Sacred Tenets of Employment

There are a few sacred tenets of employment.  One that has been emphasized to some extent at every one of my many jobs has been that your salary is a private matter.   Most companies don’t bother to explain why – it’s just taken as common sense.  Well, something I learned many years ago is there’s nothing so uncommon as common sense.

Consider what may happen if every engineer knew the salary of their coworkers.  You may feel disenfranchised to find your boss makes three times as much as you.  You may feel betrayed if the new hire doing the same job as you makes 7% more.  You may exalt in the glory of making $10K per year more than that idiot in the other group.  The worst case scenario for the company is that you ask for a raise to get what you think is fair and quit if you don’t get it.  There may be some justification for this concern.  CEO salaries of publicly traded companies are posted in annual reports and these salaries have risen exponentially.  Clearly no company could afford engineers if the same thing happened to engineering salaries.  No corporate executive would want egocentric engineers comparing their salaries the same way CEOs do.

At many companies there is a concern, not only that dissatisfied employees will cause trouble by asking for more money, but also that the camaraderie, teamwork, and delicate chemistry of the staff will be disrupted by greed or perhaps a desire to make things right.  In short there are an infinite number of reasons why engineers, why employees in general, should not share their salary information.  It’s just common sense.

But wait…

Government employees have not gotten a raise in three years and, while exact salaries are not known, their service levels usually are.  To my knowledge there has been no mass exodus of government employees because of this and the teamwork is certainly no worse than that of private companies.

But wait again…

The Washington Nationals baseball team just finished the season with the best record in the major leagues.  Not only that, to a man they say the team has great chemistry and they all seem to love their manager and the organization.  By observation, they seem happy, showering each other with beer, champagne, and an occasional shaving cream pie.  Truth be told, I really can do without a shaving cream pie at work…

All this despite the fact that their salaries are public, published this week in the Washington Post, and they all know how much their teammates make.  A relative new hire (24 year old 2012 all star Stephen Strasburg) makes $3,000,000 while a journeyman that spent most of the season in the minors gets $5,000,000.  A 2012 all star (Ian Desmond) gets $512,500 while a 33 year old non-all star gets $13,000,000.

In my mind this calls into question a fundamental tenet of the engineering workplace, no, of all workplaces.  It seems that good management and clear goals are far more important than keeping your neighbor’s salary a secret.