When Google Staffers Revealed Their Salaries

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Imagine a couple of employees at your company create a spreadsheet that lists their salaries. They place the spreadsheet on an internal network, where other employees soon add their own financial information. Within a day, the project has caught on like wildfire, with people not only listing their salaries but also their bonuses and other compensation-related info.

While that might sound a little far-fetched, that’s exactly the scenario that recently played out at Google, according to an employee, Erica Baker, who detailed the whole incident on Twitter. While management frowned upon employees sharing salary data, she wrote, “the world didn’t end… everything didn’t go up in flames because salaries got shared.”

Erica Baker Tweet

For years, employees and employers have debated the merits (and drawbacks) of revealing salaries. While most workplaces keep employee pay a tightly guarded secret, others have begun fiddling with varying degrees of transparency, taking inspiration from studies that have shown a higher degree of salary-related openness translates into happier workers. (Those results aren’t uniform; other studies (PDF) have hinted at negative repercussions.)

Baker’s experience—if you take her descriptions at face value—provides a neat little window into the company-wide impact of employees deciding to start sharing salary data with one another. Google managers and executives, once they discovered what was happening, became very upset (“Higher up people weren’t happy,” she wrote in one Tweet). Some employees, though, were grateful at the opportunity to see whether they were underpaid.

According to Baker, the spreadsheet (which featured the salaries for 5 percent of Google’s employees at its peak) revealed that her division manager had declined to pay out peer bonuses to certain individuals, which sparked protest. In the end, the added transparency compelled more Google employees to ask and receive “equitable pay based on data in the sheet.”

That sounds like a great income for a lot of Google employees, but the broader debate still rages about the virtues of making salaries transparent. While openness and communication tend to make employees happier, many executives feel that giving everybody access to salary data will spark too much internal strife.

Image Credit: Singkham/Shutterstock.com, Erica Baker Twitter Feed

Comments

27 Responses to “When Google Staffers Revealed Their Salaries”

July 22, 2015 at 8:56 am, Bill Doe said:

Ship all of them to Africa and let them do some real and worthwhile work for a change, and without any salary. That should bring some sense into them.

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July 23, 2015 at 6:11 am, J said:

Salary confidentiality does nothing to protect the employee, but instead is used as a tool to manipulate staff and protect the employer.

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July 23, 2015 at 8:26 am, BillyBob Johnson said:

Keeping salaries a secret is for the sole benefit of corporate management. Ignorance is bliss, for managers.

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July 23, 2015 at 9:41 am, Grande Especiales said:

I agree with BillyBob Johnson’s comment that it benefits management to keep salaries secret but this is just insubordination. If you look at Erica Baker’s linkedin profile one will see that her departure from Google was in May, started her job at Slack Technologies in May as well, and then in retaliation tweeted the salary sharing incident in June as to not raise any red flags at her new company prior to being hired. People like Erica, who want to revolutionise the workplace just make it worse for others. Managers simply become more guarded and skeptical of employees actions from then on.

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July 23, 2015 at 10:22 am, Being Frank said:

If everyone were earning a fair wage, there would be no need for secrecy. It’s one thing to have a difference of $1 – $1999. But the glaring disparity between individuals in the same tier and similar education is one of the main reasons why it would be nice to have transparency. Researching pay from salary or payscale can only take you so far, especially since enough individuals must reveal their salries at a particular company to be of use.

Transparency is also helpful to entry level employees who don’t yet know how much their time is worth (just so happy to get a job after applying to the millionth ad) and for women who make up less than 10% of the IT field and are rarely paid on par with their fellow male co-worker.

Of course, very few people want this because what kind of society would we be if we promoted fairness across the board? People rationalize a huge difference in pay as a necessary part of a capitalist society. Unfortunately, wage disparity is just one more type of inequality to add to the list.

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July 23, 2015 at 10:58 am, Thatsme said:

Publishing salary should be in law at least inside a company – if I work for business, I should know how much we earn and which part goes on my profit. And of course if you know salary of every moron in a company, it’s good argument to discuss own salary with the boss – I don’t wanna be slave who get $100, while fat stupid in director chair get $1,000,000 just because he can multiply selling price by 10. WE ALL participate in business success, even window washer, so getting salary in proportion to efforts will be fair.

