Transparency at Work: How Clear Can We Be?

Most workplaces operate on a ‘need to know’ basis – we’re given just enough information to perform our roles, but very little else. If you don’t need to know what the company’s five-year plan is, or how the pay structure works, then chances are nobody’s going to tell you.

But in a world where openness, equality and trust are high on the agenda, isn’t it time the workplace became more transparent? Let’s take a look at some of the potential benefits and issues of a more open workplace culture.

The tricky issue of pay

Do you know how much your colleagues get paid? If not, would you like to know? How would you feel if that person that always arrives late and spends half the day chatting gets paid more than you?

As you can see, when it comes to pay, transparency is a complicated issue. Some see it as a move towards a fairer, more open approach to remuneration, and the next logical step after gender pay reporting, while others fear it could unleash a wave of resentment, jealousy and disengagement.

Both sides have a point. On face value, it seems a step in the right direction to open up about salaries – after all, if companies are paying their staff fairly, what do they have to hide? But in reality, revealing how much people are paid is bound to cause friction. Some will be upset that they are paid less than their colleagues, while others will be put under public pressure to justify their pay.

The problem is, it’s very difficult to find a fool-proof method for deciding how much someone should be paid in relation to someone else. While equal pay for equal work is mandated by law in most countries, it remains a very slippery subject. The nature of work is becoming increasingly complex and unquantifiable, and the value that someone brings is based on intangible factors, such as knowledge, skills and experience. When no two people or positions are the same, what does equal work mean?

To counter the inherent issues around pay transparency, US software start-up Buffer made the bold decision not only to publish their staff’s salaries on their website, but also how those amounts were calculated. They did this by devising a formula that takes into account each individual’s role, experience, and the cost of living where they live. The result is a salary structure that’s about as fair and transparent as it gets.

While this a fantastic idea for start-ups, it would be very difficult for large, established companies to adopt such as approach – at least not without major upheaval.

A view of the bigger picture

A lack of transparency can lead to people feeling disconnected from their work. For many employees, the wider goals and direction of their company can be a mystery – only a few at the very top know the full picture. Information trickles down slowly and is filtered at each level of the hierarchy according to what people ‘need’ to know.

You may understand the direction that your own work is taking, and perhaps the work of your team, but you might have no real idea of what’s going on in the wider company. This is particularly problematic in large companies where the workforce is divided into sperate closed-off departments. Only a minority of people at the top are afforded a global view, and there’s generally very little communication between departments.

This gives many employees a narrow field of vision. They only understand the small part that they are playing, but not the greater whole. As a result, their work can become abstract, removed from reality, and devoid of any kind of meaning. For work to be meaningful, people need a sense of purpose beyond their own tasks. It’s OK to be a small cog in a big machine, but you need to know what that machine does, and how your work is part of its functioning.

For this reason, it is critical that information around the goals and direction of a company filters down through all layers of the power structure, and that organisations find a way to break down knowledge silos and allow for a better flow of information between departments and people. This way, everyone will be able to grasp the bigger picture, and how they play a part in it.

Getting personal

Transparency is important not only at a company level but also at the individual level. In larger companies, it can be almost impossible to know what the people outside of your small office are up to. Encouraging communication, collaboration and connectivity across teams, departments and locations helps build a sense of community and allows information to flow freely within the organisation.

One way to solve this issue is through technology. Take People First, for example. Our ground-breaking platform is designed to facilitate collaboration and communication between individuals, teams and departments. Each individual has their own personal profile, where they get to share who they are, what they are interested in, and what they do at work. People First also brings clarity around goals, ensuring that the work of individuals, teams and departments is always aligned with the wider objectives of the organisation.

On top of this, users have access to a social feed, where they can share content, comment on others’ posts, and give and receive feedback. This helps everyone to see what’s happening across the business and allows companies to nurture a sense of community and togetherness – something that is particularly useful for remote teams.

So, how clear can you be?

As instant access to information is now the norm outside of work, employees increasingly expect the same in the workplace. Whether this means complete transparency around pay remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: the more information employees have, the better they will understand their roles in the bigger picture, and the more likely they will feel that their work has meaning and purpose.

As such, the move towards greater transparency should be seen as a positive step – one that reflects a culture of openness, honesty and trust.


Nick Edwards - http://www.praguecopywriter.com

Nicholas Edwards is a freelance writer and editor based in Prague, the Czech Republic. When he's not helping local businesses master the English language, he loves writing about the future of work for People First. 

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