, considering an organisation’s structure and culture, transparency around pay has the power to unite the workforce, boost growth and drive performance.

The key advantages include:

Promoting communication and transparency in other areas

A central pillar of a successful business is communication. To operate as an effective team and create a healthy working environment, it’s important for every member of staff to feel as though they have a voice and can share their views. Whilst effective HR departments can make it clear that sharing views is encouraged, this isn’t always enough to make staff feel comfortable voicing their concerns.

Being transparent about something as traditionally private as salary sets the tone and encourages communication about wider concerns and issues. It displays a willingness to discuss topics that are often taboo and be open with staff, which can improve communication at all levels.

Boosting loyalty and decreasing staff turnover

Open salary policies can also help improve loyalty and employee retention. Effective internal communication builds trust with a company’s employees, fostering a sense of commitment and equality. Employees are aware that making company-wide salaries available to all employees can lead to animosity, so sharing this information anyway implies a dedication to fairness that most employees value. This strengthens the employer and employee relationship, encouraging staff to stay with the company and reducing overall turnover.

Helping identify wage disparities

A final advantage to note is that from a HR perspective it becomes very easy to identify wage disparities between staff and handle any issues. For a busy HR department, particularly in a larger organisation, it’s easy for a single employee’s wages to get lost in the sea of slips and remain unequal for a long period of time. These are the situations that can lead to high-quality talent leaving the company for increased pay.

Faced with open salaries, HR teams must keep on top of these concerns. This gives individual members of staff the opportunity and platform to highlight wage disparities when they can compare their remuneration to their colleagues. These issues can then be flagged to HR, reviewed and addressed accordingly, to ensure pay parity between staff of the same level.

Cons of being open about salary

Whilst these advantages are compelling, it would be unfair to say openness about salary is a perfect solution for every organisation. Depending on the nature of the business, its culture and its workforce, an open salary policy presents risks that must be considered.

Decreasing satisfaction

Whilst employee satisfaction is extremely complex and can be impacted by a range of factors,  we always say that pay is a hygiene factor that companies must get right. If staff access the details of their colleague’s wages and feel as though they are being paid unfairly, this can have a drastic impact on their satisfaction, productivity and happiness. If their team leader or manager does not create an opportunity to voice these concerns, animosity is left to fester and build until the employee simply leaves the organisation.

As always, a commitment to fairness is absolutely key to any open salary policy. Ensuring that your business is either fair in its pay structure or open to change if disparities are highlighted is essential to the success of open salary policies. Similarly, having well-trained managers who can receive and relay this feedback is extremely important to foster a responsive culture of communication and understanding.

Uncomfortable staff

Most staff will not be used to their wages being public knowledge and some might find it uncomfortable or nerve-wracking to start with. In general, the challenge with an open salary policy is that it has to be company-wide to be successful; it cannot be tailored to specific individuals based on individual preferences.

Ultimately, this disadvantage can only be curbed rather than completely dealt with. Understanding staff, encouraging them to speak up and training managers on the benefits of the newly introduced policy will help employees to become more accustomed quickly.

The short-term cost

Adjusting levels of employees’ pay to address inconsistencies and the potential upfront cost to businesses introducing this policy should be acknowledged. Customers are increasingly considering Equal Pay Audits to ensure they are legally compliant. We have spoken about the rise of class actions, which has turned defending equal pay claims into a business critical issue.

However, looking at this from the perspective of the advantages discussed, workers are becoming more aware of their rights and the potential implications of pay disparities. Getting ahead of the curve and publishing salaries signals a company’s proactive commitment to be legally compliant and guarantee fair pay for their employees.

Weighing the pros and cons

As with everything in business, there is the potential to go into much finer detail and explore every potential risk granularly, which organisations considering introducing this policy should do as a careful exercise across the business. Explore the current state of your organisation, beginning with understanding your staff and its existing culture. Use this knowledge to decide whether an open salary policy is right for you.

To delve deeper into the advantages and disadvantages of an open salary policy to your business, get in touch with the team here at Paydata. We specialise in providing completely bespoke advice and tailored reward strategy solutions built around your business and your needs.

Discover our available reward strategy services or get in touch with one of our reward experts today.

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