The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Pay secrecy: it does not work

Sarah Dutton
Chris Lowe

The workplace can be a strange environment. Rules exist that are only enforced at work, and the one that bothers me the most is the taboo on discussing wages among co-workers. 

Many people in the workforce, across all kinds of careers, have no idea what their coworkers earn in relation to themselves. I am not against this as a matter of nosiness. 

It is a matter of transparency. Making salary information more public in the workplace would promote pay equality across the board, in terms of gender, race and merit. 

A 2011 survey by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research states about half of all workers “report that the discussion of wage and salary information is either discouraged or prohibited or could lead to punishment.” This seems to be a system that can only benefit the higher-ups, and it needs to change. 

The most encompassing issue with pay secrecy is it allows for a disproportionate relationship between merit and pay. There could be situations where two workers of the same merit and with the same responsibilities are earning different amounts, and with the age-old mindset of pay secrecy, neither of them would discover this. 

There could even be tenured workers earning less than their newly-hired counterparts. In a perfect world, we could trust that pay would be distributed in a way that relies on fairness. However, this is not how our world works. 

The reasoning behind this is outlined in a Forbes article by Edward Lawler III. Lawler states, “It is also clear that with secrecy, managers can make poor pay decisions because they do not have to defend them. It also reduces the motivation of managers and organizations to adhere to corporate policies and to make good decisions.”

 Simply put, if there is no downside to haphazardly managing the pay of your employees, that is exactly what quite a number of people in management will do. Employee merit is the ideal guideline when it comes to pay, period.

Of course, an offshoot of the merit problem is the issue of discrimination. Whether it is racial, religious, sexual, or in any other form, it is still a real obstacle in the American workplace. Finding a way to rid our culture of pay secrecy would pave the way to the abolishment of pay discrimination. 

An eye-opening study by the Pew Research Institute states, “Large racial and gender wage gaps in the U.S. remain, even as they have narrowed in some cases over the years. Among full- and part-time workers in the U.S., blacks in 2015 earned just 75 percent as much as whites in median hourly earnings and women earned 83 percent as much as men.” 

I will not deign to suggest pay secrecy is the only, or even the primary, reason this is the case, but it is certainly a key factor. Many companies either encourage or outright enforce pay secrecy, which probably keeps many members of these demographics from even realizing they are being swindled.

Probably the most depressing fact concerning pay secrecy is the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 provides a federally supported policy of pay transparency. 

It grants the right of workers in the private sector to openly discuss things such as their pay, for their own protection. However, open discussion of salary is still not a common practice. 

Somehow, we have been influenced to become uncomfortable discussing money, and it stands in the way of fairness. Civil rights are stalled as a result as well. 

I believe that we should end this phenomenon so that the everyday worker can benefit. This ideal is fair, and it is most certainly American. I will even start the trend myself… I earn $8 an hour at my day job. What about you?

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Reflector Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Activate Search
The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University
Pay secrecy: it does not work