How Much You Earn Isn’t Anybody Else’s Business

by: February 15, 2016

It was disappointing but not particularly surprising to hear Meg Hillier MP (chair of the Public Accounts Committee) ask Matt Brittin of Google how much he is paid. Mr Brittin gave what I reckon is a fair answer, “I’ll happily disclose that privately if it’s a relevant matter”. Yet he continued to be harangued by Ms Hillier for what seemed like several minutes of self-publicising sound-bite creation.

How much Mr Brittin is paid has precious little to do with whether or not Google is paying an appropriate amount of UK tax. It was a cheap and unnecessary shot. After all, why should an individual be expected to disclose a private matter like this in a public forum, especially if it’s not relevant?

It seems to have become increasingly popular that we, the public, have a right to know how much everyone is paid. I say no we don’t, that’s a private matter and nothing to do with anybody else.

Where that’s perhaps not the case is when it’s taxpayers’ money that’s funding that person’s pay, but even so that’s a debatable matter in my opinion. If we have the right checks and balances in place, there should not be a need for full public disclosure on an individual basis.

In business, it’s better for everyone that salaries are kept private. I know some disagree with this and are happy for individual pay to be public information. But there are plenty of people who would regard that as an infringement of their privacy and would not want to be working in such an environment (me included).

Telling a colleague how much you are paid serves no positive purpose. If you are paid more than them, they may well be demotivated by the knowledge, and if you’re paid less then there’s a fair risk you will be (demotivated). It also means that the people in the business who determine individual salary levels will have to be a lot more careful not to create anomalies that disturb internal relativities. Whereas in actual fact, anomalies are a good thing.

It’s rare for any business to have a perfect pay system where everyone perceives internal relativities to be fair. In reality there are always anomalies – for example a new recruit who had to be offered a greater salary in order to attract them to join, or someone who’s moved from one internal role to another. This is a positive thing for those that are paid less – someone being paid more shouldn’t actually matter to you, it’s what you are paid that matters. And if someone is paid more and they are doing a similar job with similar results, then that’s good reason for your pay to be increased.

I recognise that this does assume a decent employer, who doesn’t discriminate unfairly, who doesn’t pay him or herself ridiculously well while keeping everyone else’s salary low, who doesn’t care whether pay levels are reasonably fair internally. But that’s not you, is it?

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Paul is Zonata's founder and MD. He has a true passion for business and is massively excited by the opportunities that Zonata provides for its clients and partners. He loves helping owner-managed businesses be exceptionally successful, and enjoys the phenomenal quality of the people who work with him.

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