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Ann -

It's fascinating stuff. The ultimate catch-22. We don't want anyone to have details on us, but we want details on others. How do we resolve that when it comes to pay transparency? Sharing ranges ultimately allows others to draw conclusions and make judgments on us as individuals, which is why I still believe that the masses aren't ready for true transparency. 89% aren't comfortable sharing salary data with co-workers.

How do you resolve that?


KD

I think that part of the age differences may be accounted for by the fact that by the time you reach 50 you have already found out a number of times what you make relative to what others make and are no longer curious. When you are 25 you have not had that many opportunities for those comparisons.

I don't understand at all the "rather leave the company than ask for a pay increase." The worse that is going to happen is they are going to say "no", at which point you are no worse off than you were before. Perhaps someone else can shed some light on that one.

hey ann - i wonder if a study of how one's age affects actions regarding pay discussions/requests has been done in the past... because is it an age factor, or is it a generational thing? in other words, will 18-34 year-olds always be most interested in seeing their colleagues' salary details or is it the current generations specifically? i can't figure it out. and then i wonder if the age or generation of males v. females who feel comfortable asking makes a difference. are gen Y or millenials, regardless of gender, better at asking? just curious on your thoughts there...

KD:

I don't think we can - or should - completely resolve the issue. A certain number of us seem to believe (and perhaps will always believe) that we are entitled to know what our co-workers earn. I disagree. That is not - to my mind - pay transparency, it is an invasion of privacy. The truth is that organization's don't owe employees any information at all on pay practices (beyond what is required by regulatory reporting requirements) - but the wise organization will provide the information necessary for employees to understand and take their pay situations into appropriate context. The how and the why (how the pay program works, why it is designed the way it is), but not the what (what people are paid).

I think I'm with you on sharing salary ranges. I believe employees should know their own salary ranges and the ranges for positions to which they can reasonably aspire. Beyond that I have to question whether it is appropriate and necessary, or just satisfying our voyeuristic tendencies.

Mike:

Your reasoning on the age difference makes sense to me. And it is difficult - logically speaking - to understand the rationale of those willing to leave the company rather than ask for a raise. I think that is because it is not a choice based in logic, but rather a somewhat twisted passive-aggressive thing. There are those (and I've met a number of these employees in my travels) who feel that they shouldn't have to ask, that they should just be recognized based on their true merit, without having to call any attention to their accomplishments. In principle, perhaps this is so, but in practice, it just isn't the way the world works. And it is unfortunate that they've chosen to draw this particular line in the sand.

Jessica:

Good questions. Based on this one set of data it is difficult to know for sure if it is an age thing or a generation thing. See Mike's comments above; I think there's some truth to the theory that older workers have had enough exposure to pay practices and comparisons to cause them to be generally less curious about what others make than those who are newer to the world of work. But there could also be a generational influence at play here. Perhaps it is that generational difference that has driven all the interest and activity in "pay transparency" sites like Glassdoor.com.

Anybody else got thoughts on Jessica's question?

Thanks all for the comments and good discussion here!

Is interest in peer pay levels sensitive to age and generation?
Probably, for numerous reasons.

Basically, folks don't want to be publicly embarrassed. Answering both Mike and Jessica here, since the same reasons may overlap. Youngsters expect to be paid less than senior peers and thus have fewer inhibitions against transparency; they have less to fear and more to gain. Older folks more settled in the company and committed to the enterprise tend to be more comfortable about their personal pay (esp. if they are senior). Elders are prone to be less interested in upwardly-mobile competition rivalries. They also are more reluctant to invite being compared unfavorably to others younger and less experienced. If you're planning to stick where you are, you really don't WANT to know if you are "paid unfairly" in terms of perceived internal equity. Why seek heartbreak and demotivation when ignorance is bliss?

On the other hand, pointing indignantly to another's pay level is a time-tested ad hominum argument always useful to put the boss on the defensive. It usually is irrelevant and may not work, but it truly is one of the handful of "must-use" demand cards to be played by any ambitious raise-seeker.

That would make a good new string: "the infinitely-repeated genric reasons I should get a raise." Think of them as a litany, or a check-list like all the required grounds must be tested in the automatic appeal processes of any death sentence.

BTW, the gender differences are quite normal, too.

Only with great difficulty have I ever persuaded Executive Secretaries (female) to openly share wages among themselves, whereas guys rarely have an issue with it, especially at the Board level where it goes with the territory. Women tend to treat their employers as family while men just consider it a job. Likewise, most women (generalizing awfully here) consider sisters as rivals and focus on personal power and process issues, while men are more output-participative with brethern and team-oriented. See Prof. Suzette Hayden Elgin's body of work for more details on the differences in socialization patterns and resulting behavior modifications. She's a LOT more accurate than the Men from Mars garbage.

Jim:

Interesting observations. And I think you're right - for some of us ">35 category", the "why seek heartbreak and demotivation when ignorance is bliss" rationalization is probably a real one.

Women-wise, I am not familiar with Prof. Elgin's work, but sounds as though it runs along the same lines of "In the Company of Women" (Heim, Murphy), which explores indirect aggression among women. But, regardless, I am frustrated by our unwillingness (and I don't completely exclude myself from this categorization)to stand up for ourselves compensation-wise.

Thanks for weighing in!

She also wrote the best-selling series "The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense", a few really good SF books like "Native Tongue" and still runs the Ozark School of Linguistics. Looks like a granny with her cane, but has a mind like quicksilver and tongue like a rapier. Is frequently retained as mediator in hospital strikes; says they are almost always precipiated by a "I swore that was the last time I'd ever let another doctor fling a clipboard at me" incident.

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    Compensation consultant Ann Bares is the Managing Partner of Altura Consulting Group. Ann has more than 20 years of experience consulting with organizations in the areas of compensation and performance management.

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