Employees today are more likely than ever to demand transparency about compensation practices at their organization. Total rewards leaders agree that pay transparency would benefit the organization in numerous ways. Yet even though everyone seems to be on board, organizations are slower to adopt this practice than you might expect. In our latest research at Gartner, 60 percent of the organizations we surveyed said they had not yet acted on pay transparency at all, while only 14 percent had fully realized it.
So why aren’t we making faster progress toward an outcome all stakeholders agree is the right thing to do? In a session at Gartner’s ReimagineHR event in London last Thursday, Advisory Leader Ania Krasniewska armed the total rewards leaders in attendance with strategies for surmounting obstacles to pay transparency and getting senior leaders and line managers at their organizations on board. Here are some of the most common reasons why organizations shy away from pay transparency, along with some counterarguments HR leaders can use to win over a skeptical CEO:
“It’s just a trend.”
The pressure organizations are facing today to be more transparent about their compensation practices comes from several directions: Millennial employees expect more transparency than previous generations did, employees have more access to (often inaccurate) pay information from outside sources like Glassdoor or PayScale, and governments and the media are advocating transparency as a means of driving pay equity. For an executive wary of pay transparency, it may be tempting to reason that these trends will eventually pass, but there is good reason to believe otherwise.
While Millennials and Gen Z are the employee cohorts most commonly associated with demands for pay transparency, they’re not the only employees who want it. Like other Millennial-driven trends in the workplace today, the younger generation of employees is simply more vocal in demanding things that in fact, employees of all ages would like. Their attitudes also influence their parents, neighbors, and older colleagues. Millennials aren’t the only ones using Glassdoor: Many of the employees who use these external sources to compare their salaries with those of their peers are in senior positions at their organizations. Furthermore, Millennials aren’t going away; they are already the largest segment of the workforce and Gen Z will eventually be even bigger. Gambling that these generations will stop caring about pay transparency later on is a very risky bet.
The latest analysis by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute calculates that the CEOs of the largest 350 companies in the US out-earned their employees by a factor of 312:1 last year, the Guardian reported on Thursday:
The rise came after the bosses of America’s largest companies got an average pay rise of 17.6% in 2017, taking home an average of $18.9m in compensation while their employees’ wages stalled, rising just 0.3% over the year. The pay gap has risen dramatically, with some fluctuations, since the 1990s. In 1965 the ratio of CEO to worker pay was 20-to-one; that figure had risen to 58-to-one by in 1989 and peaked in 2000 when CEOs earned 344 times the wage of their average worker. …
The astronomical gap between the remuneration of workers and bosses has been brought into sharper focus by a new financial disclosure rule that forces companies to publish the ratio of CEO to worker pay. Last year, McDonald’s boss Steve Easterbrook earned $21.7m while the McDonald’s workers earned a median wage of just $7,017 – a CEO to worker pay ratio of 3,101-to-one. The average Walmart worker earned $19,177 in 2017 while CEO Doug McMillon took home $22.8m – a ratio of 1,188-to-one.
In the UK, meanwhile, new research by the CIPD and the High Pay Centre finds that the median CEO-employee pay ratio for FTSE 100 companies stood at 167:1 in 2017, rising from 153:1 the previous year:
A new survey released last week by Willis Towers Watson illustrates the key factors driving US companies to reassess and change their compensation practices. In explaining why they were making these changes, employers cited cost, manager feedback, changes in the marketplace, and employee feedback as the most common motivations. WTW’s Getting Compensation Right Survey, conducted in April 2018, surveyed 1,949 employers worldwide, including 374 US employers whose total workforce comprises more than 5.2 million employees.
Among the US employers, nearly half said they were considering or planning on redesigning their annual incentive plans, while more than a third said they were changing criteria for salary increases. This highlights a trend we’ve been seeing over the past few years, in which employers are rethinking the traditional annual raise and opting for more targeted and differentiated increases or bonuses to reward and incentivize performance. Many employers also told WTW that they were refocusing performance management to include future potential and possession of skills needed to drive the business in the future, as well as introducing recognition programs to provide on-the-spot rewards.
One move many companies are making is toward greater pay transparency, with 53 percent of respondents saying they were planning on or considering increasing the level of transparency around pay decisions. Our latest research at CEB, now Gartner, also finds that transparency is a growing concern among rewards functions. One driver of this trend is the increasing amount of information available to employees and candidates about what other people are earning in their roles, both within their organization and at other organizations, through external sources like Glassdoor or LinkedIn.
In our employee survey, we found that 42 percent of employees who had consulted one of these online sources for pay information had thought about leaving their current employer as a result. These external forms of transparency are making it increasingly important for employers to be more forthcoming about their pay practices and take control of the narrative around compensation at their organization to get ahead of employees who might find (potentially inaccurate) information elsewhere and draw their own conclusions.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is arguably the world’s foremost example of women’s empowerment: an accomplished scientist turned national leader and one of the most powerful people (not just women) in the world. Notwithstanding Merkel’s achievements and those of other women leaders in German politics, the country lags behind its European peers in closing the gender pay gap. Germany’s pay gap stands at 21.5 percent, according to EU data: the third largest in Europe and well above the EU average of 16.2 percent.
A new law that went into effect in January is meant to help close that gap by allowing employees to request information about wage disparities from their employers, but as Carolynn Look and Elisabeth Behrmann pointed out in a recent Bloomberg feature, the law puts the onus on employees to ask, whereas other legislative efforts, like the UK’s mandatory pay gap reporting and similar laws being considered in France, compel employers to provide this information up front.