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July 23, 2015 at 11:48 am, kw said:

I’d be interested to know, of the people who entered their information, how many believe they were being paid fairly or even higher and how many felt like they were undercompensated. I like the idea of transparency, and agree that the only one who stands to benefit are the employers who are aiming to pay as little as possible. This is exactly why we have wage inequality, because some people (more commonly women) are less likely to complain about their salaries or ask for raises than others.

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July 23, 2015 at 1:20 pm, Kenny said:

Pay doesn’t necessarily reflect everything about a worker. Because someone can negotiate a higher starting wage doesn’t mean they are working harder but maybe a little more smart. I say keep sharing and the Management can use that as a tool to increase productivity. Could also backfire and cause lots of resentment.

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July 23, 2015 at 1:33 pm, Brandi Hemann said:

For years, employees and employers have debated the merits (and drawbacks) of revealing salaries. While most workplaces keep employee pay a tightly guarded secret, others have begun fiddling with varying degrees of transparency, taking inspiration from studies that have shown a higher degree of salary-related openness translates into happier workers. (Those results aren’t uniform; other studies (PDF) have hinted at negative repercussions.)

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July 23, 2015 at 3:00 pm, Linda Kateley said:

There is absolutely no reason not to share salary info with peers. Don’t know why it’s considered secret. It is a tool used by management to get away with whatever they can get away with.

I wish i had .. when company i was working for was bought by another i got a 30% raise just to get me to the bottom of the pay grade for my job. Spent 15 years being paid 30% less than my peers. Shame on management.

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July 23, 2015 at 7:37 pm, Rudy said:

I think publishing employee salaries can impact morale either negatively, or positively, depending on the compensation culture, or program. For example, if a Manager performing at sub-standard is being paid 30% more than a manager who is performing at an exceeding level I believe there will be a negative impact. However, if the the Manager who is performing at an exceeding level is being paid 30% more than the manager who is performing at a sub-standard level then at least the impact is minimal, and it sets a standard and sends a message that the employer rewards performance.

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July 23, 2015 at 10:27 pm, Mad Dude said:

Of course the leaders were mad because they know what they’re doing is wrong. If it wasn’t, then they could care less. Once the people pass around what they make even in a generic manner, it’s ore power to the people and if they’re being treated unfairly they should call it out and make the leaders sweat. Time to stop acting so fake leaders!

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July 24, 2015 at 4:18 pm, Don said:

I’m torn on this…. I would be for transparency if people were logical and reasonable. But the majority of the comments here illustrates why companies keep it confidential. Personally, I’m being paid about 5% over market for my position in my area, and I have received nothing but about excellent reviews. I get great benefits, and I like my manager. For my position and responsibilities, I feel I am fairly compensated. I could care less if the guy in the office next to me makes more than I do. But you get people like Being Frank who think that in a difference in salary of 2k is income inequality. For an engineer on another team, I don’t know what the market conditions at time of hire, what performance raises had occurred, what the level of need was at time of hire, if there was a certain experience that factored in a pay escalation, or a hundred different potential factors.

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July 29, 2015 at 8:11 pm, Janet said:

The only organization I’ve worked in where salary was nearly – but not quite – 100% transparent was the U.S. Army. You could read a person’s salary by what they wore on their sleeves, literally. Rank and time in service hash marks told the tale. Same rank + same time in service = same salary.

I loved my time in the Army – tough as it was – but that one factor did lead those soldiers predisposed to being lazy to do just enough to not get in trouble. After all, “I’m being paid the same as you. Why should I work harder?” I’ll admit, they were few and far between, because most of us served not for the pay but rather for a higher purpose. That said, there are always the exceptions – especially in peacetime.

