If there's anything Silicon Valley enjoys more than money, it's jargon: Buffer, a company that sells an "efficient solution to handle sharing on social media," just published its internal formula for who gets how much money. All in the name of "radical transparency." But is this a "good idea"?
Corporate openness is almost always a good thing, particularly since it's such a rarity in any sector. But it's generally frowned upon to discuss how much money you make, unless you are a jerk, and looking up the salaries of others would result in a tempest of resentment and passive aggression, were it widely possible. This isn't just prudishness: it makes people very uncomfortable to be put next to a friend or colleague, each with price tags over their heads. As long as we all want it, money will always be an uneasy thing to think about someone else having.
For the employees at Buffer, it's all flapping in the wind:
At Buffer, we have the concept of "Open Salaries". We have a simple formula to calculate salaries and we share this with the whole team.
Poor "Happiness Engineers," with both silly titles and the lowest starting salary! Buffer also lists each employee by name and salary:
Some of this makes a whole lot of sense, like paying staffers extra if they live in a part of the world that requires more money to house and feed oneself. It also ensures that employees won't make more or less depending on their age, sex, or other human qualities.
But this formula, like so much else in tech, presumes that we are easily quantifiable, and can neatly fit into pre-established categories that can be cleanly pressed into a formula—that two people doing the same job are exactly as valuable to the company, or to anther company. But who decides what's considered "junior" level work, as opposed to "intermediate" or "advanced"? These criteria aren't published, because we're working with largely arbitrary terms defined by management. This looks and smells like some sort enlightened, objective way of distributing money, but there's still plenty of room for the bosses to account for taste.
You have to wonder who this is designed to help—the employees, who are potentially put in a very awkward social position, or the startup's (highest paid) founders, who look like pioneers.
And, my God, what happens when someone gets a raise? Radical transparency had better come with some Prozac.