Transparency. Over the past decade, that word has turned into a juggernaut of sorts. Politicians, businesses, nonprofits, even celebrities espouse the greatness of transparency. In an effort to be more transparent, Twitter accounts were made, blogs and vlogs were established, press releases became a smidge more authentic, and someone started the trend of selfies sans makeup.
It only makes sense that in a field such as personal finance that is marked with trappings of transparency that eventually the call to share salaries would be made. It’s the final frontier in a lot of ways. Bloggers DIY projects, money-saving hacks, couponing tips, no-spend challenge results, monthly budgets, and net worth totals. The missing piece? Income.
I’ve got a secret for you. If you knew my name*, you’d know how much money I make. Not because someone in a similar position reported a guesstimate to Salary.com, but because I am a public servant. As a result, I work under a public contract that contains within it a salary schedule. So not only can I access all of the income of all of my coworkers with the click of a button, I can also pull up my boss’s boss’s salary. Nifty.
I can also look up any additional side hustle money that my coworkers make from lunch duty, coaching, intramurals, clubs, subbing. If I really want to the full scoop, I can use the salary schedule to see how much money they will make every year throughout the duration of our contract. Once that contract is replaced, the information trail starts anew. You name it, I’ve got it.
The second secret? It kind of sucks sometimes. That teacher who works half as hard as I do and has been on the job for fifteen years more than me? Yeah, I know how much money she makes. That teacher who could give me a run for my money in terms of time and money spent on students and who just started last year? Yeah, I know how much he makes, too.
You know that saying about comparison being the thief of joy? It’s not false. Sure, this pay transparency might initially motivate me to work harder. But in my experience, competition fuels nothing but burn out over time. It also takes the focus away from the essence of my job, which is my students. Why put extra energy into comparing myself to other teachers when I could expend that same amount of effort into bettering my students?
Still, the biggest complication to salaries being made public is not what employers or coworkers do with that information. It’s how stakeholders react to that information. We’ve all rubbernecked over a Tweet or a news headline that boasts the salary of some CEO. How dare he? She really has earned it if you think about it. How does she justify it? Well, I suppose he’s worth it.
Now, imagine how every interaction with your stakeholders would feel if your salary was broadcast in the same manner. There would probably be much positivity; it might even lead to a boost in pay if you were deemed to be worth more than what you currently earn. Even if the stakeholder does not have an immediate say in your salary, certainly that commendation would still amount to a feather in your cap.
But what happens when people think otherwise? Once, during parent-teacher conferences, a parent shared my salary with me. Another time, I was in the midst of awkwardly accepting a Christmas gift from a student when another one scoffed and derisively ballparked my salary across the room: “She should be buying us presents.”*** In their minds, I (and probably teachers in general) was not worth what I was being paid. And if I’m being paid by their tax dollars, it is within these stakeholders’ rights to speak out.**
It is possible that I would feel quite differently about salary transparency if I worked in a world where something other than time and advanced degrees could net me a pay bump. Perhaps being a public worker colors my perspective on the issue in different ways than it would for an entrepreneur or a freelancer. I do understand that if salaries were public knowledge, it would theoretically make negotiating for a raise a lot easier. I also understand that it would hopefully amount to fairer practices and less undervaluation. But I’m also not entirely sure full knowledge about everyone’s salaries is as purely liberating as some may think.
*Gasp. However will you cope now that you know Penny Saves is a nom de plume?
**The kid isn’t technically a taxpayer. But if I’ve learned one thing in eight years, it’s how to spot plagiarism. I didn’t hold my breath for a Christmas card from his parents.
***I do buy presents every year. Bookmarks, pencils, and sharpeners. I just hadn’t passed them out yet that day. #awkward
So Tell Me…Should salary transparency be a new standard?