Before I interviewed Carolyn Kopprasch, the chief happiness officer at social-sharing startup Buffer, I took a moment to look up her salary. It was simple to do, since the number is posted right on Buffer’s blog—along with what all of her colleagues make and the company’s formula for setting pay. Kopprasch earns $148,000 per year. Buffer’s CEO, Joel Gascoigne, takes home $175,000. Tom in engineering gets $84,000.
At most workplaces, salaries are treated like state secrets: rarely shared and frequently gossiped about. But last year Buffer decided to join the handful of companies that have opted instead for radical transparency, making it possible for employees to find out what each of their co-workers earns. Buffer then took the idea a giant step further by making that information public, as part of a wider effort to share the startup’s inner workings with the entire Web. The move generated headlines and, according to Buffer, a wave of interested job applicants.
“What is wonderful about it is there’s no question mark” about what everybody earns, Kopprasch told me. “There’s no speculation, which has helped us to trust each other.”
For some workers, the idea of their salary posted on the company intranet might sound mortifying—the financial equivalent of having nude selfies leaked online. Pay is one of the few remaining details of our lives most of us are taught to think of as strictly private. Employers prefer us to treat it that way, too. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, about 60 percent of all private-sector workers say they are either banned or discouraged from talking about pay issues at their jobs, even though U.S. labor law protects their right to do so.