I’m no fan of pay secrecy, I first
ranted wrote about this back in October 2010 so was pleased to learn of an experiment in pay transparency being televised on Channel Four in the UK. The programme called Show Me Your Money, was a mixture of car crash telly and fascinating experimentation.
Charlie Potty Mouth Mullins, owner of Pimlico Plumbers which has an annual pay bill of £8m ($12.4m), was fed up with staff constantly tapping him up for a little extra on their pay, so he decided to flush (excuse the pun) the problem out by asking everyone to reveal their salaries to each other and to come up with a new pay structure. Any requests for pay increases would have to be met by other staff sacrificing some of their pay. Charlie announced he took home £1m and facked off, leaving everyone else to get on with it.
Most of the staff agreed to take part, though one notable absentee was a guy called Lurch (I’m guessing this was his nick name, rather than the one that appears on his birth certificate?). Lurch was one of the plumbers and as his colleagues began to write down their salaries, £70,000, £80,000 and more, he opted out. More people followed as we went down the ladder to Tina who was paid £14,000 a year for a 45 hour week in the canteen (some way below the London Living Wage).
The call centre manager was paid £120,000 and announced his salary in his own words, ‘I’m the bosses son, deal with it!’, as he slapped the figure on the board. The staff working for him were paid £18,000 a year, well all of them bar one. A new recruit was on £21,000 and this revelation burst the previously happy team bubble, which had inflated in part due to the belief among the team that they were all paid the same. Call centre manager went to have this out with HR manager (£45,000) who gave a hopeless fizzling out half arsed made up on the spot crap rationale for the pay discrepancy on the call centre team. HR manager would have come out of this a whole lot better if he’d fessed up to having no idea why the pay discrepancy existed, but he fumbled the ball, tried to fudge the issue and as a key stakeholder in pay and all that good HR stuff, he goofed.
People were then invited to suggest what they thought their pay ought to be, the responses totalled an increase of some £180,000 on an £8,000,000 pay bill. Charlie was ‘f***ing having none of it’, sticking to his belief that any adjustments should come from within the existing paybill. It became clear that most people weren’t prepared to give up pay so that their lower paid colleagues could have more, so Charlie relented and suggested that if people sacrificed some of their pay, the company would match the amount. This shifted the balance somewhat.
The PR manager spent a day in the canteen with Tina and despite having previously asked for the biggest raise, he gave up £1,000 of his pay so that Tina could get a raise of £2,000. Personally I think Charlie could have easily afforded to do a little more and ensure Tina was paid the London Living Wage, but that didn’t come to pass. Some other unnamed staff surrendered some money and a team of garage mechanics undertook a supplier review and saved the company £30,000 which Charlie threw into the pot. The call centre pay discrepancy was resolved by bringing everyone up to the level of the new recruit and the garage mechanics were able to balance some indiscrepancies within their team too.
Although the process everyone went through was clearly designed to produce drama, I’m pleased that Charlie Mullins decided to go for it. From my experience, the only people who have anything to worry about in terms of pay secrecy, are those who aren’t quite sure they’re worth as much as they’re paid. And it seems I’m not the only one who feels this way. A recent article in People Management indicates that pay transparency is linked to improved employee relations. For Pimlico Plumbers, the genie is out of the bottle and after a rough ride of adjustment, I think the company is better off for it.
I currently take home £3,000 a month, how would you react if the boss asked everyone to Show Me Your Money tomorrow?