Show Me Your Money

Pay Secrecy Sucks, a photo of some money
Why don’t we talk about pay at work? What’s to lose?

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?

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

12 thoughts on “Show Me Your Money”

  1. I haven’t watched this programme, but my parents did and they spoke of it with lots of excitement…

    I’ve seen this for real, in a small company I used to work for but with absolutely disastrous consequences because there was “nothing they could do” about giving people an increase and certainly couldn’t decrease someone’s wage just because it made other people happy. There was lots of issue fudging alot like the HR manager above….

    Show me your money I think works, with the following question being, I’m open/listening/ready for your observations/objections/suggestions…

    Great post 🙂

    1. Thank you for the feedback. I certainly think this is something that is much simpler to implement from day one. And having watched the programme and taken on board your useful feedback I hope other workplaces will push this idea forwards.

      Cheers – Doug

  2. This subject fascinates me greatly, and I’m sure keeps many HR Managers awake at night too. You’re spot to say that those who would fear this move, would be those who believed they were being overpaid.

    I’d also say that many employers would be afraid too, as being able to grant salary on a discretionary basis is a big perk of their job too. More than that, it also gives them the feeling of control.

    I wrote a little about this too recently.

  3. I finally watched this tonight after this post reminded me that I wanted to watch it.

    When I was a manager most staff estimated I was on anything up to double what I was really on. That made for some interesting conversations (“it’s alright for you, since you earn like £40k don’t you?”) but I figured that it was never worth picking fault in their argument. I don’t know why, maybe it’s just the British thing that we don’t discuss pay much.

    Aside from a multi-millionaire’s attitude during the programme annoying me (i.e. the pay discrepancies seemed mainly his fault, yet he assumed everyone else would sort it) the worst moment of the programme for me was “I’m the bosses son, deal with it!”

    An absolutely flabbergasting message to send out to your staff, and I definitely wouldn’t have laughed.

    1. Thanks Robert – it was a fascinating watch eh. I may be wrong and I expect Charlie was manipulated somewhat by the TV company who would’ve been looking for friction and tension. I think we need to stop the cycle of pay secrecy – I just can’t see how it serves as useful for the employees in any way whatsoever. And yes, the bosses son was certainly contender for Charlie Mullins’ ‘Wanker of The Week’ award.

  4. I haven’t seen the programme but it all sounds quite bonkers and mostly made me feel quite sad that the person in the canteen was so undervalued. Transparency hasn’t changed that.

    I think the opacity around pay is a result of the complex “total reward strategies” that are amongst the corporate fantasies that organisations buy into. This is the magic solution. No it isn’t. Haven’t we realised yet that performance pay doesn’t necessarily get the performance we want?

    1. Hi and thanks for your comments. The revelations around Tina in the canteen certainly weren’t joyous and I think her situation was dealt with poorly. I do think that transparency changed it though. Everybody knows where they stand pay-wise now, and things can begin to change. And I hope that will continue, I think it will so long as the commitment to transparency remains.

      You ask, ‘Haven’t we realised yet that performance pay doesn’t necessarily get the performance we want?’ And I think the answer has to be no, we haven’t. With the help of a few friends I put together a few thoughts on why bonuses drive value destroying behaviour. In case you or others are interested, you can download the article here:

  5. Doug, interesting “experiment”. I’m not sure whether this would be a practical thing to do in every company, as in some cases, many people might feel offended, and this would open up Pandora’s box. Because we humans are selfish, we always think that we deserve more, or that at least we deserve the current wage – therefore, many high earning people would be jealous if they’d have to share their income with people who are lower performer, or are on a lower wage. At the end of the day, in most cases, the higher earning person had to do something well in order to get where he is – work harder, become a better person, learn how to sell themselves.

    Apart from the pay rise scheme above, if I were the employer, I’d definitely make sure that not only the wage is lifted, but also the person himself/herself is lifted. Do you want more pay? OK, now let’s work on yourself, become a better employee, a better person, provide more value to the marketplace. This way, your pay will rise not only in that specific company, but wherever you’ll go in the future.

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