A major component of the challenge for Germany is cultural: The term Frauenberuf (women’s job) is still used to describe occupations like nursing, housekeeping, child care, and social work—jobs that are often low-paying, part-time, and lack clear pathways to career advancement, Look and Behrmann note:
Even in fields dominated by women, such as medical assistants, men can get paid 40 percent more. The lower pay, along with more part-time work for women, mean they earn about 50 percent less over their working lives than male peers, according to a 2017 study by the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin.
Amid growing public and investor concern about major British companies potentially overpaying their top executives, the UK government has been kicking around the idea of instituting a pay ratio reporting rule since last year. The government hinted in April that it would propose the regulation soon, and now it is here. The proposal, which Business Secretary Greg Clark is presenting to Parliament today, will require all companies with more than 250 employees to disclose the ratio between the pay of their CEO and their average or median employee, as well as to explain this difference, the BBC reports:
The new rules, as well as introducing the publication of pay ratios, will also require listed companies to show what effect an increase in share prices will have on executive pay, in order to inform shareholders when voting on long-term incentive plans. … Mr Clark said: “Most of the UK’s largest companies get their business practices right, but we understand the anger of workers and shareholders when bosses’ pay is out of step with company performance.”
The plans were welcomed by the Investment Association – that represents UK investment managers – as well as business lobby group the CBI and think tank the High Pay Centre. Chris Cummings, chief executive of the Investment Association, said investors wanted greater director accountability and more transparency over executive remuneration.
That investors are leading the charge for transparency on executive compensation is unsurprising; activist investors were also key proponents of the pay ratio reporting rule that came into effect in the US earlier this year. Shareholders are voicing greater interest in exercising their “say on pay” prerogatives, particularly after recent scandals in the UK over executives receiving massive bonuses, in some cases without company performance justifying them.
There are very few talent-related issues that generate as much attention as compensation—in particular, how compensation compares among all the various employees at an organization. Historically, companies have preferred not to share information about compensation out of fear that those who are on the bottom half of the compensation chart will become disappointed and disengaged when they learn that they are earning less than their colleagues. This fear has been a major factor in the business community’s objection to the CEO-employee pay ratio reporting rule that came into force in the US this year: When you publish the salary of the median employee, half your employees inevitably discover that their pay is “below average.”
This idea of hiding compensation for fear of disengaging employees is a relic of the past, however. The reality today is that employees can get a sense of how their compensation stacks up compared to their peers through a growing number of websites that share this information publicly, such as Glassdoor, PayScale, or Salary.com. In other words, employees can already find out how their compensation compares to others and are already talking about it; the question for senior leaders is whether they want to participate in or shape these discussions.
As technology has forced greater transparency in compensation, some companies have decided to actively manage the conversation by proactively revealing to their employees what their co-workers, managers, and senior leaders earn. The New York-based tech company Fog Creek Software is one such organization; eight months ago, it gave its three dozen employees a chance to see what their peers were making. On Bloomberg’s “The Pay Check” podcast this week, Rebecca Greenfield checks in with Fog Creek to see how it went:
Fog Creek’s chief executive officer, Anil Dash, believed … that salary transparency would shine a light on unfair pay practices and ensure things stayed that way. Dash, an entrepreneur, prominent tech blogger and prolific tweeter, is a rare, pro-union, tech CEO who also believes in the old-guard internet principle that information wants to be free. “Transparency is not a cure-all and it’s not the end goal, it’s a step on the way to the goal, which is to be fair in how we compensate everyone,” Dash said. …
Ever since Recruit Holdings, the Japanese HR conglomerate that owns Indeed, announced last month that it was acquiring Glassdoor, speculation has run rampant that the parent company would inevitably combine the two properties into an even larger online recruiting behemoth, perhaps as a defensive move against Google’s new job search feature. Matt Charney at Recruiting Daily, in his massive, four part “Requiem for Glassdoor,” concludes that even with their powers combined, Indeed and Glassdoor have no hope of competing with the search engine where 80 percent of job searches begin. With so much control over the front end of the funnel, Google has the power to render its competitors in the job search aggregation market virtually invisible to most users. No matter how much traffic Indeed buys, Charney reasons, “that traffic will ultimately be controlled (and priced) by … Google.”
Still, other observers see the Glassdoor acquisition through a different lens, viewing the site’s impact not so much in terms of volume but rather in how it has mainstreamed transparency and accountability on the part of employers in their interactions with candidates. That’s how the Washington Post’s Jena McGregor described it in her column after the news of the acquisition broke:
Analysts say the $1.2 billion pricetag for Glassdoor reflects a company that sits at the nexus of a number of trends: A tight labor market where many workers have their pick of jobs and employers have to work harder to attract them. A growing demand by recruiters and H.R. departments in an era of big data to back up their decisions with metrics. And a technological and cultural zeitgeist where an appetite for transparency and accountability have only grown
These trends were illustrated in a report Indeed issued just a week after the announcement: How Radical Transparency Is Transforming Job Search and Talent Attraction, based on a survey of 500 US jobseekers, highlighted findings like these: 95 percent of candidates said insight into a prospective employer’s reputation would be somewhat or extremely important in their decision making. Among Millennials, 71 percent said transparency was extremely important, while 84 percent of Millennials aged 25 to 34 said they would automatically distrust a company on which they could find no information (even among Baby Boomers, 55 percent agreed that transparency was crucial). No reviews, Indeed found, are even more harmful to an employer’s reputation than bad reviews, since candidates are at least willing to consider an employer’s response to a bad review.
The growth of online pay information sources like Glassdoor is also a central theme in our upcoming work on pay transparency at CEB, now Gartner.