Salary inequity has been a contentious issue ever since Zarg the Chieftain gave Thirg a larger shield than Krell, even though the latter had killed more Dalegians in the last battle.   Here’s a more modern take on the thing:

The longstanding BBC sitcom [Mrs. Brown’s Boys] has reportedly lost Damien McKiernan and Gary Hollywood, who play couple Dino and Rory.
It’s reported they quit after discovering they earn less than other cast members.

I’ve said before that what people are paid really depends on how much they contribute to the success of the enterprise.  Where this starts skirting close to the reef is the question:  who decides what the relative contribution is worth?   Of course, the standard answer is “the boss” (whether a department head or the CEO, whichever is more relevant), but of course whenever you leave the decision to a single person, there will inevitably be some bias during the process — hence the formation of pay grades, compensation committees and the like.

Even that’s not perfect.  In the Army, for example, a pay grade applies to everyone in that classification — but being the Army (i.e. a government department), the output of the individuals is subordinate to the rank:  all sergeant majors of equal service length get the same pay, even though some sergeant majors (I’m looking at you, Sar-Major Wilkinson, you disgusting fat fuck) aren’t worth the dirt it would take to cover their useless corpses in a shallow grave.  (Not that I ever thought about that, of course).

I also quiver with rage when I hear stories of VPs complaining that a top salesman’s commission results in his being paid more than a VP.  (My simple response:  “Financially speaking, he’s an earner while you’re just overhead.”)

I was never in a position to do this, but if I were running a company, I think I’d post all salaries on the bulletin board so that every employee could see their relative value to the company — but nobody would be allowed to question the merits or non- thereof where managers and such were concerned, because having a clerk quibble about his manager earning twice his salary would inevitably show that the manager’s value to the company was in fact four times a clerk’s, so in fact the clerk was being over-paid.  (And if it wasn’t… draw your own conclusions.)

The onus of explanation and justification, therefore, would devolve to senior managers (or even the CEO), because it’s that important an issue, even if for no other reason than employee morale.

Certainly, this would eliminate 90% of the female whining about pay disparity, especially when disparities are explained in terms of seniority, hours worked and results:  with the corollary that if there is indeed unjustified disparity, the imbalance would be fixed toot sweet.  No reasonable person can argue against this.

Let’s be honest:  the general reason that salaries are kept secret is for management to hide funny business and/or favoritism.  Working in a Great Big Company’s IT department as a computer operator, I once discovered that a boss’s secretary was earning more, a lot more, than I was as a senior “oppie”.  I couldn’t do anything about it because strictly speaking, I wasn’t supposed to have access to the data (but when you’re printing salary checks, it’s kinda difficult to hide the numbers from the guy printing them — which, by the way, is why the salary print runs could only be performed by very senior employees, who could be counted on to be responsible and keep their mouths shut, and I was only allowed to do that because the manager in charge was in hospital having his gall bladder removed).  Nevertheless, after a little digging I discovered that the reason for the seccy’s whopping salary was that she’d been regularly  bonking her boss for the previous five years (at least, having discovered the affair, it was the only logical explanation).  There was nothing I could do about it, of course — I sure as hell wasn’t going to tell anyone — but it did rankle somewhat.  Having the salaries posted on the board would probably have taken care of Mrs. Mattressworthy’s over-payment.

What salary transparency also does, of course, is enable people to see what people at their rank in other companies are earning — another reason that salary data is concealed — although I think that in the long run, it too would be more beneficial from a total business perspective:  if you’re paying more than the industry average for a particular position, telling people that does a sterling job of keeping one’s own employees happy whilst attracting others to joining the company.  Healthy competition, and all that.

When it comes to showbiz, however, I have no clue.  I have spoken before about the value of top-level people such as DJ Chris Evans over in Britishland, but that’s a relatively easy call to make with regard to salaries:  the higher the ratings, the higher the pay (see above for the “earner” aphorism), and in fact since Evans left his job at BBC2, the show’s ratings have dropped massively under his replacement, proving the point.