Performance SHOULD be rewarded and the way we reward that in a capitalist society is money. If someone is underachieving, does it help them to know they are making less money than someone that performs well? Not usually. My experience is that underperformers are the first to scream that there is injustice and they should be paid just the same for the same job in the same place, regardless of quality of performance. Not so. Business don’t thrive on warm bodies filling open positions. Businesses thrive on dedicated colleagues that have a passion for what they do. Underachieving whiners don’t need more fodder for their complaints.

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August 20, 2015 at 1:07 pm, KC Lawler said:

The problem with publishing salaries is the fact that whether salary discrepancies are “fair” is in the eye of the beholder. Everyone is going to think they deserve at least the salary of the guy sitting next us, if not more. If salaries were made public, what eventually would happen is all the people holding a particular position would be paid the same, regardless of whether one person did the job a lot better than another. Otherwise there would be endless squabbling. I prefer my employer to have the freedom without worry of repercussion from other employees, to pay me more if he/she thinks I’m doing a better job. As for initial salary negotiation, that is a big part of how much people earn (easiest way to get a raise is to quit and go elsewhere). If a potential employer wants you, and you hold out for a better offer, either from that employer or another, more power to you. I think salary RANGES based on position make some sense, but all salaries for the “same job” need not be the same. I think it’s even OK for an employer to pay more to a good worker than another good worker just because the first guy is easier to get along with, as getting along is part of any job/relationship.

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August 20, 2015 at 1:14 pm, Vitsing said:

Wish we had this transparency at MITRE.

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August 23, 2015 at 4:55 pm, David Bergman said:

What is a ‘fair wage’?

As most who have spent considerable time in the software industry know, the yield differs greatly between resources. Much, much more so than do their salaries and compensations.

Most “senior developers” hide behind screens providing no tangible or persisting value at all. This is a much tighter kept secret than that of managers not paying ‘fair wages.’

If one indeed got paid according to aforementioned yield or value, we would see some developers making 20x that of others, despite their arriving at the same time at a company.

For those considering themselves underpaid: IT happens to be such a fields where there truly is the potential of starting one’s own business without much hustle, and then selling one’s services, or starting one’s own startup based one’s own magnificent ideas, rather than to try to leech an existing success story.

Good luck on you new [ad]ventures, you underpaid genii!

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August 26, 2015 at 6:43 am, CbWilson said:

Government posts salaries of all its employees. What’s the big deal. I think the salary should be posted even in the job listing before you apply for a job. Nothing like going for District Manager and then find out at the end of a month long process that it’s not anywhere near your requirements. Salary.com is there but that’s not the same thing.

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August 26, 2015 at 10:10 am, john said:

I spent 20 years 4 months and 11 days in the Navy knowing what every ones pay was all the way up to admirals. We didn’t have any problems you knew what and when you had to do to get a promotion. Although in the higher ranks politics came into play.

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August 29, 2015 at 7:07 pm, Joe Donner said:

The commentary on this board is somewhat naive. It is in the interest of both management AND employees to keep salaries confidential. Some employees seem to think they are worth more than they are, and revealing peer information only stokes the flames of dissent. For many people, experience is often an overlooked factor. Just because someone may have the same title as another person, that doesn’t mean they are worth the same in the marketplace. The best way to handle compensation “transparency” is to provide a salary range for each title and make it known to all employees. If you are at the high-end of the range, it could be based on tenure or experience. If you’re at the low end, perhaps you were just promoted or hired. But it lets everyone know where they stand relative to a clearly defined range, rather than specific peers.

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August 30, 2015 at 7:53 am, Perry Norflus said:

What this article fails to point out is more important than the text it was digitized on. That being:

Employers and the market determine what an employee’s value is, NOT the employee. This kumbaya philosophy that has taken corporate America by storm during my lifetime is sickening and contributory to why so many white-collared employees are unhappy in their positions today.

Just because you sit next to someone performing the same tasks as you, and just because you were hired on the same day is not reason enough to assume you deserve the same compensation as they get. Such thinking is called socialism and runs rampid in union mentality which is also why so many people hate the TSA and DMV in their states. If there is no incentive to perform, quality of service or product suffers. One need look no farther than the OLD Soviet Union and Mao’s Communist China to see what a failure such thinking does to a society.

