Glassdoor looks to break salary taboo

Most people agree that honesty is generally the best policy - but does that apply to salaries too?

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Generally speaking, talking about salary is a bit of a no-no in the British workplace. Most of us have no wish to share the details of our remuneration with the wider world, although that doesn’t prevent rampant speculation about what that strange bloke in the corner earns despite never seeming to do any work. But a new US website plans to fill the gap: allows users to go online and view the salary details of thousands of employees at big companies – albeit anonymously, and only if you put your own salary details in first. So it’s a bit like that Italian government website, except without the appallingly intrusive breach of privacy.

The site, which was deluged with entries following its launch in the US two months ago, doesn’t actually include British salary figures at the moment, but it’s apparently due to start any day now. Judging by the US figures, these will be arranged by company and job title, allowing curious punters to find out how much people at a similar level are earning – both in their own company and in rival firms. There’s also a facility to rate your CEO and review your company (also done on a quid pro quo basis).

But how accurate are these figures and reviews likely to be? Glassdoor insists that there are checks in place: before viewing the data, users must join the site (giving a valid email address in the process) and submit various bits of data about themselves, which are then checked for obvious anomalies. It clearly believes that the condition of anonymity will encourage people to tell the truth, but the more cynical might argue that the reverse is equally true: if all you’re interested in is other people’s salaries, why not make up a figure just to get onto the list?

In general terms, Glassdoor’s campaign for greater transparency is timely. The Government’s White Paper on the Equality Bill earlier this summer included a ban on gagging clauses that prevent employees discussing salary. Ok, so these are pretty rare, and the Bill doesn’t give employees any more rights than they have already – but it shows that there’s a push to improve transparency on pay. And it’s all in the name of equality: the hope is that this will make it easier for under-represented groups – particularly women – to identify when they’re not getting paid enough. So in this respect, Glassdoor has a lot to be said for it.

But whether this US site can overcome the traditional British reserve and love of privacy, and become a genuinely useful resource, is another matter entirely. To be honest, we’ll believe it when we see it.

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