But individual actors within a show?  No idea — it may well be a subjective decision from the producer (with all the problems that I explained above), or maybe it can be driven by audience response.  (I remember a story about Ron Howard’s salary while he was acting in Happy Days ;  apparently, his canny agent had put a clause in Ron’s contract that he, as the principal character, would always be paid one dollar more than any of the other actors in the show.  So when Henry Winkler’s Fonzie became very popular and his salary rocketed, so did Howard’s.)  But deciding whether Ross was worth more to the show than Phoebe in Friends ?  Fuggeddabahdit.

Which is what the brouhaha in Mrs. Brown’s Boys  seems to be about:  minor characters (always low on the totem pole) are generally open to abuses such as lower salaries, getting written out of the story, and so on.  Sad, but it’s the way of the world.


  1. The reason not to post salaries is that it’s no one’s business what others are making. Or better worded, no one’s business what I’m making.

    The other reason is it would stoke envy and drama. What would happen is you’d lose everyone with potential and retain busybody mediocrities. People are stupid and petty. They wouldn’t take non tangibles into account. “I know you can do the same work as Bobby, but the customers like him more”. “Sure, you work harder than Earl, but he’s the only one on the planet that understands the mainframe we use to print money. Learn TAL and you can make what he makes”

    I crafted a system for categorizing techs at one job. Each job title had a set group of skills and responsibilities that had to be met before progressing, which were evaluated at review time. Each class had a salary range, which, while not published, everyone knew ballparks of what each other made, not accounting for overtime and bonus.

    Nearly every company I’ve worked since has had similar.

    1. “it’s no one’s business what others are making”

      And THAT is how inequity and disparity flourishes.

      I’m not saying it’s the right thing to do; but it may be better than the secrecy method.
      As for the envy and such, that’s definitely someone else’s problem.

  2. My very first job as a programmer was for an agency of the City of New York, I started that job 35 years ago next month (!!!!). For the last 20+ years I’ve also been a consultant for a different City agency, so I work often with City employees. So I’ve gotten to see, both first and second hand, the issue with pay grades.

    As a programmer I had a title with an associated pay grade, the title being meaningless, the pay grade determined what you’re paid (duh). So I had the same pay grade as someone else who’s an accountant, and someone who’s a statistician, and someone who’s an administrative assistant, and someone who’s a plumber. Meaning I was paid the same as those others. Now while my pay at the time may have been good for a plumber, it wasn’t much for a computer programmer. Want proof? I stayed there a year and a half, and left that job for my first consulting gig where I got a 70% salary increase. People told me I was nuts, because benefits. It takes a LOT of benefits to outweigh 70% more money.

  3. Now Kim, you’re missing an obvious point about the importance of little Miss Mattressworthy. If she kept the point-haired boss happy and contented, it would raise the morale of the entire department. Better yet, if by keeping him occupied she prevented him from micro-managing his more productive employees, then she was actually improving the overall efficiency of the entire department. In fact, there’s been more than a few times I wished someone would take one for the team and have sex with one of my bosses, if for no other reason than to get him out of my office while I tried to finish a project.

    My current company does the whole pay grade baseline +/- 20%, the +/- portion determined by performance and time-in-grade. So you can guess the general range of someone’s salary based on their paygrade, but there’s always a little leeway for top performers to make a more. I’m topped out (no real promotion opportunity until some old geezer dies) and I’ve been in-grade long enough that I’m well above the +20% of my pay grade. Most of my bosses are recent promotions to the grade level right above me, so being recent promotions generally they are at the -20% of pay grade range. Which is a very long way of saying that I make more than my boss, sometimes a lot more. And some bosses (I’ve had 15 bosses in 15 years) don’t take that very well. I’m pretty much limited to COLA now, regardless of performance. Still, the pay is adequate and I’m cursed with a healthy work ethic, so I continue.

    1. “In fact, there’s been more than a few times I wished someone would take one for the team and have sex with one of my bosses, if for no other reason than to get him out of my office while I tried to finish a project.”