For GOOGLE employees to share info on their personal compensation packages, only to learn things are not as “equal” as management portrayed is not a reason to get mad at the boss, it is reason to walk into their office and ask why you are not considered as valuable as your teammate. As has been said throughout time: the truth may hurt, but “the truth will set you free.” Just be prepared to learn why you aren’t paid or provided the same bennies as your friend in the next cubical. That reason has more to do with what you DON’T do, rather than what you do for your employer.

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August 30, 2015 at 12:48 pm, Frank F. Garton said:

They get paid at Google? I would never have guessed.

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September 03, 2015 at 8:11 am, Suzie said:

I’d rather get paid based on my experience, education, and company fit than on my ability to negotiate. Negotiation is not a strong part of my skill set, and it doesn’t need to be for my profession at any other time than during salary discussions. I know I’m paid less than the guy in the next cube even though I have more relevant experience simply because he has better negotiation skills. A little transparency would straighten that right out.

The problem with places like the DMV is bad management, not set salary levels. If people are under-performing, they need to be retrained or replaced. Base salary can be set at an equitable level, but bonuses (that everyone has an opportunity to work toward) can do a lot to encourage better performance.

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September 04, 2015 at 1:58 pm, AJ said:

A number of years ago, the secretary at my old job got a hold of a printout (left on the printer) listing everyone’s salary. Curious she saw what everyone made in the department.

She was very upset how folks like myself and others who had post graduate degrees and did specialized engineering work made so much more than she did as a secretary. She understood why our salaries were higher, but felt that they “shouldn’t be that much higher”. When she mentioned it to me, I asked her politely why doesn’t she spend 8 years slaving away at the library studying for an engineering degree and then working up 20 years experience so she can have that salary too.

If you make salaries public, this is the problem you create. Most people invariably think they are justified for higher income, even when their skillset, work experience, past performance, education are nowhere in line for that kind of pay/position. You have to research what a fair salary for that job/experience and negotiate it from the start, not base it on what others make around you at the company.

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September 10, 2015 at 11:35 am, John said:

I think salary equality is coming, like it or not. The biggest driver for this is going to be the discussion in the media about the salary gaps between different ‘groups’ of people – sex, ethnicity, age, etc. This is going to force companies to justify discrepancies in pay, which will in turn lead to very formal, defendable processes for setting pay rates.

I don’t think that means everyone with the same job description at the same company will make exactly the same amount of money. There can still be differentiating factors such as level of education, years of experience, certifications, etc. that allow an employer the ability to pay more highly qualified candidates a little more money – but the criteria will need to be open and available for everyone (internal) to see, with specific amounts attached. When the market rate goes up, everyone’s salary goes up as soon as the next person is hired at that new market rate. It not only makes sense, it helps with retention.

Beyond that, I think outstanding work needs to be rewarded with either percentage/step increases in pay or bonuses. Either method provides a justified means of paying more to exceptional performers while simultaneously providing incentives for high performance and making the salary determination processes open and honest.

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September 14, 2015 at 9:51 am, Lynn said:

I worked for a Porcelain Tile Manufacture in Middle Tennessee for 21 years, a place where men in admin and professional positions were paid considerably higher than their female peers, and promoted more quickly or hired directly into management–with or without experience. These are the instances where there should be transparency–not by name but by position.

If a male co-worker in that company had asked to borrow a dollar, I would have given him my equivalent of his $1.00. — $0.65.

—no longer underpaid and living in Nashville.

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September 19, 2015 at 2:38 pm, John Pittaway said:

I do agree that management benefits from keeping salaries confidential. But so do employees. Know that the person with whom you work makes more for doing the same job is hardly a team building experience. I worked for Burroughs Corporation (now Unisys) for years. Salary compression was a reality. I knew that, but I also knew that I was accruing a retirement and severance package.

Today retirements and severance for programmers is a thing of the past. The reality is that you will need to move around if you want a good raise. Talk to recruiters in your field about what is being offered in other companies and be ready to jump. When I worked for Burroughs, more then three companies in your past was a red flag. Today it is common.

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