      Oh yeah. A manager at a former company was notorious for micro-managing. One time we had a production problem we (as in the entire staff) were working on fixing. He insisted upon a 30 second status meeting every five minutes. He stopped when everyone reported their status as “Not as good asit would be if I wasn’t interrupted five minutes ago.”

  4. Kim,

    You make some nice points, but you are incorrect on one major point. How much someone’s pay is worth is determined by the market for someone with that skill set. That typically has some relationship to their value added, but not necessarily.

    Of this should of course be obvious because the price of everything is set by the market. I.E. what anyone is willing to pay for it. So if anyone adds relatively low value to an organization, but has a line of companies willing to pay them a high salary, then one will have to pay them or lose them.

    1. I agree that it’s not as simple as just “how much value do they add to the company.” There are other factors that come into play as well, not only how much other competing companies pay for people with the same skill set, but also things like: (1) What it would cost the company to lose that employee and to have to recruit/hire/train a replacement; (2) What it would cost the company if a hot-shot salesman takes his skills (and his customers) to a competitor, or (3) What it would cost the company if a middle- or high-ranking executive with knowledge of the company’s shady, sleazy or embarrassing practices was let go and went to the press or otherwise goes public and shines a light on their dirty laundry.

      When it comes to actors, performers, etc, they are generally working with an agent (almost always a lawyer) and their salaries and perks are determined by contract – with each party an adversary (in a legal sense) trying to get the most they can for their client. In Hollywood in particular, until an actor or actress is a well recognized success, virtually all of the power is with the studio exec who can truthfully say “Honey, you’re beautiful and you’re talented, but on the other side of that door are a hundred other girls just as beautiful and just as talented who want this job too.” (which is also where the “casting couch” comes in 😉 )

    2. The point about cloaking salaries in secrecy is that it denies “the market” the ability to decide upon the relative worth of a skill set and of a person. It was only through a head-hunter, for example, that I once discovered how badly I was being paid. Certainly, I had no idea at the time what my actual market value was, not just within the company but in the outside world.

  5. “I also quiver with rage when I hear stories of VPs complaining that a top salesman’s commission results in his being paid more than a VP. (My simple response: “Financially speaking, he’s an earner while you’re just overhead.”)”

    My gut reaction would be “He’s an earner. YOU were given a corner office and a fancy title to get you out of the way, and because you were slightly too much trouble to fire. Do you plan on BEING enough trouble?”

  6. I briefly worked in the entertainment (movie studio) business in an IT support role..

    The most obnoxious people were the second-tier actors, and the second-tier VPs. Not quite enough horsepower or chops to be on the top line, but act like they should be.. The top line actors were usually pretty easy to get along with.

  7. ” who decides what the relative contribution is worth? Of course, the standard answer is “the boss” (whether a department head or the CEO, whichever is more relevant),”

    Usually it’s an ongoing conversation between both sides. “Management”[1] wants to minimalize costs. Employees (generally) want to maximize income (or stability). At least part of “inequity” is that some folks expect their bosses to give them raises, while others ask for it.

    [1] Leadership has slightly different objectives, but the bottom line always counts.

  8. Virtually all large corporations expect “Simply The Best” but will barely pay “Simply The Average”

    Some years ago I was approached to leave my position in R&D to take the mgmt role in QC. Searching the Intarwebs I came up with a number I thought would be commensurate with my years and experience in the industry.
    Imagine my surprise when I was told I was already making more than they were willing to pay the position and the number I gave the HR VP actually made her gag. (I didn’t think that was possible!)

  9. I always thought that the most humorous story on pay was why Ross Perot left IBM to start his own company – IIRC he was told that for the most recent sale he’d made he would not receive a commission because he’d exceeded the company quota something like three-weeks into a quarter.

  10. In the Army, for example, a pay grade applies to everyone in that classification

    Even that’s misleading, in the US Army at least, because there are ton of “Incentive” pays that get added on (or not.) Hardship duty, combat pay, assignment incentive (essentially, “we really want this position filled”), tons of other (website says over 60 kinds of “incentive pays”. ) Complete new training? Incentive add. Agree to take on a new position? Incentive add. It’s way more like the private sector than it used to be. Base pay is just that — base pay.

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